Believe it or not, the foods we eat play an important role in helping our bodies manage our stress levels. During periods of time in which we feel overwhelmed with stress, it is easy to turn to “comfort foods” like ice cream, sugary sweets, chocolate, deep fried foods, pizza, and others that make us feel good.
Why do we crave these things, you might ask?
Well interesting enough, the foods we consume have a direct impact on the neurotransmitters our bodies eat. For example, eating dietary sugars and starches raise serotonin levels, giving you the temporary sensation of feeling calm and relaxed. Furthermore, the pleasure in doing so promotes dopamine release, which stimulates our reward system, and explains why the more sugar you have, the more your body will continue to crave it.
However, the problem with “comfort foods” is while they initially bring a brief moment of relief, they do not last.
Instead of reducing the stress, these foods can make us feel tired and lethargic by spiking or insulin and cortisol levels, which ultimately directly impact the levels of stress we are experiencing. Furthermore, consuming large quantities of “comfort foods” during high levels of stress can cause a drastic increase in “bad” cholesterol levels, increase our blood pressure, and create long-term risks associated with heart disease and heart attacks.
So when you are feeling overly stressed, rather than consuming your favourite “comfort foods”, its best to turn your attention to stress-reducing foods that are good for the body. Choosing the right foods can help increase the levels of serotonin, without spiking cortisol. You should also include foods that boost your immune system response, as increased stress for prolonged periods weakens immune responses, resulting in more frequent periods of illnesses.
The Dos and Don’ts
You should avoid simple carbohydrates, like sugar, because it is quickly digested by the body and only provides short-term calming effect. Stay away for sugary sodas, candy bars, and other foods that are packed full of sugar, corn syrup or other such sugar-based sweeteners.
Instead, choose complex carbohydrates because these foods provide the same calming effects as sugar, but last longer because they take longer to digest. Some of the foods considered complex carbohydrates include:
For sweet treats, consider citrus fruits, like oranges and grape fruits, that are high in Vitamin C. Vitamin C not only helps the adrenal glands to reduce stress levels, but also has added benefits for the immune system.
If you feel lethargic or are experiencing an increase in the frequency and duration of headaches, along with elevated stress levels, this often indicates you are not getting a sufficient amount of magnesium in your diet. Magnesium is found in green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach. You will also find magnesium in salmon and soybeans, so you have several options.
Additionally, salmon (and other darker meat fish) are considered a good source of Omega-3s, which are great for controlling spikes in the hormones that cause stress and at the same time, help reduces risks of heart attack, heart disease, pain syndromes, depression and PMS. Remember to always source wild fish, or use supplements.
Bonus tip: Sugar cravings can sometimes mean you’re not getting enough fat in the meal prior. Up your fat intake to offset these cravings.
Increasing the amount of vegetables in your daily diet can help combat energy crashes throughout the day. To get the most benefits from veggies, try to sauté them lightly or steam them vs boiling or frying them.
Lastly, stay away from high sugar fruits, like bananas and tropical fruits. While the sugar is natural, it still spikes insulin (and ultimately cortisol) the same way refined sugar will. Always aim to eat fruits with a high fiber food like oat bran or flax, as it helps to offset this effect.
For natural health tips for fighting increased stress levels, please feel free to contact Toronto Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Courtney Holmberg, at 647-351-7282 to schedule a full health assessment today!
Medical science misguidedly suggests that we are victims of our genetics, but this statement is not entirely true. While our genes help determine how certain disease onset and develop over time, our lifestyle choices can actually manipulate how, or even if, these genes are expressed. Take celiac disease, for example. The National Institute of Health determined that roughly 30-40% of the population in the US have one or both genetic markers for celiac disease, but only about 3% of that population actually actives them, developing celiac disease.
What is MTHFR, and Why is it Important?
Properly referred to as Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase, the MTHFR gene codes for a rate limiting enzyme used in the methylation process of our body’s elimination of waste, toxins, heavy metals, and more. There are two main mutations, referred to as polymorphisms, which researchers focus primarily on. Both of these mutations can be inherited and occur on different locations of the MTHFR genes.
