Grace Kingswell Nutritional Therapist D.N.Med
Today’s blog post is on a topic close to all our hearts I think, though perhaps we wish it wasn’t, stress! According to the American Institute of Stress: About 33% of people report feeling extreme stress, 77% of people experience stress that affects their physical health, 73% of people have stress that impacts their mental health and 48% of people have trouble sleeping because of stress. We also know now that chronic stress predisposes us to conditions like Type 2 Diabetes later in life, and in the short term ages us prematurely, makes quality sleep pretty evasive, our immune system less effective, and contributes to weight gain, among other things.
So what can we do to manage chronic stress? First of all let’s just briefly recap what we mean by chronic stress.
The Stress Response
It’s primitive. Plain and simple! Unfortunately, though we’ve evolved over centuries to be a hugely complex and advanced race with advances in science and medicine that truly make the mind boggle, our stress response still hasn’t really caught up. These days we have multiple stressors (the pandemic, running a business, children, work, social media, family, health etc) but still only one stress response: fight or flight. The type of stress we experience these days has changed, it tends to be longer (i.e. chronic) in manifestation - for example a long, drawn out family medical issue or work trouble) so rather than experiencing the stress and quickly moving on, such as we would have back when we were hunter gatherers coming across a predator (die quickly or run away to safety), it lingers - and we linger in our sympathetic nervous system response, i.e. fight or flight when really we should have gone back into that rest and digest arm of the nervous system.
So that’s what we’re dealing with in terms of chronic stress, an upregulated nervous system for the majority of our waking hours - and sometimes sleeping hours too! And contrary to what you might think, easing ourselves away from chronic stress, especially if it’s a learned response over many, many years - e.g. a stressful job that you’ve been at for 10+ years, is not solvable with a glass of wine once you get home in the evening.
Oftentimes it can take years to unravel these learnt patterns. I usually describe this to clients (I love an analogy in Nutritional Therapy) as peeling back layers of an onion one by one, first starting with that protective skin and ending with the softer center. Each layer can represent something you work on with your nutritionist or therapist that contributes to reducing the overall body burden of stress - for example a better diet that nourishes your body and provides essential cofactors for enzyme reactions in neural pathways, a strict bedtime routine that helps aid restful sleep, targeted supplement support to assist the adrenal gland and HPA axis and the inclusion of daily practices specifically targeted towards calming down the nervous system.
Magnesium Deficiency and Chronic Stress
Stress will deplete the body of more minerals and vitamins than just magnesium (actually B vitamins are particularly hard hit by chronic stress), but I wanted to mention magnesium here because it’s one of the most important. Magnesium is necessary for over 300 reactions in the body that take place daily - that is an overwhelming amount! And guess what, most of us are deficient in magnesium too.
Studies show an inverse relationship between serum cortisol (that’s your stress hormone) and magnesium. So the higher the body’s serum magnesium levels, the lower the cortisol. The body must have magnesium to combat stress - but stress robs us of magnesium. So you can see the problem!
Magnesium is abundant in our diet, but not if the diet is poor. High levels of magnesium are found in dark, leafy green vegetables like kale and cavolo nero as well as whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. These days, because our soil is compromised, our food doesn’t have the same nutrition value as it once did. So we have less coming in via diet, and more stress in our lifestyles - and overall, low magnesium status.
My favourite supplement for magnesium is by Elivide and it’s a Magnesium Bisglycinate with Vitamin B6 as P5P. I’ve found it transformative for clients’ sleep patterns, helping to aid restful and deeper sleep. 2 capsules about an hour before bed should do it. It’s also incredibly pure with no fillers or caking agents - pretty please, whatever you do, don’t run on down to Boots and buy some cheap Magnesium Oxide!
As I mentioned earlier, the B vitamins get particularly hard hit by chronic stress too, so supplementing those in a complex is also a good idea. Wild Nutrition makes a nice B complex, and again the quality and purity of this brand is something you can be really confident in.
Lifestyle Adaptations to Manage Chronic Stress
My next top recommendation is the Sensate device - again, an absolute game changer for so many people I see in clinic. In fact, I had one client this week say it’s changed his life - high praise indeed! The Sensate is a device, shaped like a pebble, that connects to an app on your phone and, whilst you’re plugged into some lovely calming music, it vibrates on your sternum, just below your collarbone where your vagus nerve runs down the front of your body.
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the human body and runs from the base of the brain all the way down to the bottom of the digestive system. It forms a major highway of the Gut-Brain Axis, but it also forms a bit part of the nervous system. By activating it using vibrations it taps directly into your stress response. Vagal activation = swinging into that rest and digest arm of the nervous system, the parasympathetic state. In as little as 10 minutes (you can choose between 10, 20 and 30 minute sessions) you can feel totally and utterly relaxed. Regularity is key with a device like this because what you want to ideally do is send constant reminders, i.e. twice a day, to the body that it’s calm, happy, relaxed and stress free.
I believe in this product so much that I begged them for a £20 off code for clients and anyone else that wanted to try it: Simply use GRACE at the check out or follow this affiliate link to purchase https://www.getsensate.com/grace