The Top Ten Stress-Busting Strategies
1) The Skin’s the Thing
Magnesium (Mg) deficiency is the world’s largest shortage and a lack of magnesium makes you stressed. Unfortunately, that stress drives further depletion and the downward spiral begins. There are two things you can do to climb out of the spiral and they involve eating magnesium-rich foods and/or supplementing with the mineral most needed.
The ten most magnesium-dense foods include the following (in order of Mg content): wheat bran, prawns, pumpkin seeds, coconut, cashews, cocoa, raw oats, dates, sesame seeds, brown rice and Brazil nuts. Interestingly, pumpkin seeds are also the highest plant source of zinc and Brazil nuts are the highest source of selenium. Both of these minerals are also deficient in many people so these foods are much needed and truly medicinal.
If you plan to eat yourself out of a magnesium deficiency then you might also try to curb your consumption of cereal grains as they contain phytic acid, which locks up magnesium (and zinc). You might also reduce your swigging of soft drinks as they contain phosphoric acid, which grabs your magnesium and forms insoluble magnesium phosphate, which is then excreted. Most importantly, you should remove soft drinks from your children’s diets. Soft drinks are a poison to young children during the critical first eight years when lifetime bone density is determined. The phosphoric acid steals both magnesium and calcium (the two most important bone builders) and both minerals are rendered insoluble and excreted at the time they are most needed.
The symptoms of a magnesium deficiency include; insomnia, cramping, migraines, poor digestion, muscle weakness, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression, asthma and coronary heart disease, to name a few.
If you choose to correct your shortage in a much shorter time period, then supplementation will be required. The problem is that when you have suffered a prolonged magnesium deficiency, your gut lining loses much of its capacity to absorb magnesium, so oral supplementation is not particularly effective. You can fast-track the process with a series of painful injections into your bottom or you can have a fifty minute intravenous insertion of magnesium chloride, 10 times over a two week period, to get yourself back in the game. Fortunately there is now a more user-friendly option to address a deficiency and it involves magnesium absorbed directly through the skin.
If you question the uptake capacity of the skin, then crush some garlic, put it on a piece of sticking plaster and attach it to the sole of your foot. Within ten minutes your mouth will be flooded with the taste of garlic. Essential oils, hormone supplements and salt baths are all positive examples of the power of transdermal absorption. On the negative side, there is reason for concern that sunscreens and moisturisers are not regulated, despite their dubious components. You had better be prepared to eat these skin creams, as their ingredients are actually absorbed more efficiently than if you had!
Transdermal magnesium is considered a major breakthrough in the delivery of this mineral. In fact, it is ten times more efficient than oral magnesium supplementation. Magnesium oil, a form of magnesium chloride recovered from ancient sea bed minerals, is a concentrated source of magnesium that is delivered so rapidly through the skin that it can provide immediate relief to sore muscles and may assist with headaches.
Magnesium oil can be sprayed or rubbed directly into the skin or it can be included in footbaths or bathtubs. From a personal perspective, I have found a bath with magnesium oil to be a great escape from the long lonely hours that are the lot of an insomniac.
2) Bring Back the Good Bugs
If stress is killing off our beneficial bacteria by sucking their supply of B vitamins, then there are two steps to correct this undesirable deal. First, we need to supplement with B vitamins, as this will replace the losses while soothing the stress. Several of the B group vitamins, including B5 and B6, serve as stress reducers when they are maintained at optimal levels. Secondly, we need to increase the ranks of the biological army that resides within the gut. This is best achieved with the regular consumption of lacto-fermented food.
All of the cultures that have enjoyed longevity have consumed lacto-fermented food on a regular basis. It is the simplest thing to build into your diet and yet it may be one of the most beneficial changes you will ever make. If you can’t spare sixteen minutes to make six months supply of sauerkraut (see the recipe in my previous article called “Ten Foods To Forge a Healthy You”), then drink 50 mL of Bio-Bubble probiotic each day to repopulate.
3) Make Your Day with DHEA
Deficiencies of the hormone DHEA are remarkably common in those over 40 and correction of this shortage will literally make your day because there seems to be a tremendous sense of wellbeing and joy that comes with the correction. DHEA levels are lower in the anxious due to the inhibitory effect of the stress hormone, cortisol. A proven, triple-pronged approach involves testing your levels and supplementing transdermally with a bio-identical hormone cream (only available via prescription following your test). Secondly, you make sure that you have the mineral and vitamin building blocks for this hormone, to recover your own production. Finally, you need to reduce the stress that produces the cortisol.
The key mineral required to produce DHEA is chromium and there is widespread deficiencies of this mineral, especially amongst the sugar addicts (myself included). Sugar strips this mineral from the body, as it is critically important in the management of insulin. Blood sugar spikes demand extra chromium and supplies can be easily exhausted.