MTHFR is responsible for the conversion of homocysteine into methionine, which supports the body’s natural antioxidant pathways, as well as the activation of folic acid into folate (required for cellular development, pregnancy, and so on). Methionine gets converted into SAMe, a chemical that metabolizes dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin, and therefore deficiencies are correlated to impaired cognition and mood disorders. Research shows that MTHFR gene mutations have been linked to mental disorders like bipolar, schizophrenia, and depression, as well as migraine headaches . Furthermore, high levels of homocysteine in the bloodstream have been correlated to high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, and cardiovascular disease like atherosclerosis .
Effects on the Body
As a result, MTHFR mutations can affect the way in which our bodies metabolize various nutrients from foods, beverages, vitamins, and supplements we consume and how they are converted into active minerals, proteins, and vitamins our bodies use to give us energy, fight off infections, and so on.
These mutations further affect how hormone levels and neurotransmitters function within the body, as well as, in certain cases, affect the function of enzymes that influence brain function, cholesterol levels, endocrine functions, digestion, and may even contribute to the development of certain cancers .
To determine whether you could have a MTHFR mutation, the first thing you should do is get a detailed examination conducted by a naturopathic doctor. One tell-tale sign of this mutation is severe nausea that onsets after taking vitamins, particularly B-vitamins.
There are several underlying symptoms and medical conditions which could contribute to MTHFR mutations, including:
Treating MTHFR Mutations Naturally
There are several natural treatments available to address MTHFR mutations. Your naturopath will work with you to determine which ones would be of the most benefit for your health and well-being. Possible treatment options may include:
Most people have no idea they have a MTHFR mutation that could be contributing to other health-related issues.
For testing and diagnosis, or for further information about MTHFR, please feel free to schedule an initial consultation appointment with Dr. Courtney Holmberg, ND by booking online or calling 647-351-7282 today!
If you and your loved one have been trying to conceive a child, but have unfortunately had little success, stress levels are often on the rise for both of you. But for some couples, the stress resulting from the inability to conceive may actually be part of the reason they’re having difficulty getting pregnant. Anew condition called “Pregnancy Stress Syndrome”not only can prevent you from getting pregnant, but also can create problems and complications during the pregnancy, most notably, miscarriages.
What Is Going on Inside My Body When I’m Under Stress?
When faced with excessive stress levels, the brain signals the adrenal glands to start producing and releasing more stress hormones, especially adrenalin and cortisol. In other words, your body is initiating your “fight or flight” response in the sympathetic nervous system. Since all hormones talk to each other (that is their job, after all), increased levels of stress hormones within your body often cause an imbalance to other hormone systems.
Together, the adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and hypothalamus of the brain, evaluate the level of stress and perceived stressors on your present state, and increase the production of stress hormones to enhance our “survival instincts” during heightened levels of stress. While this can be beneficial occasionally in certain situations, it is when we are in a constant state of “fight or flight,” it is counterproductive to the reproductive system and being able to conceive a child.
How Does Stress Prevent Pregnancy?
Increased, prolonged levels of stress results in the body’s continual release adrenalin and cortisol, and elevated levels affect the body as follows:
What Can I Do?
The first thing you need to do is address and deal with your stress in a healthy manner.
First and foremost, a change in dietary eating patterns and developing a daily exercise routine helps immensely. Far too often, our “go-to” foods when overly stressed are those we consider “comfort” foods, which are full of unhealthy fats and contain large amounts of sugar and sodium. Eliminating refined sugar and a processed food reduces the insulin burden on the hormone system, and the livers need to detoxify chemicals. Instead, reach for whole foods, healthy fats like avocado and nuts, and be sure to reach your required daily caloric intake healty fat making up at least 40% of it.
