Health Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet

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The Ketogenic Diet is all about encouraging your body to burn fat as its main fuel source, rather than glucose. This is known as ketosis and it can have a lot of benefits for your health. In a nutshell, the Keto diet is a high fat, low carb way of eating.

What Can the Keto Diet Do for Your Health?

You’ll probably have more energy. The first few days aside, a lot of people find that they have more energy when they’re following the keto diet and using fat as fuel.

It can help to manage type 2 diabetes. The carb restrictions can help to manage type 2 diabetes, according to studies. A one year study of people with type 2 diabetes found that being in ketosis led to more stable blood sugar levels. The Keto diet can also support weight loss, which is important for managing type 2 diabetes.

Heart health can improve. It’s true that you’re eating plenty of fat on the keto diet but these are good fats that support heart health. According to

studies, some of the cardiovascular markers that can be improved through a low carb diet include triglycerides and systolic and diastolic blood pressure. At the same time, levels of “good” HDL cholesterol improved.

Inflammation markers can reduce. These days, we know that inflammation is strongly linked to lots of health problems, including heart disease, autoimmune disease and diabetes. Following a low carb diet has shown great promise for reducing markers of inflammation, including high-sensitivity C-reaction proteins (hsCRPs) and white blood cell counts.

You might sleep better. After your body has adjusted to being in ketosis, you may find that your sleep is deeper and better quality than before.

Your cognition may improve. Early research has suggested that the brain might run more efficiently on ketones than glucose. Healthy fats can also help to protect your brain against inflammation. If you’ve been suffering from brain fog and other cognitive issues, going keto can potentially improve the situation.

It can reduce dangerous visceral fat. As you may know, storing too much fat around your middle is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and Alzheimer’s Disease. Visceral fat is stored around your organs, namely the kidneys, liver and pancreas. It lies underneath the subcutaneous fat and it’s definitely not something you want to have a huge amount of. The Keto diet can help to cut visceral fat more effectively than low fat diets.

What About Side Effects?

There can be some side effects to deal with as your body moves into ketosis and these can start happening within days of first starting the Keto Diet. Some of the drawbacks include constipation, bad breath (that will often smell like nail varnish remover!), fatigue and flu-like symptoms. You might also find that it feels harder to exercise. These tend to disappear once your body gets used to being on the keto diet.

If you’re on medication for diabetes or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before trying to go keto.

What to Eat on a Ketogenic Diet?

Most of your calories will come from fat and this accounts for as much as 70 per cent of what you eat each day. Alongside this, protein makes up another 15 to 25 per cent and the rest is carbohydrates.

Generally, you’ll be restricted to 20g of net carbs or less to get your body into ketosis. When your body doesn’t have enough carbs to burn for fuel, it’ll switch to fat instead.

Fat can come from avocado,  some nuts, coconut and olive oils and high fat dairy such as cheese and butter (preferably grass fed butter).

For protein, you can eat fish, unprocessed meat  (preferably grass fed) and eggs. You don’t need a huge amount of protein as keto is focused more on high fat than high protein.

What Not to Eat on a Ketogenic Diet?

With the Keto Diet, there’s a lot that you can’t eat. This includes grains, legumes, pulses, root veg and most fruit (excluding berries, which are okay to eat). Processed carb rich foods and sugary foods are out. That means no cake, biscuits, ice cream, rice, potato and pasta, for example.

How to Activate Your Body’s Self Soothing System

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We all have a natural self soothing system that can bring us back into balance after stressful periods but it’s not always easy to tap into this, especially if you’ve been super anxious for a while. It can also go awry due to childhood experiences. Here’s some good news though: when you know how, you can activate your inner self soothing system and bring about a sense of calm.

Why Your Self Soothing System is So Important

A self soothing system is all about the way our bodies return to calm, even after you’ve been stressed. This is super helpful for making decisions and getting your body’s systems back into a state of calm.

