by Ashley Jordan Ferira, PhD, RDN
Vitamin D is essential- it helps absorb calcium, supports nervous and muscle tissue, and the immune system. Compared to normal-weight counterparts, vitamin D deficiency is more prevalent in those with obesity. In the US over one-third of adults meet obesity criteria.1
A study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism2 examined cellular mechanisms of vitamin D trafficking in metabolically dysfunctional adipose tissue as compared to normal adipocytes in conjunction with a vitamin D supplementation intervention in a randomized, controlled trial.
Ninety-seven male subjects completed the vitamin D intervention study. Fifty-four normal-weight and 67 obese males were initially randomized to receive either 50 mcg/week of 25-hydroxyvitamin-D3 [25(OH)D3] (2,000 IU/week equivalent) or 150 mcg/week of vitamin D3 (6,000 IU/week equivalent) for one year. Vitamin D sufficiency was defined as a 25(OH)D blood level > 20 ng/ml. This serum concentration is aligned with the National Academy of Medicine’s cutoff for vitamin D sufficiency.3
Vitamin D uptake, conversion and release were investigated in control (non-insulin-resistant) and insulin-resistant 3T3-L1 adipocytes, as well as in subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) samples from lean and obese participants. The release of vitamin D and its metabolites were induced with the addition of adrenaline. Expression of the vitamin D receptor and vitamin D conversion enzymes, 25-hyroxylase and 1α-hydroxylase, was also examined.
The research team elucidated key differences in cellular vitamin D trafficking effects and supplementation effects:
Why is this Clinically Relevant?
Link to Abstract
Racing Past Crohn’s: How Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Helped Lawson Aschenbach (Part 1) | Metagenics | Blog
Mental clarity, fitness, and good health are vital in racing, so a debilitating illness can threaten a professional race car driver’s career as well as his health. We sat down with seven-time professional sports car racing champion Lawson Aschenbach to learn how he used personalized lifestyle medicine to help manage his Crohn’s disease and return to the winner’s podium.
Let’s start with your professional background. How did you get into racing?I got into racing when I was 8 years old. My dad introduced my older brother and me to go-karting. It was a hobby at the time but quickly became my passion.
What is your schedule like? How much are you home? How often do you travel?I’m on the road between 150 and 200 days a year. That could be for race weekends, testing, or PR events. It’s difficult to stick to a schedule when you’re always traveling, so preparation has become an essential aspect of my life. I have containers for all the supplements I’m taking, and everything is premeasured before I leave for every trip.
When I’m racing, I’m either at the track or the hotel. I might be practicing, qualifying, or racing on those days, but I stick to a strict schedule. I go to bed at the same time every night; I wake up at the same time every morning. I make sure my health, focus levels, and body are in line to perform at a maximum level.
When I’m home, it’s a straightforward routine. I wake up, get breakfast, and go work out. There are a variety of exercises I use to keep myself in shape during and after the racing season. My afternoons involve office work and family. I try to spend as much time as I can with my wife and daughter. I’m enjoying fatherhood. It was an incredible experience bringing a baby into the world, and my daughter just turned 2 in December.
You were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. How long were you having symptoms before you were diagnosed? How did your diagnosis come about?I initially started having digestive problems in middle school when I was 12 or 13 years old. After lunch, I would get embarrassing gas issues. It came out of nowhere and continued until I found the trigger, milk. Two cartons of milk were the daily lunch beverage at the time, and when I replaced it with something else, the issues stopped. It seemed strange to me that I could drink milk with no problems until that day.
Fast-forward to 2012 when I was experiencing continued gas, horrible bathroom experiences, dizziness, lethargy, a B12 deficiency, and insomnia. I wasn’t recovering from workouts either. It got to the point where this was starting to affect my career.
At one point I demanded a colonoscopy. I don’t know many people that would request one of those! But I had to get to the bottom of this, and sure enough, I immediately got a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease.
How old were you when you were finally diagnosed?Twenty-eight. My disease progressed quickly until the diagnosis. And to make matters worse, that was a rough time in my life because the racing world had taken a considerable hit during the economic crash. Stress became a part of my issues, and I believe it advanced all my symptoms at a much faster rate.
In some ways, I’m glad it happened because it forced me to figure out my health issues. Not only was it affecting my career, but also my life.
