How stress affects our Biology

Stress is often described as feeling overwhelmed, worried or run-down. It affects people of all ages, genders and circumstances and can lead to both physical and psychological health issues. By definition, stress is any uncomfortable “emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes”. Some stress can be beneficial at times, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through situations like exams or work deadlines. However, extreme and/or chronic stress can have health consequences and adversely affect our musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, digestive, nervous, reproductive & immune systems.

Musculoskeletal System

When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is our reflex reaction to stress — the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders. For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head.
Individuals who are fearful of pain and re-injury, and who seek only a physical cause and cure for the injury, generally have a worse recovery than individuals who maintain a certain level of moderate activity. Muscle tension, and eventually, muscle atrophy due to disuse of the body, all promote chronic, stress-related musculoskeletal conditions.
Relaxation techniques have been shown to effectively reduce muscle tension, decrease the incidence of certain stress-related disorders, such as headache, and increase a sense of well-being.

Respiratory System

Stress can also cause our breathing to be shallow and irregular, and can lead to hyperventilation and panic attacks. Deep breathing helps us remain in a relaxed state and helps increase circulation in the body.

Cardiovascular

Chronic stress, or a constant stress experienced over a prolonged period of time, can contribute to long-term problems for heart and blood vessels. The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body. This long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack or stroke.
Repeated acute stress and persistent chronic stress may also contribute to inflammation in the circulatory system, particularly in the coronary arteries, and this is one pathway that is thought to tie stress to heart attack. Daily movement & deep breathing promote healthy circulation; which helps to counter the effects of stress.

Endocrine

When the body is stressed, the hypothalamus signals the adrenal cortex to produce cortisol and the adrenal medulla to produce epinephrine. This starts the process that gives your body the energy to run from danger.

Digestion

Stomach

When you’re stressed, your brain becomes more alert to sensations in your stomach. Your stomach can react with “butterflies” or even nausea or pain. You may vomit if the stress is severe enough. And, if the stress becomes chronic, you may develop ulcers or severe stomach pain even without ulcers.

Liver

When cortisol and epinephrine are released, the liver produces more glucose, a blood sugar that would give you the energy for “fight or flight” in an emergency. For most of you, if you don’t use all of that extra energy, the body is able to reabsorb the blood sugar, even if you’re stressed again and again. But for some people — especially people vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes — that extra blood sugar can mean diabetes.
Studies show that if you learn how to manage stress, you can control your blood sugar level as much as you could with medication.

Bowel

Stress can affect digestion, and what nutrients your intestines absorb. It can also affect how fast food moves through your body. You may find that you have either diarrhea or constipation.

Nervous System

When the body is stressed, the nervous system generates what is known as the “fight or flight” response. The body shifts all of its energy resources toward fighting off a life threat, or fleeing from an enemy. The nervous system signals the adrenal glands to release hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause the heart to beat faster, respiration rate to increase, blood vessels in the arms and legs to dilate, digestive process to change and glucose levels (sugar energy) in the bloodstream to increase to deal with the emergency.
This response is fairly sudden in order to prepare the body to respond to the situation at hand. Once the crisis is over, the body usually returns to the pre-emergency, unstressed state.
Experiencing stressors chronically over a prolonged period of time, can result in a long-term drain on the body. As the nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes a wear-and-tear on the body. It’s not so much what chronic stress does to the nervous system, but what continuous activation of the nervous system does to other bodily systems that become problematic.

Male Reproductive System

Excess amounts of cortisol can affect the normal biochemical functioning of the male reproductive system.
Chronic stress can affect testosterone production, sperm production and maturation, and even cause erectile dysfunction or impotence.
Also, when stress affects the immune system, the body can become vulnerable to infection. In the male anatomy, infections to the testes, prostate gland and urethra, can affect normal male reproductive functioning.

Female Reproductive System

Menstruation
Stress may affect menstruation in several ways. For example, high levels of stress are associated with absent or irregular menstrual cycles, more painful periods and changes in the length of cycles.
Menopause
As menopause approaches, hormone levels fluctuate rapidly. These changes are associated with anxiety, mood swings and feelings of distress. Thus menopause can be a stressor in and of itself. Some of the physical changes associated with menopause, especially hot flashes, can be difficult to cope with. Furthermore, emotional distress may cause the physical symptoms to be worse. For example, women who are more anxious may experience an increased number of hot flashes and/or more severe or intense hot flashes.

Immune

Stress creates chronic inflammatory conditions throughout the body. This along with the issues stress causes in our other systems, creates an endless amount of work for our immune system, eventually weakening it over time.

How we respond to stressors makes a huge difference. Know what soothes your soul and make sure it’s part of your daily routine. For me that’s daily movement, being in nature, and time alone to unwind and reflect. In addition, support your body with the right foods & nutrients, and minimize your exposure to sugar, processed & fried foods that make your body’s job more difficult.

