By Avril Ivory
Trainee naturopaths and nutritional therapists at the College of Naturopathic Medicine have noticed an increase in patients attending clinics who are on the go all the time and who think that they are not sick, are often very tired and report feeling out of balance.
The world is changing very quickly, from climate change to a restructuring of the world economy. It is more important than ever for us to be on top of the world in terms of our health and wellbeing.
Many people are very busy and pushing themselves towards optimal productivity. Sometimes, taking a step back to nurture ourselves leads to greater productivity in the long run. How do we do this?
It is a crucial time to have a positive perception. “Nothing is either good nor bad only thinking makes it so.” Our perceptions are mediated by our sense of wellbeing, if we are in balance physiologically we see the world in a more positive way.
The basics are easy: drink more water, get more exercise (increase endorphins), get more sleep, make yourself important, respond to your own inner wisdom, stay connected to nature, pursue a hobby or passion and surround yourself with good friends. On a deeper lever, however, there are three crucial points to address as a basis for physiological wellbeing. Ensure that your adrenal glands are not overworked, ensure that your serotonin levels are adequate and keep your blood sugars in balance.
A car rushes out of a laneway, narrowly missing you. Your heart rate increases, you break into a sweat, there is a rush of blood to your head… We all recognise this experience of releasing adrenaline. It is an adaptive function, a clever mechanism to help us mobilise glucose to remove ourselves from a dangerous situation, e.g. a bear in the woods.
However, for many people this adrenal response is happening too often and too quickly and is exhausting the adrenal gland. Instead of a bear in the woods, it is happening in response to a missed bill or a mortgage repayment or a productivity deadline or even something as simple as a traffic jam. It is causing the body to remain on high alert.
Symptoms of too much cortisol / adrenaline being released in the body include feelings of anxiety, difficulty relaxing, difficulty ‘switching off’ and often disrupted sleep.
The adrenal glands respond wonderfully well to relaxation techniques and deep breathing. The first and most important step is to track your baseline, sometimes the stress response has become so habitual that we don’t even know we are releasing cortisol. Do something that really relaxes you (if necessary have acupuncture or visit a herbalist), hold on to that feeling of relaxation to help identify when you’re moving too far away from that baseline. Identify all the activities that bring you back to that feeling of relaxation and make sure you build some of these into everyday life.
When you have done this, make the following changes: avoid stimulants, sugars and refined processed foods; increase foods with a low glycemic load, e.g. fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. From your health food store, purchase a good Multivitamin and Multimineral, a Vitamin B complex, and ask for a herbal mix that might contain nervines such as Passionflower, Skullcap or Valerian.
If you have been responding to life’s obstacles with an overactive adrenal gland, it is likely that you might be slightly dysglycemic. This means that your blood sugar system might be having dips and peaks.
Signs of dysglycemia include difficulty concentrating, mood swings, anger and irritability and craving sweet foods.
We feel abundantly better and more able to cope with the world with a stable blood sugar system. If your blood sugars are out of balance, follow all the same recommendations as above but add some essential fatty acids to your regimen. They are wonderful in helping to balance the system. Also eat two apples per day to ensure enough fibre. Fibre stabilises blood sugars. Good sources include legumes, oats, nuts, seeds, pears and vegetables.
Avoid caffeinated tea, coffee and cigarettes; all of which can cause both an adrenal response and a huge blood sugar fluctuation. Take frequent exercise (ideally every day): weight bearing and cardiovascular. Weight bearing exercises in particular affect our glucose tolerance factor, so even lifting gentle weights can keep our blood sugars in check for up to 48 hours. They can also bring out the warrior in us and ground our energies, giving us a stable base to work from and keeping our minds in balance.
Serotonin is a happy neurotransmitter that plays a major role in transmitting messages in the nervous system. When it is plentiful, we feel wonderful about the world, even if it is posing challenges. Our stores of serotonin can run low particularly if over a period of time our cortisol levels have been elevated, our blood sugars swinging and our gut function disturbed.
Signs of low serotonin include feeling overwhelmed, lowered mood, insomnia, lack of motivation and feeling that we are not good enough.
Serotonin is naturally produced by the body from the amino acid tryptophan. The tryptophan is converted into serotonin, but in order for the conversion to take place we need to be eating really well; ideally a diet which is nutrient dense and full of high life-force foods. We also need to make sure our gut function is good by including lots of prebiotics (garlic, onions, etc.) and probiotics and avoiding high sugar and high fat foods.
With good gut function and by following all the recommendations above, and by including plenty of tryptophan rich foods in our daily diet (turkey, chicken, avocado, banana, milk, tomato, chocolate, pineapple and plums) our serotonin will be optimal.
All our systems our inter-related. The adrenals affect the blood sugar metabolism and gut function which affect brain chemistry. When these systems are in balance we feel poised to take on the obstacles of the times we live in, and indeed because we are positive and energised we help to make a better world. In a season of gifts, the best gift we can give to ourselves is to honour and support our physiology.
Avril Ivory (M.Sc.Dip.nat) is a naturopath and health psychologist.
She is the Academic Director of the College of Naturopathic Medicine in Ireland.
CNM run free and reduced rate clinics in the city centre and in Dun Laoghaire. If you would like to be a patient at a clinic, contact Eileen on 012353094.
NEW CNM SHORT COURSE:
The College of Naturopathic Medicine is offering a 12-week evening course on ‘Nutrition for Everyday Living’ starting on Tuesday 2nd Feb 2010 in Griffith College, Dublin.
For bookings for the talk or information on any of our courses, call 012353094, email firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.naturopathy.ie