Stress and Diet

One of the greatest insights I have had with my patients in recent years is how much food and diet impact the level of stress they experience. I remember a patient that I first saw last year who had terrible insomnia and anxiety. Even sleeping medications had failed to do much good. When I looked at what he was eating, it appeared to me that he was setting himself up for his mood issues through his eating habits.

I put him on a detoxification diet with no simple sugars, caffeine,dairy, red meat or wheat products and asked him to come back in three weeks. He was a different person, less fidgety, more focused and much more at ease. In his words his mind had stopped running at 100 mph and he was feeling back to himself.

His story is not unusual. The function of the brain is dependent on good eating habits as much as the heart or any other organ and yet most of the time the first approach to treating emotional issues is a prescription, not a food diary investigation. In The Adaptation Diet I have detailed not only how to change eating habits but specific nutrients such as EPA-DHA and flaxseed powder that help the brain reset the stress mechanism and recover adaptation.

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Optimism and Adaptation

In researching the scientific mind-body literature for my book, Power of the Five Elements, one thing stood out: having adaptive attitudes can have an enormous impact on whether a person maintains their health or develops a serious illness.   Optimism is one of the most important of all the traits identified as essential in staying healthy, something that can be developed even if it not one’s nature.

The optimist puts ‘bad’ events in perspective and do not blame themselves and are realistic about what they can control. They are able to move on and see the world in a positive light. A fascinating study by Seligman of baseball players in the Hall of Fame, found those with a pessimistic attitude (blame themselves, are self-centered and often feel hopeless), had  much greater  overall mortality rate than the optimistic players.

If you see yourself with the traits of a pessimist (see Power of the Five Elements for more details), you can work to develop the following traits of optimists: expect positive outcomes; do not give up in difficult situations; expect to be successful; feel they can fix what is needed to be fixed. Your health depends on it.

Food Allergy and Health

Studies show that up to one of every two Americans could have some food allergy or intolerance. There are two types of food allergy: immediate and delayed. Immediate food allergy involves symptoms such as hives, breathing problems and bowel symptoms occurring within a few minutes of ingesting a food. Typically, this is limited to certain foods such as shellfish, peanuts, strawberries and tree nuts like Brazil nuts. The mechanism of immediate food allergy, which can be life threatening, is release of histamine triggered by IgE antibodies. These allergies are fixed, meaning they don’t change much over a lifetime.

A much more common form of food allergy and intolerance is delayed hypersensitivity where symptoms might not occur for up to 24 hours after ingesting a food. Symptoms can include fatigue, digestive problems, headaches, joint pain, muscle pain, urinary problems, skin rash and nasal congestion and asthma. The most common food triggers are wheat, dairy, sugar, beef, soy, tomatoes, citrus and corn. Many people have developed masking where frequent use of an allergic food prevents the person from seeing the connection between the food and symptoms. These allergies are mediated by IgG antibodies and often do not include major histamine release.

One way to identify if these foods are contributing to symptoms is to do an avoidance diet and then add the food back into the diet. This approach is detailed in The Adaptation Diet as well as information on rotation diets.

Ashwaganda and Adaptogens

I just returned from a fascinating trip to India where we visited among other areas, Kerala, in southern India. Kerala is famous for spices and tea plantations dating back to the time of the Roman empire. Cochin, the port city of Kerala, has been a center of commerce and home to successive waves of European traders for centuries. In the verdant hills of Kerala we toured a spice plantation which grew vanilla, black pepper, cardamom, ginger and ashwaganda, an important herb in Ayurvedic medicine.

Though our guide emphasized that ashwaganda was the ‘Indian Viagra’, I knew it had many other important properties. Ashwaganda, as I described in The Adaptation Diet, is one of the most potent adaptogens, a group of herbs that supports healthy adrenal function and improves the ability to adapt to stressful circumstances. Studies show less adrenal enlargement, blood sugar elevation or cortisol depletion in animals pretreated with ashwaganda and exposed to stressful conditions. People treated with ashwaganda are less anxious in stressful situations. It has effects on androgen production,GABA levels in the brain as well as reducing inflammation and improving immune function.

Ashwaganda, along with the program outlined in The Adaptation Diet, can be an important tool in maintaining the ability to adapt to stressful circumstances.

The Curious Case of Gluten

When I wrote The Adaptation Diet, one topic I included which causes a lot of  confusion for  my patients, is gluten intolerance and celiac disease. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, malt, triticale, spelt, and kamut.  It doesn’t make much sense that  foods that were integral to human evolution  have caused so many people health problems. However, like many things in life, too much of a good thing has become a problem for some people. Sensitivity to gluten is widespread in the Untied States, especially in people of Northern European extraction (Scandinavian,English, Irish, and German).

Individuals vary in their response to gluten proteins. On one end of the continuum is simple gluten intolerance (also called non-celiac gluten intolerance) with symptoms of fatigue, headaches, digestive bloating, flatulence,diarrhea, weight gain, skin problems, depression, and joint or muscle pain. It is estimated that one in ten Americans could have gluten intolerance or wheat allergy. On the other end of the continuum is the more serious celiac disease, with major bowel symptoms, a less common problem with an incidence of 1 in every 133 Americans.

There are blood tests to help identify if you have gluten intolerance, but if there is any question the best approach is to adopt a gluten-free diet  for at least 3 months. If you are concerned about the celiac disease aspect, see a gastroenterologist to discuss the need for a biopsy before you stop eating gluten.


Forgiveness and Health

One reason I wrote Power of the Five Elements was to bring to light some startling new research on the effects of long term stress on health. Bruce McEwen and other researchers found that once someone has been exposed to chronic  stress the brain actually resets the amount of stress hormone secreted. This leads to possible serious consequences such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The price one pays to adapt to stress is called allostatic load, something to avoid at all costs.

Luckily certain innate or acquired attitudes and behaviors such as forgiveness, leads to lower stress hormones and less damage to the body. In one study researchers measured  blood pressure and heart rate of seventy-one college students while they were thinking of times they had been lied to, insulted, or betrayed by family member. When they imagined forgiving the people who had wronged them, their blood pressure and pulse rate dropped dramatically.

By following these behavioral tips, it is possible to reduce the risk of chronic disease.


Mediterranean Diet and inflammation

In an recent study done at the University of Navarra in Spain, 41 obese subjects were placed on a low calorie Mediterranean style diet and followed for 8 weeks. Those who adhered most closely to the diet not only had the greatest weight loss, but had a marked reduction in blood levels of inflammation including CRP, complement C3 and TNF alpha. The conclusion of the researchers was that this type of diet, which I outline in The Adaptation Diet, not only helps with weight loss but can markedly reduce inflammation and improve features of the metabolic syndrome and other inflammatory conditions.

We often underestimate the effect of diet on metabolism and overly rely on medication instead. So before reaching for the prescription pad, give yourself a chance to improve your health by following The Adaptation Diet.