How did your illness affect your racing? How did it affect your life outside of racing?The most critical attribute in a driver is focus, and fitness is a big player in that ability. When you start getting tired, you start losing attention, and at 170 miles an hour, that can lead to disastrous results. Not to mention the fact that we’re in close quarters. We’re battling, trying to go for fast laps, and continuously searching for a split-second opportunity to pass someone.
When inflamed, I noticed my energy levels were declining. My workouts weren’t very promising, and the recovery times were slow. The combination of lack of sleep, lethargy, and consistent gastrointestinal issues created a lack of focus when I was in the car. When I was asked to do a two- or three-hour stint during an endurance race, I was having a hard time finishing it.
When things start happening, people take notice. It was a scary time. I knew I couldn’t continue this way for another season or else my career could end.
What was your experience with traditional medicine in treating Crohn’s disease?Immediately after my diagnosis in early 2012, I was prescribed an anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical drug. My doctor mentioned that we needed to get to the bottom of this, or I was on the path to resection surgery to remove part of my colon. Talk about scared straight!
He said I was going to take a pharmaceutical for the rest of my life while throwing out some stat that 90% of all Crohn’s patients never get to complete remission. It was a frustrating thought, but anyone that knows me understands that I never back down from a challenge!
How long was it before you were introduced to medical foods and personalized lifestyle medicine as a management option for Crohn’s?I did a significant amount of research after my diagnosis to try to figure out another way without taking pharmaceuticals. I was willing to do whatever it took. My symptoms were getting worse each day.
I reached out to a friend who learned of alternative methods to manage his battle with colitis. A nutritionist helped him manage his symptoms using diet and supplementation. He went from yearly hospital visits to living a more happy, healthy life.
I set up an appointment with the nutritionist, and that was my introduction to the world of lifestyle health plans and Functional Medicine. This was the turning point in my journey.
What was your experience with UltraInflamX Plus 360® Medical Food?Within 24 hours of using the product, it was life-changing. Almost all of my gastrointestinal issues subsided, and I immediately felt like a different person.
I had a new lease on life, and my mood changed accordingly. I felt that I could tackle any race in the world, and I had the health to back me up! I can say, without a doubt, that UltraInflamX Plus 360 changed my life!
How have your life and your racing changed since you switched to a personalized lifestyle medicine approach to managing Crohn’s?First and foremost, I have more energy. I’m recovering faster from workouts and races. I’m sleeping better, my focus level is at an all-time high, and, most importantly, my driving ability has been raised to a new level. Driving three-hour stints is no problem anymore, and I’ve been very fortunate to win four championships since being introduced to lifestyle medicine.
As a driver, we’re dealing with extreme temperatures-inside the car, it can be 130, 140 degrees. We don’t have a lot of driver comfort options, and our arms, legs, and head are constantly moving. It’s vital that you can zero in on what you’re doing, because you may only get one shot to pass someone during an entire race.
Nowadays, if there’s an opportunity, I’m going to take it. I’ve been fortunate to win a lot of races because of that desire and dedication. I feel I’m driving better than ever, and it’s showing in the results.
Lawson Aschenbach is a seven-time professional sports car racing champion. He started racing karts at the age of 8 and went on to win state, national, North American, and four Grand National Championships. In 2005, he finished on the podium in his first sports car race and then burst out onto the scene in 2006, winning the SPEED World Challenge GT Championship in his rookie year. Aschenbach has over 35 professional race wins and currently competes in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge Series.
Your Brain on DHA
What is DHA?
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid—the most abundant of all the fatty acids most commonly found in the brain and eyes. But like many essential nutrients, DHA’s importance is often overlooked, and many Americans fall short of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) outlined by the US Department of Health.1,2 With all the cognitive, and other, benefits DHA has to offer, ensuring you get enough through your daily dietary intake is truly a no-brainer.
What are the benefits?
Not only does DHA account for over 50 percent of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain, it also turns on your brain’s growth hormone, known as the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This helps support the survival and function of existing neurons and also encourages new neurons and synapses to grow.3,4 Unfortunately, BDNF circulation slows down with age and can be stunted by stress and other lifestyle factors.5 That’s why upping your DHA is so important.