I have discovered an unconventional way of building your chromium levels. Just build raised vegetable beds with treated timber and wait. Unfortunately, you will also have to deal with the toxic arsenic that leaches with the chromium from the copper/ chromium/arsenate treated sleepers. Several years ago I was overseas when the landscape contractors completed my new raised beds. When I returned home I discovered that they had mistakenly used treated timber in the construction. I eventually decided to line the beds with heavy black plastic rather than lose my investment, but it didn’t prove to be one of my better decisions. Recently, I’ve had health problems including widespread numbness. A hair test was part of a range of diagnostic tests I commissioned to try to determine the cause of the problem. When I saw the high levels of chromium and arsenic in the hair test results, I was immediately suspicious, so I also tested the vegetable garden soil. The results came back this week and there was 15 parts per million of arsenic in the soil. This initially seemed very high but it seems that although it is elevated it is still within the acceptable range. I have since been advised that most hardware stores only supply the treated timber and they advise customers that there is no associated toxicity problem. There is not even a suggestion to line the beds with protective plastic. In my case I discovered that, over time, the plastic had pulled down in places allowing minimal contact with the treated timber. However, this was enough to cause contamination. Arsenic is a serious toxin that greatly increases the likelihood of certain cancers and atherosclerosis. That is why the treated timber was removed from children’s play areas several years ago.
Anyway, back to chromium. You can supplement with chromium picolinate or you can build cinnamon into your diet. This spice offers the highest source of plant-derived chromium and this form of the mineral is best absorbed. Sprinkle cinnamon on your coffee, desserts and cereals or mix a teaspoon of this sweet spice with a teaspoon of honey in a cup of hot water each day. If you check the net you will see some absurdly extravagant claims for this honey and cinnamon remedy and I have no idea as to their validity. However, I do know that this is a great way to build your chromium levels and thereby boost DHEA levels.
The other nutrients required to optimise your DHEA production include the B group vitamins, magnesium, zinc, the antioxidant vitamins (A, C and E) and the amino acid tyrosine. Stress can impact all of these nutrients so there is no surprise that tension compromises DHEA production.
4) Extend Life With Glutamine
Glutamine is called a Growth Hormone provocateur, as high doses have been shown to stimulate the release of the longevity hormone, HGH, from the pituitary gland. Stress limits production of glutamine and as a result there is less antioxidant protection and less HGH in the system. Doses of just one gram of glutamine powder (half a teaspoon), twice a day, have been shown to increase the release of HGH by up to 400%. It certainly beats spending a $1000 a month on HGH injections. Glutamine at this dose will also help heal irritated gut lining and reduce the craving for sugar.
Other factors that limit HGH include obesity, high blood sugar, and zinc and magnesium deficiencies. It is clear that most people would benefit on many fronts if they were to lift their levels of zinc and magnesium.
The single most productive strategy to boost HGH and extend life involves calorie restriction. Numerous animal studies have revealed the potency of this approach. The lives of lab rats have been extended by over 250% by restricting their intake to 2000 calories a day. This year saw the completion of the first primate studies where the 2000-calorie limit proved equally bountiful. The findings on calorie restriction correlate with the three centenarian studies completed last year. In these studies, which essentially sought the secrets of longevity, it was found that the single common denominator in all of the 100 year olds, in all three studies, was low blood insulin. There is, of course, a direct relationship between calorie restriction, associated low blood sugar and low blood insulin.
5) Addictions – Limiting the Damage Done
Most of us have experienced some form of addiction in our lives but the most common and destructive of these relate to alcohol and cigarettes. It is harder to give up smoking now than in the past because the addictive chemistry involved has become more complex. In some cases there is chemistry involved that is designed to drop your blood sugar, 40 minutes after each cigarette. You crave the next puff because you actually need it to balance blood sugars. It is amazing that it is legal to combine hundreds of chemical additives with tobacco. I guess there seems no sense in legislating to protect people who are sucking in a billion oxidants with each puff. The hooks inserted by clever chemists are merely incidental tag ons in comparison to this onslaught of oxidants. Cigarettes are considered the Mother of all free radical generators and this is why smokers age so much more rapidly. If you can’t escape, or have decided to take the hedonistic gamble, there are several steps you can take to minimise the damage. The primary input needed to neutralise the damage is high dose vitamin C. Vitamin C is the workhorse of the detox system and this system is going gangbusters when the free radicals flow with every second breath. In fact, each cigarette removes 30 mg of vitamin C. Vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen, so the loss of collagen ages both the arteries and the skin.