With a self soothing system, you live in a state of heightened awareness. If you tend to feel constantly on edge and hyper alert to threats, it’s probably linked to not activating your self soothing system. It’s exhausting and leads to a lot of stress related physical symptoms.

Self soothing is linked to the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain to your gut. It’s tied into the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the “rest, digest and heal” state). This helps to reset your body after it’s been affected by a stressor and brings you back to a more reflective state.

When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, your body is balanced and there’s a lot less stress on your heart and other organs. As an added bonus, lower cortisol levels means you’re also likely to have better immunity and find it easier to keep a healthy weight.

It can help you to reduce the “fight or flight” syndrome and the many physical effects it can have on your body. Struggling to break away from anxiety? It could be a sign that your vagal tone isn’t as strong as it could be.

One more thing to know about the self soothing system? Self soothing and self compassion in general is linked to the caregiving system. Because it helps you to release more of the oxytocin chemical, it brings about feelings of trust, safety, calmness and compassion for yourself – much the same as when you were very young and felt safe in your mother’s arms.

Self Soothing Activities

A few things that you can do to tap into your self soothing system:

Deep breathing helps the “out” breath to flow slowly and calmly. Ideally, you want your “out” breath to be longer than your “in” breath. For self soothing breathing exercises, you definitely want to be breathing from your diaphragm.

Spending time on a body meditation scan can also be self soothing. Go through each part of your body in turn, noticing the tension that you may be holding there and imagining it flowing away.

Going into a “safe” place in your mind can be a go to option for self soothing. The exact location of this place is going to be unique to you and can be anywhere from a beautiful, peaceful setting to a place you’ve always felt safe and happy in the past. Wherever your choose, go deep and focus in on what you can see, hear and smell in your “safe” place. This helps you to go back there whenever you need to.

Putting your hand on your stomach or across your heart can help you to feel calmer.

Massaging your forehead stimulates the trigeminal nerve, which brings the vagus nerve and self soothing system into action.

Hugs encourage the release of oxytocin, also known as the “love chemical”. You can get the same effect by hugging yourself and weird as it may sound, it can tap into your self soothing system.

Yoga can act as a self soothing activity as it helps to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system and encourages your body’s natural healing systems to come into play. It’s also a great way to bring cortisol levels down to a healthy level. The “touch” elements of many yoga poses also have a self soothing effect.

Mindfulness, meditation and tai chi are non judgemental in their nature and are super helpful for developing good vagal tone. They also release more of the neurotransmitter, GABA, which the vagus nerve encourages production of to calm you down and reduce anxiety.

Lying on the ground can feel supportive and safe. Pulling your knees up towards your chest in a nod to the fetal position is also soothing and nurturing.

Create Self Soothing Experiences

These typically involve more than one of your senses to really tap into the soothing effects. For example, you might look to engage your sense of smell, sound and taste by indulging in a scented bubble bath while also sipping on a delicious hot chocolate and playing your favorite music.

Self soothing strategies tend to be totally unique to you so your own personal go-to soothing experiences might be very different to other people’s strategies. Experiment with a few different combinations that involve your senses and see what works for you.

Avoiding Weight Gain Over the Holidays

With so much tempting seasonal food on offer over the holiday season, it might seem inevitable that you’ll put on a few pounds. Between November and January, lots of us put on at least one extra pound (and sometimes a lot more!). And most people don’t lose this either, which is definitely a big incentive to try to avoid putting on extra weight over the holidays. With a few savvy tips, you can enjoy the holidays AND keep your weight under control.

Balance protein and carbs

During the holiday season, a lot of meals and snacks will be carb heavy with not much protein. This can ramp up your appetite as protein helps to fill you up and is also useful for maintaining a healthy weight. Trying to balance carbs with some protein can be super important for avoiding overeating. Adding some meat, poultry and fish to your plate over the holiday season can help with this.

Don’t skimp on fiber

Another nutrient that holiday food can lack is fiber. This can also help to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Vegetables, legumes, whole grain, nuts and seeds all add some all important fiber to meals and snacks.