Although DHA is essential at every age, it’s especially crucial during three particular stages of life:
DHA can be helpful for baby’s development as well as mom’s recovery. A study showed that mothers who supplemented with omega-3s during pregnancy saw their children score higher on intelligence tests due to enhanced cognitive performance.6
For some mothers, pregnancy also takes a temporary toll on cognitive functioning and memory. Colloquially, it’s called “baby brain,” and it’s likely due to hormonal changes and the stressors placed on a woman’s body to meet the increased needs of her unborn baby. According to research, pregnancy can sometimes shrink brain tissue and cause long-term changes to brain structure.7,8 Recovery from pregnancy-induced brain changes can take years, but increased dietary intake of DHA has been studied to help support the regrowth of cells along the way, as well as promote healthy brain development in the baby.9
Babies and young children are growing every day, so it’s hard to understate the importance of DHA on brain development during this tender season of life.9 In fact, higher levels of DHA are associated with improved learning skills, while DHA deficiency in children has been linked to cognitive and learning disorders.10 That’s why making sure babies and toddlers get their fair share (500-700 mg daily)2 is a vital part of early brain development.
The benefits of DHA are enormously promising for older adults looking to keep their brains sharp and healthy. In a study of over 1,500 men and women over the age of 65, those with the lowest levels of DHA had significantly lower brain volumes than those with higher DHA levels and scored lower on tests measuring both memory and abstract thinking skills.11 On the flip side, studies show higher levels of DHA in the body (1,600 mg RDA for those age 51 and older)2 have also been associated with a decreased risk for brain-related chronic illness.11,12
DHA & gray matter
Our brains consist partly of something called “gray matter” (neural tissue that makes up a large amount of the central nervous system). Recent studies have supported a link between intelligence and the amount of gray matter in particular parts of the brain, which shrinks steadily in the years following adolescence. Though we naturally lose some brain volume over time, a higher intake of DHA is positively associated with gray matter volume and better cognitive function, even as we age.12
Where can I get it?
You can get some of your DHA in foods like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines) as well as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts. But for vegans and vegetarians, as well as those with nut allergies, obtaining DHA through diet alone can be a challenge. It’s also important to be mindful of how often you eat certain kinds of fish due to high mercury content.
Supplementing with fish oils, a mainstay in many supplement regimens, can help fill in the gaps and give you the support you need for positive brain and cognitive development.1 There are many things to look out for when choosing a fish oil supplement, so keep these tips in mind while you shop.
This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.
There’s been plenty of buzz in recent years around the word “detox,” but your body is not the only thing that can be exposed to toxins. Your whole way of life might be exposing you to emotional toxicity, too.
We take the trash out from our homes on a regular basis. This allows us to discard what’s no longer useful and keep our living spaces clean and pleasant. If we neglect this responsibility, the consequences are hard to ignore: overflowing waste baskets, unpleasant odors, and possibly the invasion of pests!
Unfortunately, emotional garbage is not so easy to detect. Bad habits, negative thoughts, toxic people, and unhealthy situations can overwhelm your personal space and accumulate clutter in your mind. Over time, both internal and external stressors cause your mental waste bin to become full. If you aren’t careful to filter out what you don’t need, that waste bin can overflow—and lead to a very unhealthy life!
There are plenty of ways to minimize toxicity in your life. Consider these nine steps to start reducing stressors today.
1. Change your self-talk
What are you thinking about right now? What did you think about when you first woke up? Believe it or not, your answers say a lot about you and your health.1 Your thought patterns are an integral part of your overall well being. Over time, repeated thought patterns influence behavior and beliefs.1 When your thoughts are mostly negative, it can feel like you’re stuck on a “not-so-merry”-go-round.
Remind yourself, too, that you can’t always trust your own thoughts to be impartial. Sometimes you have to hit the pause button, take some deep breaths, and talk yourself off the ledge. And that’s okay. To break free from a negative thought spiral, try a relaxing, rejuvenating activity (e.g., read a book, practice yoga, tend to your garden, or listen to a favorite record) to lift your spirits and get your mind focused on something new.
2. Reevaluate your habits
We all have bad habits. Some habits are relatively benign, like biting your nails or smacking your lips when you chew. But others, like hitting the snooze button, comparing yourself to other people, and picking fights with friends or partners, can actually be toxic to your well being.