 

If you want to make some changes and need help getting started, send me a message here or book a nutrition & wellness assessment with me here.

The Importance of a Balanced Microbiome

80-85% of our immunity is located in our gut wall. Our microbiome is like the right hand of our immune system. If it’s compromised, then your immune system is left to do it’s job with one hand tied behind it’s back. On top of that, exposure to a whole host of toxic by-products from the opportunistic bacteria that is now dominating your gut keeps your immune system fighting an uphill battle. Eventually the gut becomes damaged and leaky, allowing invaders and undigested food to escape the gut and enter your blood stream – which your immune system also has to deal with, in addition to being malnourished, compromised, unbalanced and intoxicated. This is also how many allergies/intolerances develop. Good news is once you restore a healthy balance, those allergies/intolerances often disappear!

Here are some key reasons we must support our beneficial bacteria

1-Our healthy indigenous gut bacteria can neutralize many toxic substances (like nitrates, indoles, phenols etc), as well as chelating heavy metals and other poisons.

2-Antibiotics wipe out good and bad bacteria, but leave some microbes untouched (like Candida) allowing it opportunity to overgrow

3-Without protection from a health layer of beneficial bacteria, we become vulnerable to anything that comes along, as well as the opportunistic bacteria already present (which require management from beneficial bacteria otherwise they overgrow & wreak havoc)

4-When our beneficial bacteria is compromised, not only do we lose its protection, but also the nourishment it provides in assisting digestion, producing vitamins, hormones and neurotransmitters. Did you know our gut derives 60-70% of it’s energy from bacterial activity?

5-If our microbiome is damaged, the best foods and supplements you can buy may not be broken down, digested and absorbed.

6-Our beneficial bacteria produce a constant steady stream of K2, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, amino acids, hormones, neurotransmitters and much more. Without a healthy colony, there will be periods in the day where you’ll be deficient, even with supplementation.

So what damages out gut?

1-Antibiotics (whether prescribed, in our meat, or sprayed onto our produce)

2-Chlorine in our tap water

3-Other prescription drugs (steroids, birth control, sleeping pills, heartburn medication)

4-Diet (sugar and processed carbs support fungi, parasites and opportunistic bacteria)

5-Chronic stress

6-Environmental pollution/toxins

Our bodies are all capable of dealing with a certain level of exposure (some more than others), but every body has a breaking point, and in our current modern day lifestyle, many bodies are chronically being pushed past theirs.

If you’d like to learn more, and find out how to support your own microbiome, check out some of my other posts here & here, or book an appointment with me here.

Overnight Oats- A Must-Have In Your Diet

Overnight Oats with persimmons

Overnight oats provide magnesium, fiber, plant-based protein, potassium, essential fatty-acids, and they contain absolutely no sugar. They’re also an excellent prebiotic, meaning it feeds the good bacteria and helps maintain healthy gut flora. This makes them a solid go-to for healthy morning meals and they’re super affordable. Soaking them overnight breaks down their starches which improves digestibility, and their natural phytic acid (which all plants contain) is greatly reduced which makes them more easily absorbed by your body.

 

 

Plus, they’re sooooo versatile. You can soak them in plain water, coconut cream, yogurt, coffee, combine them with fruit, chia hemp or flax seed, nut butters, coconut cream, pumpkin & top them with cinnamon or maca powder, cocoa powder, vanilla bean..the list goes on and on. This makes for limitless breakfast ideas, even for every single day of the year. See how many different variations you can come up with!

 

Overnight oats soaked in blended strawberries and coconut cream, topped with Banana

Remember to choose organic, old-fashioned rolled oats (gluten-free options are great too) when you can. Rolled oats are higher in fiber than instant or quick cook oats and will provide you with sustained energy for longer. Organic oats are a smart choice to reduce pesticide and other chemicals sprayed on crops, and gluten-free oats are great for sensitive digesters that don’t tolerate gluten very well.

 

Easy Overnight Oats Recipe:

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup water or nut milk of choice
  • 1 tablespoon of chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon hemp hearts
  • cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened non-dairy yogurt
  • Toppings of choice (mashed banana plus coconut flour makes it taste like cake – just sayin’)

Directions:

Place all your ingredients in a jar or bowl, give them a stir, and soak covered overnight. Enjoy int he morning. Simple.

 

Try some overnight oats at home and let me know what fun flavor combos you come up with!

My go-to potluck dish: Chickpea Salad

This chickpea salad is one of the first recipes I learnt in my 20’s and it continues to me one of my top 5 go-to foods to bring to a potluck. It’s vegan, gluten free, and dairy free so most people are able to enjoy some. The flavor combination is really cool; every bite is a bit different.

Chickpeas are are an excellent source of plant-based protein, fiber, iron, zinc, phosphorus & B vitamins.