The best form of vitamin C is a product that contains a good percentage of bioflavonoids, as vitamin C is impotent in the absence of this synergist. Secondly, the ascorbic acid should always be fully buffered to prevent damage to gut organisms. This is particularly relevant if you are taking the high doses of this nutrient required to help neutralise smoking. The buffering agents should involve more than calcium. A high-performance vitamin C should contain a mineral complex that serves to mimic the natural buffering found in organic forms of this nutrient. BioSpark* from NTS qualifies on both fronts and it is an excellent option for high dose supplementation. Smokers should ideally drink a glass of tangy BioSpark, containing 2000 mg of Vitamin C in each glass, with each meal (this involves a total of 6000 mg a day).
(* BioSpark will be available from NTS end Oct – mid Nov – contact NTS to place a back order.)
Selenium and glutathione are the other essentials needed to neutralise the damage. Selenium is required at a minimum of 200 micrograms per day and glutathione is probably best sourced as whey protein concentrate. This concentrate contains high levels of the three amino acids that the body uses to build glutathione. It is often called “poor man’s glutathione” when, in actual fact, it is often a good idea to supply the building blocks rather than the end product. The body can become lazy when it has everything dished up on a plate!
Analysing the problems associated with alcohol is a bit of a no-go zone in Australia as drinking is a National pastime and we are encouraged not to consider the potential dangers of booze-fuelled, weekend fun. The same three nutrients that protect against smoking can be used to minimise alcohol damage but the B group vitamins are also important, particularly vitamins B1 and B2. However, there are also some other tips that can help. These include:
- Consume some saturated fat before you have a night on the booze, as this much-maligned nutrient is tremendously protective of the liver.
- Drink a glass of water with each alcoholic drink to avoid the cellular hydration that can damage brain cells before and during the dreaded hangover.
- Beer is actually the most destructive of all alcoholic drinks as it has an insanely high glycemic index of 110 (the highest of any food or drink). Red wine features antioxidants missing in white wine and apple cider contains protective phenolic compounds that probably make it the best alcohol option.
- Take a B group vitamin supplement before you start drinking to compensate (the loss of B group vitamins is an integral part of drinking alcohol).
A hangover cure that really works involves 2000 mg of vitamin C every hour, many glasses of water and several spoonfuls of sauerkraut upon awakening. The nausea and bloating induced by this powerhouse combination will make your hangover feel like a walk in the park. No, just joking, you will be back to normal within an hour or two.
6) Embrace Antioxidants to Beat Stress-Induced Free Radicals
Stress increases the number of catecholamines, which can mess up the all-important calcium to magnesium ratio and sodium to potassium ratio in your body. This leads to undesirable levels of calcium and potassium inside the cells when they are supposed to remain on the outside (leading to calcification and high blood pressure). The metabolism of these excess catecholamines also produces free radicals, which target neuronal receptors and the arteries, while creating tissue damage in the organs. If you are stressed, then you need more antioxidants to neutralise these free radicals.
Fruit and vegetable juices are the very best source of antioxidants. When cancer patients, forsaken by the modern medical machine, turn to naturopathy, they are invariable advised to drink several glasses of organic juices each day. My advice is “why wait until you have cancer?”.
The best from the bottle includes vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, grapeseed extract, Co-enzyme Q10 and alpha lipoic acid. If you lead a life of tension, your cupboard should ideally contain all six of these key nutrients to compensate for the potential damage.
One other way to spike up the AOs is to make your plate a rainbow at every meal. Intense colours reflect pigment density and these pigments are antioxidants designed to protect the plant from pests and UV radiation. It is no accident that these plant protectors double as people protectors. Each colour contains a different antioxidant and they all offer unique benefits in our bodies. Colour your dinner plate with the most intense shades of green, yellow, red, orange, blue and purple and your body will sing out in thanks.
7) Eat Foods That Tame The Flame
Inflammation is linked to most illnesses and the pain flame is also linked to insidious stress. In all of the issues we have discussed, the reduction of stress is the obvious problem solver and we shall consider various stress management techniques shortly. However, the other productive strategy involves reducing the symptoms to minimise the damage. Inflammation is often linked to diet.
If we are consuming too many omega 6 foods (feedlot beef, margarine, cooking oils and fast food) then we are over-supplying the building blocks for an inflammatory response. The inflammatory cascade initially involves inflammation followed by a healing (anti-inflammatory response). Omega 6 fatty acids are the building blocks for the inflammatory kick-off and omega 3 fatty acids are required to fuel the anti-inflammatory aftermath. The ratio should ideally be 2:1 (2 parts omega 6 to one part omega 3). Our ratio in Australia is 20:1 (in favour of omega 6). What happens when you have ten times more of the precursors for inflammation than what you need? It’s simple, you suffer inflammation! The solution is to dump the omega 6 fats and increase your consumption of omega 3 fats.