The first step toward improvement is self-awareness. To start, make a list of your habits and mark an X next to the not-so-good ones. As you build your self-discipline, remember to be patient with yourself. Studies say it can take about two months (not 21 days) to make or break a habit!2
3. Walk away from bad relationships
Good friendships matter. In fact, research conducted over a ten-year period found that individuals with a stronger network of friends were 22% more likely to outlive their lonelier counterparts.3 But where good friendships can support your health, bad ones can do just the opposite.
Pay attention to how you feel after hanging with certain people. If you’re always left feeling distressed in one way or another, it may be best to start distancing yourself from them. Don’t feel obligated to keep up friendships (or romantic partners) that cost you your mental and emotional sense of peace.
4. Disconnect from social media
Social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it helps us stay connected with friends and family. On the other hand, it’s a hotbed of competition, comparison, and drama. Taking a break from social media can clear mental clutter and help you focus on the here and now.
Evaluate your feelings after using Facebook, Instagram, or any other social network, then ask yourself why you feel this way. It’s a good idea to delete or un-follow highly negative people or those who stir up bad feelings whenever you visit their pages or see their posts. Doing this can spare you those negative emotions and allow you to focus your energy on more positive things.
If nothing else, social media can be a real time killer. The time you save on scrolling could mean more time spent on hobbies or with loves ones.
5. Downsize your wardrobe
Clothes are a necessity and a fun way to express personal style. Unfortunately, they are also an easy thing to hoard. Physical clutter can lead to mental clutter. If sartorial clutter has taken over your bedroom, you may be in need of a closet purge.
The clothes you wear can affect your mood and your confidence, so it’s important that you feel good in them. Are any of your duds, well…a dud? Find out by doing a quick survey of every item in your wardrobe. Ask yourself: Would I feel good wearing this tomorrow or to an upcoming event? If the answer is no, it may be time to let it go. If you choose to donate, you can feel good knowing that your preloved apparel might work equally well for someone new.
6. Reorganize your work space
While the importance of keeping a clean home seems like a no-brainer, your work area can be an easy thing to neglect—until you find it’s covered in “organized” piles of paper and old business cards. According to science, a clean, organized work space can boost productivity. In fact, a Harvard study found that students who worked in a tidier environment remained focused for 7 ½ minutes longer than messier students, who were more likely to experience frustration and weariness.4
Giving your desk or work space a weekly once-over means you are less likely to be invaded by dust bunnies and more likely to check items off your to-do list.
7. Turn off the TV
It’s easier than ever to get hooked on television. The average American adult watches five hours of TV per day (wow!), and about 50 percent of Americans use some kind of streaming service—a number that’s been steadily rising.5
As statistics show, what we spend much of our free time doing is more passive than active, and that mindset may spill over into other areas of life. Although entertainment is not all bad, moderation may be the best approach to screen time. Increased television watching is associated with lower physical and mental vitality and may be linked to chronic health conditions.6,7
If this feels relevant for you, consider cutting your quality time with the tube by a small amount each day. Replace that time with a physical activity or creative hobby, which—according to research—can promote overall well being 8.
8. Reassess your diet
The benefits of a balanced diet go beyond your physical body. It can also make you feel good mentally. Eating foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can protect your brain from oxidative stress, support brain function, and help stabilize your mood.9 There’s also plenty of evidence showing that when your body is low in certain essential nutrients, such as vitamin D and omega-3's, it can negatively impact mental health.10,11 If you’re stuck in a funk, your diet may be playing a role.
To help combat those blues and support your health, start by incorporating wholesome snacks into your day, like nuts, fruit, or string cheese, and eat plenty of nutrient-dense greens whenever possible. Stock your fridge or pantry with things you enjoy that won’t make you feel guilty. And to set yourself up for success, rid your kitchen of sugary, greasy snack foods so you won’t be tempted to indulge.
9. Keep a journal
Had a bad day? Feeling low but you don’t know why? Write about it! Reading what you wrote a few days later may give insights on things that can be reduced or eliminated to avoid future bad or unhappy days.
Writing is one of the best ways to release bad feelings. Writing down your thoughts can feel just as good as venting to a friend. And because your thoughts are recorded in one place, it’s much easier to pick up on patterns in your thoughts and behavior—helping you prioritize problems, identify triggers, and work through anxious feelings.12 Anyone can do it!
When life gets too complicated, well being silently suffers. And though we all have different thresholds for toxic overload, most of us could benefit from taking some steps to detox our lives as well.