Goji berries are high in antioxidants, contain a wide range of phytonutrients (plant chemicals that have various benefits like reducing oxidative damage to our cells that can lead to various diseases) and contain a solid amount of iron, vitamin C and protein (18/20 amino acids).

The Salad

  • 1 19 oz can chickpeas, rinsed well
  • 1 or 2 clementines or mandarins, cut into pieces
  • ⅓ cup sliced almonds, dry roasted
  • ⅓ cup dried goji berries
  • ½ cup red onion, chopped fine
  • ½ cup parsley, chopped
The Dressing
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. In a dry skillet, quickly dry roast the almonds in a saucepan until golden.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all the salad ingredients.
  3. In a separate small bowl, mix together all the dressing ingredients with a fork and pour over salad.
  4. Mix well and store in fridge overnight.
  5. Enjoy 🙂

 

Wellness Wednesdays – Au Naturel Hair Care

Here are various pictures of how much I tried to hide my hair as a teen. Bottom right shows you just how stripped & lifeless my hair actually was

I’m always preaching to my girlfriends with hair & scalp complaints to ditch the commercial products and start using homemade, natural options instead. I hated (yes, hate is a strong word, but accurate) the hair I was born with for sooo long. People who had known me for years would tease me that they’d never seen my hair down. It would always be tightly restricted in bun(s) or braid(s). Otherwise it was a wild frizzy disaster – no matter how much i spent on top of the line shampoos, conditioners, leave in creams etc.

It was only when I started to experiment with baking soda shampoo and apple cider vinegar conditioning that i started to see my hair in a whole new light! The most notable was that my curls were more defined and less of a frizzy mess, and it shined like never before!

If you have troubled hair (or scalp), try this out for a few weeks and notice the results!

Shampooing 

  1. Mix together 1 part baking soda with 3 parts water in a clear jar for multiple use (adding a few drops of essential oil for fragrance if you like).
  2. Scrub the paste into your hair and scalp. Let it sit for a minute or two; then, rinse clean.

Benefits of Using Baking Soda:

  • It balances your natural PH so your scalp produces the proper amount of oil, clearing up dandruff, excess oil & an otherwise irritated scalp
  • It’s paraben, sodium laurel sulfate, DEA/Diethanolamine, dye and fragrance-free
  • It contains a single, all-natural ingredient (sodium bicarbonate)
  • It’s cheaper than any commercial shampoo on the market
  • It doesn’t create build up

It takes time for your body to adjust its oil production so don’t be surprised if your hair feels greasier (or drier) than usual when you first make the switch. As soon as your body adjusts, your hair will look and feel better than ever, and it’ll stay clean longer, too. Most baking soda shampooers find that they only need to wash their hair a few times a week

Conditioning

  1. Mix together 1 part cider with 4 parts water in a big jar for multiple use (adding a few drops of essential oil for fragrance if you like- my favorite is eucalyptus).

Apple cider vinegar moisturizes, adds shine and reduces frizz. Don’t worry about the vinegar smell if you choose to not use any essential oils, it’s 100% gone by the time your hair dries.

Dry Shampoo

If you find yourself in a pinch & don’t have time to wash your hair, just sprinkle some baking soda onto your roots, flip your hair upside, and tousle it all in. It’s way cheaper & cleaner than purchasing the chemical ridden cans of dry shampoo at the store, and works just as well.

Honestly you’ll wonder what took you so long to make the switch!

Let me know what your before and after is like.

This is my hair now, far less maintenance, no leave in creams, so much healthier

Curly but not frizzy 🙂

 

 

 

Emotional Eating

Let’s be real; we’re all emotional eaters with complex conditioning: genetic, biological, neurological, environmental, cultural etc. Whether you turn to food to sooth emotional discomfort, combat boredom, distract yourself, ease your stress, provide pleasure, rebel against yourself, to fill a void, I think we can all agree that when we’re emotionally eating, we are not in the present moment (eyes glazed over, lost in your thoughts, numb). Emotional eating is an addiction, and addictions are an external answer for an internal problem. You’re trying to change the way you feel, based on how you think it will make you feel. But does it?Continue reading

Mental Health, Digestion and our Microbiome

It’s now widely common knowledge that our gut microbiome influences our digestion, allergies, metabolism and mental health. We’re also realizing how much our brain can influence gut health.

gut-brain

Imbalances in our gut microbiome can eventually lead to systemic inflammation including in your brain, leading to brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, depression and so much more. Going in the other direction, stress (whether conscious or not, acute or chronic) inhibits our digestive function, leading to nutritional deficiencies and an imbalanced microbiome.Continue reading

Black Bean Avocado Brownies

Confession, I have a pretty serious sweet tooth. I love dark chocolate and sometimes when i avoid it for too long, I end up making poor decisions (aka quick decisions that typically involve junk ingredients). I found this recipe for black bean brownies, tweaked it a little, and love it!Continue reading