Chia seed is an exciting new way to boost omega 3 levels. This South American wonder food contains the highest omega 3 levels known and this is just the start of the story. Chia contains more soluble fibre than psyllium husks; more iron than liver, 17 times more magnesium than broccoli, 5 times more calcium than milk and it has 3 times more antioxidants than blueberries. When mixed with water this remarkable superseed forms a gel within minutes. This gel can be combined with anything, but it is particularly valuable when combined with high GI foods like mashed potato. Chia halves the glycemic index of foods like potato and simple carbohydrates and effectively turns a liability into an asset. Glycemic index is a measure of how fast a food spikes blood sugars. High blood sugar means high insulin and a shorter life!
It is also a good idea to avoid inflammatory foods and these include sugar, refined carbohydrates, peanuts, potatoes, mangos and bananas.
The anti-inflammatory foods to embrace include green vegetables, rock melons, ginger, garlic and sweet potatoes.
8) Relax While You Eat And Digest
The consumption of food has been sacred in most cultures before ours. Sitting with the family at the table and saying grace is one example of this appreciation. Driving to your next appointment with a burger in one hand, your mobile phone in the other and a thick shake between your legs is not sacred appreciation of food.
Digestion begins in the mouth and sitting quietly (not watching TV) and thoroughly chewing and savouring each mouthful, floods the mouth with enzymes and primes a successful, extractive passage through the digestive system.
For many, myself included, the stomach is the tension meter and indigestion is assured following stressful eating. The solution to this discomfort is to achieve an appreciative, focused state, whenever consuming food. Express your gratitude for the food and those who produced it, focus upon each mouthful and savour the flavour. There will be much less likelihood of overeating, as you will come to recognise satiation where it may have been overlooked in the midst of your favourite TV show.
9) Be Proactive To Avoid Depression
Depression is a serious condition that should be immediately addressed to avoid repeat bouts of blackness. It seems that the time you spend depressed governs the time you will suffer depression in the future. There is a predisposition factor that grows with exposure to the blues. Stress and anxiety are the precursors of depression so the proactive approach means addressing the issue when the first signs appear.
A proven stress buster is exercise. A recent study found that a morning walk was more effective that prescription medication for mild cases of depression. Then there is the exciting finding that resistance exercise can quadruple the release of HGH and it is consequently more important for the 40+ than for the six pack brigade. Fifteen minutes of resistance exercise, 5 times a week, is the recipe for longevity via HGH release.
There should also be limitations upon the amount of aerobic exercise. A large Yale study confirmed an impressive suite of benefits associated with the burning of 1500 calories each week with aerobic exercises (this involved about three and a half hours). This same study showed that burning more than 3000 calories a week actually shortened your life.
B5, B6, magnesium, zinc and the amino acid, tryptophan, are nutrients that can reduce stress and depression. In a series of studies, Tryptophan regularly outperformed prescription anti-depressants. The herb, St Johns Wort, has also proven effective in mild cases of depression. However, if you can’t beat depression with nutrition or lifestyle changes, then it is better to use the anti-depressants rather than bravely battling on. The longer you let it go, the greater the chance of an undesirable re-run.
10) Stress Busting Strategies
Breath busts stress with remarkable ease. Sometimes it can be as simple as exchanging chest breathing for stomach breathing. Many stressed out individuals breathe from the top half, when serenity is actually found at greater depths. Hold one hand on your stomach and another on your chest and watch the rise and fall. If your chest moves more than your stomach you face some very productive retraining. Controlled breathing is the only way we can influence involuntary processes. We can consciously use breathing to influence the involuntary, sympathetic nervous system that regulates blood pressure, heart rate, circulation and digestion.
4·7·7 breathing is a magical breathing technique to induce relaxation rapidly. Here’s how it works:
1) Breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
2) Hold that breath for seven seconds.
3) Breathe out through your mouth with your tongue tucked in behind your front teeth for seven seconds and try to expel all air from the depths of your gut.
4) Repeat for seven cycles and toss in some simple affirmations as you breathe. i.e. repeat the word “relax”.
Many studies have confirmed that meditation is much more than a spiritual practice. It is, in fact, an amazing mediator of multiple maladies. Here’s just a few of them;
- Meditation decreases muscle tension and headaches.
- It normalizes blood pressure.
- It enhances the immune system by boosting production of killer T cells.
- Meditation elevates mood via increased serotonin. Obesity, insomnia and depression have all been linked to a shortage of serotonin.
- It speeds the recovery from virus pathogens.
- It improves circulation and slows heart rate.
- Meditation reduces PMT.
- It builds self confidence.
- It promotes deep relaxation.
- Meditation relieves emotional distress and anxiety.
The bottom line here is that meditation is not just the preserve of tree huggers and tofu munchers, it can profoundly benefit everyone on the planet. The millions of meditators already out there are testimony to this tremendous potential.
The statement, “Stress Kills”, may be something of a cliché, but upon closer scrutiny we find that it is profoundly true in so many ways. It could be argued that the management of stress is the most potent wellness strategy of them all! I trust that you have learnt some new tools to increase the relaxed sense of wellbeing that is the essence of happiness.