By Robert Silverman, DC, DACBN, DCBCN, MS, CCN, CNS, CSCS, CIISN, CKTP, CES, HKC, FAKTR
In a perfect world, we would garner all the vitamins and nutritional minerals we need from the foods we eat. We’d also be able to maintain robust, resilient immune systems to fight against all toxins and disease. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. The nutrients we need to maintain our day-to-day health, like magnesium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids, are also critical for maintaining our health over the long term.1 Yet Americans on average get about 11 percent of their daily calories from low-nutrient fast food.2 Even when we skip fast food and junk food, we aren’t always as careful about our diet as we should be. Stress and poor lifestyle behaviors, including smoking and alcohol use, reduce our ability to absorb nutrients.
Taking a daily multivitamin can help when your food isn’t as nutritious as it should be, but is that enough—even if you lead a generally healthy lifestyle? Aside from specific dietary needs that should be addressed with your functional health practitioner, here are five instances when I recommend leveraging the power of supplements.
To aid healthy sleep patterns
Among the many reasons to get a good night’s sleep is the link between sleep deprivation and negative health consequences. For example, people with high blood sugar often don’t sleep well. There’s evidence that not sleeping well can increase your risk of developing more serious complications. When choosing supplements for quality, restorative sleep, look to ingredients that help ease tension, support deep sleep, and promote physical regeneration during sleep. L-theanine enables the body to produce other calming amino acids, such as dopamine, GABA, and tryptophan and helps support concentration, focus, deep muscle relaxation, and improved quality sleep. Ashwagandha, another sleep-supporting supplement, contains active constituents called glyco-withanolides, which mimic certain corticosteroids, supporting healthy cortisol levels and the circadian rhythm.
The best-known ingredient, melatonin, supports sleep onset, quality of sleep, increased REM time, deep sleep, and dreaming—all factors that lead to better quality sleep and produce greater mental, physical, and emotional rejuvenation. Melatonin can decrease the amount of time required to fall asleep, increase the number of sleeping hours, and support daytime alertness. I recommend taking just 5 mg of melatonin, as taking too much can impair the body’s natural production of it and may cause us to become dependent on the artificial form.
Magnesium, a calming nutrient, can also help induce a deeper sleep, especially when taken together with calcium. Research from the Biochemistry and Neurophysiology Unit at the University of Geneva, Department of Psychiatry indicates that higher levels of magnesium helped provide better, more consistent sleep.3 Other natural supplements containing lavender oil work to encourage a restful night’s sleep by modulating the metabolism of melatonin and promoting relaxation.4
To support your brain health
Getting consistent, sufficient sleep lays a solid foundation for your brain’s health, but how you feed your brain plays a critical role in its wellbeing over time. By combining a brain-healthy diet with nutritional supplements, you’ll provide your brain with the fuel it needs for optimum levels of functioning. Here are four supplements I’d recommend to support brain health:
To feed your gut
We all know the old adage: “go with your gut.” But it turns out listening to your gut is much more than following your natural instinct. To support your gut’s health, start first with prebiotics—ingredients that induce the growth of beneficial microorganisms in your gut. You’ll also want to consume foods packed with probiotics. The combination of prebiotics and probiotics can help keep your microbiome in a healthy balance, with a good diversity of intestinal bacteria in your gut. When you have plenty of good bacteria, the harmful ones get crowded out. Your digestion also improves, because your ability to absorb macronutrients and micronutrients is better when your beneficial bacteria are diverse and balanced.
To properly rehydrate after exercise
After exercising, proper fueling requires more than just replenishing calories and fluids; it also involves consistent and adequate electrolyte support. Electrolytes are substances that are utilized by the body to create electrically charged fluids. Many bodily functions depend on electrolytes, especially in muscle and nervous system tissue. Major electrolytes found in the body include sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate. The right rehydration supplements are scientifically designed to help support fluid balance; supply sodium and potassium to help replenish the electrolytes lost during exercise; deliver key electrolytes to help replace those lost through sweating during exercise, activity, or hot weather conditions; and support hydration during exercise.5
Whether you practice health-forward habits—like consuming gut-healthy prebiotics and probiotics and exercising regularly—or your diet consists of mostly empty calories and low levels of nutrients, incorporating supplements can help. In our fast-paced, modern world, supplements provide the support our bodies need to keep up—and sustain our health for the long run.
