Do we really need experts to tell us that stress is bad? Probably not. Yet as much as we’ve focused on the mental health aspects of keeping sane during our wild ride of a year, have you wondered what it would take to undo the physical affects of stress on your body? And while you’re thinking about your body as a whole, go ahead and consider what is all this anxiety about community infections, job security, social isolation and more is costing us physically. We know that the effects of chronic stress and living on high alert not only exhausts our mental fortitude, it grinds the gears on our immune systems and more but can the impact of stress be erased with a good diet? Vogue Singapore speaks to Pooja Vig, functional nutritionist and clinical director of The Nutrition Clinic to learn more.
What does stress do to bodies including our skin, scalp and gut?
Research has shown that long term and even acute stress can impact and increase inflammation in the body, leading to stress-related diseases including insulin resistance, hypertension, depression, Parkinson’s and more. “This level of systemic inflammation that’s present in the body long term is linked to many conditions,” says Vig. “When we look at common conditions such as heart disease, joint pain, mood and skin disorders—there is almost always an inflammatory component to this.
“Inflammation can manifest in many ways—through the gut and increasingly, we’ve observed many high achieving women who work in very high stress companies come in with skin, sleep and hormonal issues. This happens when our body’s flight or fight mode is constantly activated, leading to an imbalance in the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. It is imperative to activate your parasympathetic nervous system to release emotional stress, accelerate healing and improve recovery.”
What probiotics, supplements and foods best neutralise or combat the effects of stress?
It can be tempting to add a slew of supplements touted across social media today. Instead of what Vig calls “supplementing blindly”, she uses a “health data based on your unique bio-chemistry, health history and lifestyle to make decisions on what your body needs.” However, as a start, Vig recommends considering:
- Probiotics to help maintain a healthier gut microflora, make sure you look for one that is practitioner grade—so you know the strains are effective.
- Magnesium can help with nervous system regulation and sleep, it is estimated around 50 per cent of people are deficient in magnesium, so it’s a good place to start if you’re struggling with sleep and anxiety.
- Ultimate Energy, is our own blend designed to combat fatigue, enhance mental performance and help with balance. It is formulated from adaptogens which are amazing at regulating our energy and mood.
“It is also important to research that the supplements you are buying are clean, independent lab test and pharmaceutical grade. Unfortunately, the supplement industry is not as regulated as you may think.
“From a food perspective, it’s important to not give in to sugar cravings. Having too much sugar drives blood sugar levels into a roller coaster and that causes a lot of stress and inflammation on the body. Complete Collagen is a great way to get more protein, it contains three types of peptides—Fortigel, Verisol and Fortibone. At the clinic, we use it for clients to boost collagen production to help heal digestive issues, joint pain, support muscle growth and as an added bonus it plump up ageing skin—very year after the age of 25, we loose 1-2 per cent of collagen in our bodies. So you can see why it’s important to top this up, especially since we rarely consume enough collagen in food sources.”
Choose foods that stabilise your blood sugar levels—and as a general rule, have protein for every meal and keep carbohydrates to a minimum, especially since as most of us are most likely less physically active being home based. It’s not a great time to dive into anything too restrictive which can be another layer of stress on your body.
Are there any ‘happy’ foods that help promote relaxation or wellbeing?
It’s not uncommon for people to reach out for alcohol or refined sugars in order to self-soothe when they’re stressed. For Vig, it’s less about “specific ‘happy’ foods that help promote wellbeing, but foods that help with gut health overall. A happy gut means a happy brain because the gut and mind are so inextricably linked. And foods that improve gut health include bone broth and other foods that are high in collagen. Since many receptors of our neurotransmitters are in the gut, mood and wellbeing can’t be improved without looking into gut health.”
What lifestyle changes can we implement to help manage stress and our mind-body connection in this time?
According to the American Psychological Association, gut bacteria manufacture approximately 95 per cent of the body’s serotonin in the gut, which influences mood and GI activity. But our digestive system is half of the picture when it comes to stress management.
Says Vig: “Yes it’s true that 90 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, a happy chemical, is made in the digestive tract. And apart from foods and probiotics that can help cultivate better serotonin production, doing simple things like getting morning sunshine, adding movement to your day like dancing to music as well as having a good laugh and spending time with your pet also helps.”