Bring your own dishes

If you’re invited to a holiday party and are worried that the dishes on offer will hinder your efforts to not gain weight, ask your host if they’re okay with you taking along your own healthy dish. This gives you a lot more control over what you’re served as you can make sure that it’s healthy and filling.

Work in extra activity

Look for ways to get a little more active while you’re running holiday related errands. Park the car further away from the store, for example. It’s super easy to get more steps in without doing anything special. And it’ll probably be easier to get a parking space too!

Get active with family and friends

If you usually sit around with friends and family during the holiday season, try getting a bit more active together. Even if it’s just a gentle walk, it’s a lot better than nothing. Plus, you won’t be focused on food!

Don’t skimp on sleep

Burning the midnight oil during the holiday season can make you more likely to put on weight. That’s because not getting enough sleep makes you snack more, according to studies. Lack of sleep can also throw your metabolism out and make it harder to keep your weight under control.

Keep stress under control

The holidays can be a super stressful time and this can be bad news for your weight. Chronic stress can mean a continuous production of cortisol, a stress hormone that is released during the stress response. High cortisol levels are linked to weight gain, especially belly fat, and you’re more likely to turn to unhealthy foods.

If you start to feel overwhelmed with everything you have to do during the holiday season, taking steps to manage your stress levels can help to control your appetite and weight. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga and journaling can all help with this.

Factor in liquid calories

It’s not just the contents of your plate that matters from a weight gain perspective … what you’re drinking can be super important too. Sugary and alcoholic drinks can be a huge culprit in consuming extra calories and they’re widely available throughout the holiday season. This can mean that you end up putting on weight, even if you’re really careful with eating. Drinking alcohol can also mean that you snack more, which is a double whammy for weight gain. Sticking to one or two drinks and alternating with water in between can help to manage both the calories in your drinks and on your plate.

Downsize your plate

The bigger your plate, the more likely you are to eat more so it makes sense to swap down to a smaller plate. This might seem obvious but making a simple change like this can make a big difference as to whether you gain weight over the holidays or not. Experts tend to agree that more white space encourages the need to cover it with food so the less white space you have, the better! Another trick is to cover the white space with salad to fool your brain into putting less food on the plate.

Rope in a like minded buddy

If you have a friend who is also committed to avoiding weight gain over the holidays, get them on board as an accountability buddy. Check in with each other regularly to talk about your goals and any temptation you encounter. It’s only human to feel tempted by delicious looking holiday food but a quick chat with a like minded buddy can get you back on track.

Your Period: What is “Normal”?

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How much do you really know about what counts as a “normal” period? Things like how much blood you should be losing and how much pain is considered is par for the course can obviously be quite personal to you but there are some questions you can ask yourself to see if your periods are anything out of the ordinary.

  1. How much blood is it okay to lose?

It can feel as though you’re losing a lot of bleed during a period but most of the time, it’s not as bad as you think. Most women will only lose up to 16 tablespoons of blood – although it may look like more! The average is around 6-8 tablespooons.

How can you tell if your periods may be considered heavy? A few signs can include:

  • Regularly needing to change your sanitary protection every couple of hours (or sooner)
  • Passing blood clots that are bigger than a 10p coin
  • Leaking through your sanitary protection to your clothes or bedding
  • Periods that last longer than 7 days

Endometriosis and fibroids are some of the things that can cause heavy menstrual bleeding. If your periods have suddenly become heavier and/or you’re getting bleeding in between periods, it’s worth speaking to your doctor about these changes.

Heavy periods can open the door to iron deficiency anaemia so you’ll definitely want to eat plenty of good sources of iron to replace the blood you’re losing.

  1. What about blood clots?

Blood cots are generally pretty normal, unless they suddenly become bigger than the ones you have passed in previous periods. As a general rule of thumb, anything bigger than a 10p coin can be linked to heavy periods.