This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.
Inflammation is a popular buzzword these days. But what causes it exactly? How can you know you have it, and if it’s something your body does naturally to help you heal, then what’s the big deal?
We’ve all been there: It’s late, you’re tired, and you don’t feel like turning the lights on just to cross a room…then bam! Shin finds coffee table. The resulting egg-shaped lump is formed when blood flow increases to the area, bringing with it neutrophils and macrophages as part of the immune response.
Symptoms of this acute inflammation are typical: redness, swelling, heat, and pain. The swelling that occurs as fluid collects in the area is also called “edema.” The symptoms last for a limited period of time—minutes to days—as the body heals itself.
Acute inflammation vs. chronic inflammation
When the body isn’t given enough time, or if the body is unable to resolve the immune response due to deficiency of certain nutrients, it can lead to chronic inflammation. This can also be caused by untreated infectious pathogens such as bacteria or viruses, as well as the adverse effects of long-term exposure to pollutants or chemicals, including smoking.1,2 Stress and obesity are also known factors that lead to chronic inflammation.3,4
Common symptoms of chronic inflammation include:
What can we do?While acute inflammation is one way your body can heal itself, chronic inflammation should be avoided, as a prolonged inflammatory response can cause damage to healthy cells and tissue.
Consider adopting a few simple ways to decrease inflammation. If you have been experiencing the symptoms described herein and are concerned you may have chronic inflammation, make an appointment with your healthcare practitioner.
This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.
A growing to-do list, meetings that drag into the late evening, financial strains, relationship issues, trouble sleeping: When it comes to stress, many men struggle to find an outlet. Yet, without the right coping mechanisms, chronic stress can deeply, and adversely, affect men’s health.1
How can men reduce the stress in their lives?No matter the source, chronic stress has significant effects on the body. Studies have linked it to a variety of health issues involving mood, sleep, appetite, and more.1 And while researchers have yet to pinpoint the specific ways long-term stress affects the heart, and other systems, men under seemingly constant pressure are also more likely to eat unhealthy foods, adopt a sedentary lifestyle, and smoke.2
Fortunately, men don’t have to let stress get the better of them. There are a number of strategies men can leverage to take charge of their wellbeing. Here are four stress-busting tips men should know about:
Accordingly, we suggest that men look into the following dietary supplements:
By Whitney Crouch, RDN & Kirti Salunkhe, MD
What is stress?
Stress can be defined as a constellation of events, starting with a stimulus or stressor that causes a reaction in the brain leading to the stress response commonly known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction that can affect many body systems.1 Unfortunately, stress is a fact of life that we all experience at some time or another. Stressors that are acute, or short-lived, are often physical or physiological. Psychological or emotional stress is usually chronic in nature.
The immune system and stress
The immune system is made up of cells, tissues, and organs working together as the body’s defense mechanism to protect us from illness. Scientists say short-term stress (lasting from minutes to a few hours) may be beneficial for our immune health, as it stimulates immune activity and prepares us for possible periods of longer stress—a “fire drill” of sorts. However, chronic stress is actually harmful.2
White blood cells (WBC) are critical for the body’s immune response to foreign invaders. These cells are produced, and stored, in many areas of the body including the spleen, bone marrow, and thymus (a small gland found behind the sternum and between the lungs).3 There are two types of WBCs associated with the immune system: Phagocytes, which actively attack foreign organisms, and lymphocytes, which remind the body to recognize previous invaders and help destroy them.4 The main phagocyte is the neutrophil. Neutrophils primarily fight bacteria and infections. The main lymphocytes are the B lymphocytes or B-cells and T lymphocytes or T-cells. B-cells start out and mature in the bone marrow. T-cells start out in the bone marrow but mature in the thymus. These two cell types are the “special ops” of the immune system and have specific functions. B-cells make antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses and T-cells directly attack invading organisms.4
Acute stress and the immune response
One of the most familiar reactions to acute stress is the “fight-or-flight” response. This physiological reaction usually occurs during an emergency or a fearful mental or physical situation.3 When a threat is perceived, there is a release of hormones to prepare you to either stay and deal with the threat or to run away to safety. It represents choices our ancient ancestors made when faced with dangerous situations. Nowadays, it’s more likely those dangerous situations are ones leading to a wound or infection, but our body reacts the same way.3 During periods of short-term stress, our sympathetic nervous system releases “stress hormones:” epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), as well as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), and cortisol from the adrenal glands.3 These work together to prepare the body for “fight-or-flight” by increasing alertness, focusing the mind, elevating heart and breathing rates, as well as increasing blood flow to skeletal muscles and brain.4
