Many of my clients are under a great deal of stress, but who isn’t these days? Between work and family, client demands and harried schedules, we could each use a break; however, when a vacation is out of the question, there are several things we can do to boost our immunity and keep stress at bay.
Here are four frequently asked questions I receive from clients. I thought everyone might benefit from my answers.
Q1. When we’re in a chronic state of stress, our immune system can become depressed. Are there certain foods we can eat to bolster our immunity?
The immune system is our body’s natural defense mechanism, and under normal circumstances, it’s effective and efficient. During stress or illness, the immune system becomes compromised, and we exhibit fatigue, weight loss, a fever or achy muscles and joints; however, good nutrition, exercise and stress reduction can bolster a weakened immune system.
By eating a diet rich in antioxidants, we can help our body remove free radicals from the bloodstream. Free radicals can damage DNA and suppress the immune system. Foods that are good sources of antioxidants include leafy, green veggies such as spinach; broccoli; watercress; tomatoes; blueberries, strawberries and raspberries; walnuts and apricots.
Q2. Cortisol, a hormone released during times of stress, causes inflammation in the body. Are there foods or nutrients that work to decrease inflammation?
In times of stress, the adrenal gland produces cortisol which then releases an increased amount of sugar into the bloodstream. When the body truly does need extra fuel (as in a “fight or flight” response), the sugar is used for energy; however, for those under chronic stress, this could result in weight gain.
While some foods such as dairy, carbohydrates and wheat have been linked to inflammation, individual responses vary. The key to keeping cortisol production in check is to take a multi-pronged approach: exercise regularly to reduce stress and attain both physical and mental well-being; reduce the amount of saturated fat and red meat in your diet, and increase the amounts of micronutrients you consume by eating mostly vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
Q3. Are there foods which promote relaxation or help reduce anxiety?
Some scientific studies have shown that nutrients such as beta-carotene, selenium and vitamins C, A and E may protect the body from oxidative stress, but there is still much debate about the issue.
The best remedy to promote relaxation is exercise. Both yoga and tai chi are effective in reducing anxiety. Biofeedback, visualization and Pilates have also been shown to lower the stresses of everyday life.
Q4. Why is a healthy diet important for those who are coping with chronic stress?
For those coping with chronic stress, a nutrient-rich diet is critical to maintaining a healthy immune system and the body’s “homeostasis.” Additionally, making the suggested dietary modifications will also benefit your heart and cardiovascular system.