  1. How much pain is ‘normal’?

Some lucky women get relatively pain-free periods but for most of us, there will be at least some pain and cramping involved. Unfortunately this is pretty normal – unless it’s excruciating. Intense period pain can be a sign of dysmenrrhea, which is the medical term for painful periods. It’s often linked to other conditions such as endometriosis.

  1. What if the blood isn’t always red?

Don’t freak out if your menstrual blood isn’t bright red. It won’t always be! The colour can change during your period and often gets darker towards the end. It may even become brown as your period tapers off. This usually just means that old blood is on its way out.

  1. What if you miss a period?

Missed a period altogether? You could be pregnant but that’s not the only possible culprit. Hormonal factors and chronic stress can lead to you missing a period or two.  If you miss more than one period and you know you’re not pregnant, it’s a good idea to see your doctor and rule out underlying health problems.

  1. Irregular periods

Some women know exactly when their period is going to hit but it’s not always that straight forward. If you never seem to know what your period is going to do and when, it can make life very miserable.

Sometimes it can be down to stress and anxiety but the problem can run deeper than this.

If you’ve lost a lot of weight or have been overdoing it on the exercise front, it can lead to changes in your menstrual cycle.

Your periods can also suddenly change if you’ve recently switched your usual type of contraception (including switching to a different contraceptive pill).

Some health conditions can make your menstrual cycle go crazy. With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), you may only have a few periods in the average year. Or you can go completely the other way and have more than one period a month. Thyroid problems can also affect your periods.

If your periods have suddenly gone haywire, speak to your doctor about possible reasons why.

 

 

 

 

Summer Travel Tips: How to Help Your Digestion

summer travel tips digestion

Any situation that is a break from the norm can throw out your digestion and vacations are no exception! Travelling can upset the delicate balance in your gut before you even get to your destination. And while you’re there, eating different foods and over indulging can put extra stress on your digestive system. Here are some tips for helping your digestive system while you’re away.

Eat Mindfully

Digestion starts from the moment you put food in your mouth and this means that how and why you eat can be really important. Eating mindfully slows down your eating and gives your body more of an opportunity to digest your food. Even if you tend to eat mindfully at home, this can be pushed aside when you’re travelling.

Drink Plenty of Water

Staying well hydrated helps to keep your bowels moving. Bottled water is often the best choice as local tap water isn’t always safe to drink. Go for still water over sparkling if you’re prone to bloating and gas.

Herbal teas can also promote good digestion, especially ginger and peppermint. Bonus points if you can get hold of fresh ingredients and make your own teas.

Get Plenty of Fibre

A change of environment can often affect your bowel habits – and not always for the better! If your digestive system is out of balance, you may find that constipation is a bigger problem than normal, especially if you’re eating different foods while you’re away. Eating plenty of fiber will help to keep you regular and make constipation less likely. Good sources include fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, whole grains, seeds and legumes.

Eat Fermented Foods

Kefir and sauerkraut are just two examples of fermented foods that can improve your gut health. They promote the “good” bacteria and help it to thrive so your gut environment is balanced. Probiotics are another smart move if your gut could do with some healing, whether it’s through “live” yoghurt or supplements.

Preventing Diarrhoea

Some of the common culprits for getting diarrhoea and other digestive troubles while you’re on holiday include:

– Staying away from unpasteurised foods and drinks

– Not eating raw fruits or vegetables unless their skin can be peeled

– Using bottled water to drink and clean your teeth

– Not having ice in your drinks if you can’t be sure that it was made from bottled water (rather than tap water)

– Not eating too many foods that are greasy or fatty or going overboard with lots of fibre (which can lead to diarrhoea and gas if you)

– Eat fairly small meals and avoid eating too close to bedtime, especially if you’re prone to heartburn

 

 

What is the Link Between Anxiety and Gut Health?

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When it comes to your mental wellbeing, your gut may play a much bigger role than you think. Research is now suggesting that there can be a very strong link between your gut and your brain, to the extent that your chances of developing anxiety or depression may  be heavily influenced by the health of your gut. Here’s what to know about the connection between your mental health and what’s going on in your gut.

