How to Reduce Stress The relationship between stress and nutrition
How to reduce stress with 5 top tips from Karin Elgar a respected nutritional therapist that practices in Manchester U.K.
Stress has many causes and it can affect anyone. People in fast paced jobs, such as sales and sales management, are especially vulnerable.
Today there is lots of information on ways to reduce stress, and help is available from experienced professionals on stress management.
I interviewed Karin Elgar, a Nutritional Therapist with practices in the North West of England.
I wanted to find out how getting expert advice on diet and nutrition can help people reduce and prevent stress and the many problems it can cause.
Interview by Donna Craine from DC Hypnotherapy
Can you tell me a little about how people suffering with stress can benefit from changing their diet.
Stress often goes hand in hand with poor diet and the two affect each other leading to a viscous cycle.
Poor diet is a stressor in itself, i.e. it contributes to our physiological stress response.
On the other hand when under stress many people do not make time to eat well, living on processed foods and stimulants instead.
When we are under stress we also have increased requirements for nutrients such as vitamins and minerals as our adrenal glands are working overtime.
Let me explain briefly what happens when we are stressed.
In response to any kind of stressor, mental (e.g. excessive workload), emotional (e.g. family problems) or physical (e.g. illness, injury, toxicity), the adrenal glands, a small organ sitting on the kidneys, secrete stress hormones.
The stress hormones induce changes in our bodies to help us cope better with the stress.
If stress levels continue for weeks or months or even years the constantly elevated levels of stress hormones can cause or contribute to ill health.
This long term elevation of stress hormones is often referred to as the “resistance” stage of stress where we manage to keep going but at the cost of good health.
Typical symptoms at this stage include insomnia, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, high blood pressure and digestive disorders.
Eventually, the adrenal glands may be “burned out”. At this stage people are usually not able to cope with stress any more and feel constantly tired.
This is sometimes referred to as the “exhaustion stage” of stress or “adrenal fatigue”.
One physiological consequence of increased stress hormones are blood sugar imbalances which is one dietary stressor. By balancing blood sugar through dietary intervention, ensuring adequate nutrient intake and supporting the adrenal glands through herbal or nutritional supplements some of the vicious cycles can be broken and the adrenal glands can get the opportunity to recover, which in turn affects our overall health and wellbeing.
You have developed a good reputation as a nutritional therapist in Manchester, how did you first become interested in Nutrition and why?
I had been following a reasonably healthy whole-food diet since my late teens but a stressful time in my 20s led to various niggling health problems. After several years of not feeling right I discovered that I had food intolerances and excluding the foods in question dramatically improved my health and quality of life.
This was at a time when I was looking for a new direction in career which would give me a better work-life balance than the stressful executive job I had and represented something I really believed in.
So after looking at various options I decided to become a nutritional therapist and help others to make the journey to better health. I have never looked back and it is very satisfying to see people improve their health and wellbeing.
Can tell me about your experience and qualifications.
My background is in life sciences with a Masters in Biology and a PhD in Physiology. Following my university education I worked in the pharmaceutical and related industries for 8 years where I gained invaluable medical knowledge and an insight into how drugs work.
I then completed a three year part-time course in Nutritional Therapy at the renowned Institute for Optimum Nutrition, London, from where I graduated in 2004. I have since then been practising in the Greater Manchester area.
I am a member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) where I also serve on the Committee for Professional Practice. I am registered with the Nutritional Therapy Council (NTC) and the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), the voluntary regulatory bodies.
In addition to seeing individual clients for nutritional advice I work on a corporate level, delivering seminars, workshops and mini-consultations at health and staff development days.
How many people have you successfully shown how to reduce stress by changing their diet.
This is a difficult question to answer because clients don’t usually come to see me for “stress”. They tend to come for a physical problem such as fatigue, weight gain, hormonal imbalances (e.g. PMS, menopausal symptoms, fertility problems), irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, low immunity and/or headaches, to name but a few conditions where stress can be a causative or contributing factor.
Stress can affect our bodies in many ways and most people find that their symptoms get worse or flare up when under stress. I would think that in at least two thirds of my clients stress plays a significant role and by addressing nutritional stresses and imbalances and supporting the adrenal glands many symptoms improve or resolve.
What advice would you give to our readers to help them to manage their work stress with nutrition.
Here are my five top tips for helping with stress and increasing energy:
1. Always make time for breakfast, ideally a protein based one such as wholegrain or rye bread with boiled or poached eggs, kippers or poached salmon, baked beans with scrambled egg, or yoghurt with chopped nuts and fruit. The little extra time it takes will pay off by increasing your energy levels for hours to come.
2. Don’t skip meals. Have regular main meals with healthy snacks in between. Good snacks would be nuts/seeds, hummus with vegetable sticks or oatcakes, yoghurt with fresh fruit or oatcakes with nut-butter or cottage cheese.
3. Limit sugary and highly refined foods and replace them with vegetables, fruit, nuts/seeds, protein (lean meat/poultry, eggs, fish, tofu), pulses and small amounts of whole grains such as quinoa, brown basmati rice, bulgur wheat, porridge oats, rye or wholemeal bread. These are higher in essential vitamins and minerals and help stabilise blood sugar and therefore energy levels.
4. Ensure adequate water intake. We need 1.5-2 litres (approx. 3-4 pints) per day, more if it is hot or we are exercising. Being dehydrated can have a dramatic negative effect on your energy and concentration.
5. Kick the caffeine habit! Many people when stressed keep going on stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine and sugar. Whilst these might give us a short term boost in energy they deplete us of energy long term. Caffeine increases our levels of stress hormones which gives us a short term energy boost but this is clearly counter-productive if we are suffering from stress anyway.
1) How quickly does a change in diet start to have a positive effect on stress?
It depends to some extent on how long the person has been under a lot of stress and what effect this has had on their health. Many people find that they feel less stressed and have better energy within weeks. Even some people with adrenal “burn-out” find that they start to feel better within weeks but a full recovery of course takes longer.
How easy is it to change your diet, what are the obstacles?
Many of the nutritional recommendations are straight forward and easy to implement. During a consultation I explain the rationale for all the changes which is important for clients to understand the significance and the effect they can have on their health.
Depending on the client sometimes it is small changes that can have a big effect.
We also discuss very practically what to eat and what to limit and I provide menu suggestions to suit the individual.
One obstacle can be our environment where we are surrounded by unhealthy foods.
Healthy eating is not difficult but it needs a certain degree of being organised.
E.g. having healthy snacks to hand so that you don’t have to rely on the vending machine (which invariably is full of chocolate bars and crisps).
Another difficulty can be “addictions”.
People often think that without caffeine and/or sugar they cannot function, not realising that long term they deplete them of energy.
Caffeine and sugary foods can be “addictive” and cutting them out can lead to “withdrawal” symptoms such as headaches, mood swings, and tiredness.
These symptoms usually only last a few days and can be minimised or avoided altogether if they are limited/excluded as part of a more comprehensive dietary and supplement programme.
If people are stressed because of their work life balance how can they contact you?
Anyone interested in how nutrition can affect their health, and their stress response in particular, can contact me by telephone on 0161 3388377