Others benefit from learning new techniques and methods to reduce stress and relax, like getting regular message therapy, joining a yoga class, or trying acupuncture. I’ve personally seen acupuncture lower FSH levels (a sign of ovarian failure) from 19 down to 9 in a the course of a month.
Lastly, DON”TGoogle things! The Internet is a never-ending black hole of information, some good, some bad, and some terrible. You’re wasting precious energy adding potentially incorrect information to your already stressed state. This is what your Naturopath is for. Unsure to build a well rounded health team to not only help you manage stressors, but to look at every factor involved that may be reducing your chances of conception, all the while optimizing your chances of success (there’s a LOT you can do to improve sperm & egg quality, ovulation patterns, etc.)
As an additional resource, consider a well-rounded book that will provide insight and empowerment, like Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler MPH.
To determine whether your inability to conceive is due to heightened stress levels, I encourage you to consult with a qualified and experienced Naturopathic Doctor who has a focus in hormones and infertility for a detailed and comprehensive examination.
To schedule a consultation appointment today, please feel free to contact Dr. Courtney Holmberg at 647-351-7282, or visit www.courtneyholmbergnd.ca for more information.
There have been several studies and research conducted over the years on the topic of whether depression and taking a birth control pill is related. A very recent study was published this year on the topic, and is making headlines, as some of you may already know. But before discussing some of its findings, it is important to first understand how the pill works, and discuss its efficacy, side effects, and potential risks on your mental and physical wellbeing.
Birth control pills are the most commonly prescribed form of contraception to young females in North America. They contain a variety of different active and inactive ingredients. Among the more common ones are progestin, synthetic progesterone, and estrogen. The pills can contain a combination of these hormones in various dosages, or just consist of a single hormone. Ingesting synthetic hormones alters your body’s natural hormonal balance, levels, and production, ultimately preventing ovulation and subsequent ability to conceive.
The estimated probability of pregnancy during the first year of perfect use of the pill is 0.3% if taken at the exact same time every day, and a dose is never missed. However, actual rates of pregnancy with oral contraceptive are more like 9-11% in their first year of use . Furthermore, an estimate 51% of unintended pregnancies happen while using a birth control pill , suggesting failure rate is high.
Furthermore, as a result of this natural hormone imbalance, it also affects responses within the brain, which causes altered psychological and physical responses. For instance, some of the more common side effects that have been reported from women taking oral contraceptives include:
The University of Copenhagen Study on Depression and Birth Control
This recent study contained a large sample population, consisting of 1,061,997 female subjects, who were aged 15 to 34. In addition, none of these women had experienced any form of depression or other psychiatric/psychological problems prior to starting birth control. To help determine the effects of taking oral contraceptives, the researchers monitored whether subjects were diagnoses with depression or started a new antidepressant prescription throughout the study.
The study sample was also divided into two groups, where one set of women would take some form of birth control including:
The other group of women would not use female birth control during the study. At the conclusion of the study, researchers compared the number of women who developed depression during the study period in both groups. The findings were as follows :
Relative risks for first time use of antidepressants were as follows:
Based upon these findings, the study concluded there was evidence that birth control use and depression were related. However, future studies conducted at other research facilities have resulted varying findings. For instance, a 2007 study also found an increase in depression from subjects taking birth control, while another one in 2012 did not find a correlation between the two.
Natural Alternatives for Birth Control
If you are worried about potential risks and side effects of oral contraceptives, there are several natural alternatives available. Forms of hormone free birth control method include:
A conversation I often have with my patients is the use of a hormone free intrauterine device made from copper. While the study did not assess the use of a hormone free intrauterine device, if you have a history of depression, or have previously experienced low moods on a birth control pill, this may be an effective alternative for you. Of course, it comes with its own risks and side effects, so always have a full discussion with your Medical Doctor or Naturopath to find an option that is right for you.
For more information about these and other natural alternatives, please feel free to contact Dr. Courtney Holmberg ND at 647.351.7282 or access the online schedule HERE today to arrange a consultation appointment at her naturopathic clinic in Toronto.