Stress and Your Gut

The gut is heavily linked to your emotions and no doubt you have personal experience of this. We’ve all felt sensations such as nervous butterflies in the stomach or feeling sick when we’re anxious, which is physical evidence of the connection between your mind and your gut.

Stress can physically affect the gut in other ways too, including how it works. It can encourage the walls of the gut to contract, which can be a factor in bowel movements – especially diarrhoea. Stress can cause food to move through the digestive system more quickly than it would otherwise do and this can result in loose stools and frequent bowel movements.

Studies have also suggested that people with GI disorders are sometimes able to improve their symptoms if they receive psychological therapies to help them to manage stress and anxiety, and often see a better response compared to people who are only receiving “conventional” treatment.

What Science Says

Studies on mice carried out by University College Cork showed a strong connection between gut microbes and mental health. In particular, low levels of microbes in the gut were linked to depression and anxiety. The mice who were bred to be “microbe free” were a lot more anxious than the mice who had higher levels of microbes in their gut.

The theory is that microbes in the gut have an impact on key areas of the brain, notably the pre-frontal cortex and amygdala. Both of these areas are linked to anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.

Probiotics have also been the focus of some studies, with research suggesting that probiotics could even work as well as Diazepam and Citalopram in improving mental health and reducing anxiety.

How to Improve Your Gut Health

So, what can you do to get a healthier gut environment and help to improve your mental health?

Probiotics are a great place to start. According to some studies, they can reduce anxiety so it’s definitely worth increasing your intake or starting to take them for the first time if you suffer from anxiety. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir and yogurt are examples of how you can add probiotics to your diet or you can try probiotic drinks if you prefer.

Prebiotics are another smart move. They aren’t quite the same as probiotics but they’re just as important – perhaps more so given that they help probiotics to work more effectively.

There is still a lot for us to know about the gut-brain connection but the evidence so far strongly suggests that your gut health can have an effect on how likely you are to experience anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. Improving your gut health can potentially do more than just improve your digestive health and can also have a knock on effect for your mental health too!

 

What Are the Different Types of Psoriasis?

different types of psoriasis

Psoriasis is essentially an autoimmune condition that develops when your immune system encourages your body to produce new skin cells far more quickly than normal.

Psoriasis is a bit of a “catch all” term as there are actually a few different types of psoriasis that can have their own set of symptoms. This means you can have an entirely different experience of psoriasis compared to someone else who also has the condition, depending on which type you have. It’s also possible to have more than one type of psoriasis at the same time.

Plaque Psoriasis

This is the most common type of psoriasis and shows itself in some of the more traditional symptoms of the condition. This includes red, raised patches of red skin topped with a build up of silver-white scales due to an excess of dead skin cells.

It can often appear on the scalp but it can also develop on other parts of the body too.

It is usually itchy but can also be painful and sore and make the skin crack and even bleed.

Treatment for plaque psoriasis generally involves topical treatments to remove build up of scales and reduce the redness underneath. On the scalp, this can include shampoos containing a combination of coal tar and coconut oil. Elsewhere on the body, corticosteroids may be prescribed, along with treatments that suppress the immune system and reduce the number of skin cells being produced.

Guttate Psoriasis

This type of psoriasis is fairly common in children and young adults and can develop after a bout of strep throat or another infection or illness. It is one of the most common forms of psoriasis after plaque psoriasis.

It is characterised by small, drop or dot shaped lesions. There can be scales on top of these but the end result isn’t as thick or raised up as plaque psoriasis. These symptoms can sometimes disappear as quickly as they developed but they can also come and go in much the same way as most psoriasis types.

Treatments for guttate psoriasis can include topical creams (that sometimes contain steroids), corticosteroids and immune suppressants.

Inverse Psoriasis

This type of psoriasis crops up most commonly in skin folds such as the groin, the underarms and underneath the breasts. Inverse psoriasis tends to be shiny and smooth in its appearance, unlike most other forms of the condition. Another difference is the fact that inverse psoriasis tends not to be dry or raised up in its texture; instead, it is usually moist.

It can accompany other types of psoriasis so you may find that you have it in skin folds and also have another form somewhere else on your body.

Topical creams can be used to tackle inflammation and irritation but treating inverse psoriasis can be tricky given the sensitive nature of some of the areas it develops in. Steroid creams can be a problem for longer term use as they can thin the skin. Other options include treatments that stop the immune system paving the way for psoriasis symptoms and phototherapy (with ultraviolet light) for more severe cases.

Pustular Psoriasis

This type of psoriasis presents itself in the form of pus-filled blisters surrounded by areas of red skin, often on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Although it looks nasty, it’s not contagious. The blisters are actually thought to be filled with white blood cells rather than anything that can be infectious.

Treatment for pustular psoriasis can include topical treatments, phototherapy (with ultraviolet light) and sometimes, immune suppressants.

Erythrodermic Psoriasis

This is one of the least common types of psoriasis but it’s by far the most severe kind. It can affect large areas (potentially most of the body) and has an intensely red and fiery look. It tends to be very itchy and can also be seriously painful too. The skin can actually peel off, which is an indication of just how serious this form of psoriasis can be.

If you think you might have developed it, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible as it can potentially be life threatening.

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3 Natural Remedies for Psoriasis

3 natural remedies for psoriasis

When you’re first diagnosed with psoriasis, treatments typically take the form of steroids and other topical treatments that can make symptoms less obvious.

If you don’t want to go down this road and you’d rather see if natural remedies could help you to get some relief from psoriasis, there are a few that have some good potential for reducing the intensity of psoriasis symptoms.

As with all psoriasis treatments, they won’t cure the condition or stop your symptoms appearing but natural treatments can make them less severe and improve your confidence in your skin without needing traditional treatments.

Here are 3 natural remedies that can help psoriasis symptoms:

Honey

Honey can help to reduce inflammation and ease redness and dryness. Because it’s antibacterial and antimicrobial, it can also protect against the risk of infection if areas of your skin that are affected by psoriasis tend to get cracked and sore.

Manuka honey is one of the best options as it has stronger antibacterial and antimicrobial properties than most other types of honey. The higher grades tend to be more expensive but if your budget stretches far enough, the stronger grades are more likely to help your psoriasis symptoms.

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Studies haven’t really looked at the potential of honey as a psoriasis treatment but anecdotal evidence has shown it can make a lot of difference for some people. You might find it helps to keep symptoms to more of a minimum but may not work so well for plaque psoriasis.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is another natural remedy that can be applied to psoriasis affected skin and it’s one that can work well for scalp psoriasis too. One of the reasons for this is its intensive moisturizing qualities, which can add some all important hydration to dry, flaky skin. This also helps it to potentially loosen scales on the scalp. Traditional treatments for psoriasis often involve a combination of coal tar and coconut oil for this reason.

coconut oil

If you decide to give this natural remedy a try, your best bet is to choose pure and organic extra virgin coconut oil. It’s a bit more expensive than other types of coconut oil but it’s more likely to have the results you’re hoping for given its higher quality.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is very anti inflammatory thanks to the fact that it contains eugenol, an oil that has incredible qualities including being able to hinder NF-kappaB. This is a cytokine that plays a big part in inflammation and could be one of the culprits for your psoriasis symptoms.

The plus points don’t end there either. Eugenol also has an effect on 5-lipoxygenase enzymes, which are thought to be involved in inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis.

cinammon

Drinking cinnamon tea and adding the spice to cooking and baking  could help you to reduce inflammation and minimize your psoriasis symptoms.

These three natural remedies can help to make your psoriasis symptoms less noticeable if you apply them or consume them on a regular basis. They’re not miracle cures (unfortunately!) but as most psoriasis sufferers know all too well, anything you can do to help your skin to look better is very welcome. And there’s the added bonus too of not having to rely on creams and other more traditionals  treatments that can have side effects.

natural remedies for psoriasis infographic

How Does Stress Affect Immunity?

stress and immunity

If you’re struggling with stress and anxiety, you probably also come down with more than your fair share of illness too.

This isn’t just bad luck; according to science, there is a pretty strong link between stress and immunity.  Here’s how stress can affect your health and immunity and some tips on what you can do to cope with chronic stress.

How Does Stress Affect Immunity?

Under normal circumstances, your immune system protects you by tackling bacteria, viruses and other nasties that could make you ill.

Stress affects your body’s ability to fight off these viruses and bacteria, which makes you more likely to be ill. As a double whammy, it also makes it that bit harder to recover, meaning it takes you longer to feel fully well again.

As part of the “fight or flight” response, stress encourages hormones to be released. .This would be great if you were dealing with a genuine threat to your life that required you to get away quickly but it’s bad news when the threat is a bit more mundane.

One of the hormones that is released as part of the “fight or flight” response is cortisol, which is linked to inflammation.

This should only be a temporary effect and once the “threat” is over, hormone production and systems in the body should return to normal fairly quickly.

But with chronic stress, it can mean that the “fight or flight” stress response is  switched”on” most or all of the time. And this leads to inflammation in the body.

As you’ve probably heard, chronic inflammation is said to be a factor in a wide range of diseases and conditions, including heart disease and cancer.

Chronic inflammation can pave the way for conditions such as arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, lupus, fibromyalgia and psoriasis.

Cortisol also reduces the number of lymphocytes in your body. These are the white blood cells that would normally help to fight infection. Having low levels of these can mean that you pick up every cough and cold going and are prone to developing cold sores, for example.

In one study, researchers asked 276 people about the things that had stressed them out in the past year. They then gave them nasal drops containing the common cold virus to see who was most affected. Almost 40% of the participants did indeed catch a cold, and those who had reported having a lot of stress were twice as likely to be ill.

In the second part of the same study, researchers also looked at the inflammatory response of 79 participants before they exposed them to the cold virus. They found that those who had a weak inflammatory response to begin with also produced more inflammatory cytokines when they got ill.

Depression and Mental Health

It’s not just stress that can deplete your immunity. Studies have shown that depression is also heavily linked to lower immunity, especially in situations that involve chronic stress.

One study looked at depression in older caregivers and found that even mild cases reduced their immunity and this was still the case 18 months later. Researchers concluded that it isn’t how severe the depression is that affects immunity but the length of time that it’s been present.

What Can You Do to Deal With Chronic Stress?

It’s not always easy or even practical to avoid stress, especially if you suffer from a chronic health condition or care for a loved one, for example.

If you can’t avoid stress, the next best thing is to learn how to cope with it so that it’s less likely to have a big impact on your immunity.

A few things you can try include:

Relaxation remedies: The mind-body connection is strong but you can use it in a positive way by harnessing relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, visualisation and guided imagery.

Overcoming negative thinking: Negative thinking and anxiety tend to go hand in hand and can cause a lot of stress. Studies have shown that people with a positive outlook on life have better immunity so there are a lot of big benefits attached to overcoming negative thinking.

Building a strong support network: In recent years, loneliness has been flagged as one of the biggest risk factors for chronic ill health – potentially even more so than obesity and smoking. People with stronger support networks have been shown to benefit from better health and immunity.

Eat well: Eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is recommended for tackling stress but there are also foods that you should limit as much as possible. Refined sugars, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods are all best restricted as they can promote inflammation.

Exercise regularly: Exercise encourages feel good endorphins, which can boost your mood and it’s also a good way to relieve stress. There are benefits for immunity too as being physically active increases your body’s white blood cells, which can be depleted by stress. High intensity physical activity has the most effect on white blood cells.

Have some fun:  Laughter also increases your body’s white blood cells and helps to reduce stress hormones.

 

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What to Eat for Anxiety (And What to Avoid)

anxiety foods

What you eat can have a big impact on your health and wellbeing, and mental health is no exception to this. Some foods have been shown to have a positive effect on anxiety symptoms while others are known to make anxiety worse. Here are some of the key foods and drinks that can help to reduce anxiety, plus some of the ones to avoid.

What to Eat for Reducing Anxiety

Fruits

Antioxidants protect against oxidative stress, which can alter key neurotransmitters in the brain. In one study, anxiety has been linked to low consumption of antioxidants so it’s definitely worth upping your intake of fruit if you’re struggling with anxiety. Aim for as many different colours as you can to get a range of nutrients as well as antioxidants.

Salmon

Salmon is linked to a healthy brain, not least because it’s a good source of vitamin D and fatty acids EPA and DHA. All of these nutrients are thought to help to regulate the dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters, which are linked to calmness.

Adding more salmon to your diet can be an easy way to improve your wellbeing and it’s backed up by research too. In one study, men who ate Atlantic salmon three times per week also experienced less anxiety.

Turkey

Turkey is a good source of L-tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin. It’s been shown to improve symptoms of depression and social anxiety.

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut promote a healthy gut, which has a lot more to do with your brain than you might think. Studies suggest that eating probiotics and fermented foods regularly can be good for anxiety – even to the point of potentially preventing anxiety and depression. One study in particular looked at the role that fermented foods can play in treating social anxiety.

Turmeric

If you’re not adding this spice to your diet on a regular basis, you’re missing out on another chance to decrease anxiety symptoms.

It’s thought that turmeric may help the body to produce more of the omega 3 fatty acid, DHA, which is linked to key neurotransmitters in the brain.

Another factor is turmeric’s anti inflammatory qualities. This can reduce inflammation in the body and decrease inflammatory markers such as cytokines, which are also connected to anxiety and depression.

Water

Wondering about what to drink to tackle anxiety? Water is a great choice. Even being just a little bit dehydrated can affect your mood and how your brain functions, which in turn can promote anxious thoughts and feelings. One theory is that it is linked to a primal survival strategy to find water and stay hydrated but whatever the real reason, water is definitely one drink to reach for when you’re anxious.

Green Tea

Green tea contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that has shown potential for encouraging relaxation and relieving some of the physical symptoms of stress, including a fast heart rate.

Drinks containing L-Theanine can also reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Sipping green tea several times per day can potentially bring cortisol levels down so it’s a great choice when you’re feeling stressed and anxious.

Other studies on mice have suggested that green tea can reduce anxiety to much the same extent as some anxiety medications.

Camomile Tea

According to a study from the University of Pennsylvania, drinking chamomile tea for 8 weeks helped to reduce anxiety symptoms and promote relaxation.

In another study, taking chamomile extract for 8 weeks was shown to reduce anxiety symptoms and demonstrate antidepressant effects.

Unfortunately it seems that drinking chamomile tea doesn’t have quite the same effects for reducing anxiety compared to the extracts (which are stronger), although there is a lot more research to be done in this area before any definite conclusions can be made. One plus point in favour of chamomile tea is the ability to help to make you feel calmer. And that’s always welcome when anxiety is starting to take hold!

Foods and Drinks to Avoid for Anxiety

So now you know about the foods and drinks that can help to reduce anxiety, what about the main culprits in promoting it?

Caffeine

Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and one study even found that it can make you more likely to have a panic attack, especially if you’re already prone to anxiety.

Processed Foods

Processed and sugary foods are a double whammy for anxiety. They spike your blood sugar to begin with and then encourage it to crash. According to a study from Colombia University, it also increases your riskincreases your risk of depression and mood changes – especially for women.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can make anxiety worse for more than a few reasons. It can affect blood sugar, is dehydrating and can even change neurotransmitters in the brain if you drink regularly and in excess.

The more you drink, the worse it can be. One study found a strong link between social anxiety and alcohol dependency.