Interestingly, research has shown acute stress activates the immune system. Immune activation is critical to respond to immediate demands of a stressful situation that may lead to a wound or an infection. Acute stress triggers immune cells and stimulates production of proteins known as cytokines. The two major types of cytokines are: pro-inflammatory cytokines and anti-inflammatory cytokines. The pro-inflammatory cytokines process the pain often found with inflammation; the anti-inflammatory cytokines work by controlling, or limiting, the spread of inflammation. Both are necessary for normal healing.3
While acute, or short-term, stress acts as an “immune stimulator,” readying the body’s immune system for an adverse situation, situations involving long-term or chronic stress actually suppress and dysregulate the body’s immune responsiveness, leading to illness and poor outcomes.3
Chronic stress and the immune response
Just as we all have differing genetic and biochemical composition, we also have varying perceptions of stress and individual responses to how we process and cope with it.5
Occasionally, there can be a crossover between the mind and body, as in the “fight-or-flight” response. A mentally stressful situation may require a physical response or action, but what about those psychological or emotional stressors that may be difficult but don’t actually pose any pressing physical dangers? Stressors related to pressures of a work project requiring focused concentration over long days and nights, or the continual emotional drain from a difficult relationship or other similar circumstance?
Studies have shown prolonged mental stress can adversely affect regular lifestyle routines, including decisions we make about sleep, nutritional intake, and exercise and can even persuade us to use poor judgement regarding alcohol and drug intake.5,6 These studies have also shown the adverse effects (acute and chronic) that mental and emotional stress places on physical health and wellbeing and have been directly linked to suppression of the immune system.5 How acute mental stress affects physical health was seen in a recent study of college students during their final exams.7 To understand the link between mental stress and changes in blood biomarkers, researchers took blood samples and administered questionnaires about anxiety and depression to 24 college students during finals week. Baseline values had been established by prior blood draws and questionnaires completed midsemester. When compared to baseline levels, during finals week, there were elevations in pro-inflammatory cytokines along with increased reports of anxiety and stress.7 Other studies have noted increased stress can lead to prolonged wound healing time with reduced levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines and increases in pro-inflammatory cytokines.6
Multiple studies have evaluated the immune response in conditions of long-term and emotional stress. These conditions are similar to those found with caregiving of an ill or elderly relative, experienced after a difficult divorce and have even been reported as related to loneliness.7-9 Findings from these studies showed links between emotional stress and increased risk for viral illness, reemergence of latent viruses (Epstein-Barr, herpes simplex, and cytomegalovirus), and onset of autoimmune disease.5,10,11 Other studies have shown long-term psychological stress was linked to detrimental cardiovascular health12-14 as well as increased risk for immunologic conditions including inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, atopic dermatitis, and celiac disease.15-18
Even the most vulnerable members of the population, our children, can be affected by psychological stress that results in a reduced immune response. Investigators evaluated children who had a history of recurrent colds and flu and reported higher levels of psychological stress. The data demonstrated the children had reduced salivary immunoglobulin ratios (IgA/albumin). A reduction in this ratio supports a potential link between reduced immune function with a greater susceptibility to colds and flu.19
Lifestyle approaches to stress management
While the effects of stress can be useful on some occasions, adverse effects of stress can play a role in both acute and chronic illness. While there are a number of strategies that come into play with stress management, evidence supports the benefits of lifestyle modification and improved dietary or nutritional intake as a part of a comprehensive strategy.
Recommended lifestyle modifications:
This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.
Whitney Crouch, RDN, CLT
Whitney Crouch is a Registered Dietitian who received her undergraduate degree in Clinical Nutrition from the University of California, Davis. She has over 10 years of experience across multiple areas of dietetics, specializing in integrative and functional nutrition and food sensitivities. When she’s not creating educational programs or writing about nutrition, she’s spending time with her husband and young son. She’s often found running around the bay near her home with the family’s dog or in the kitchen cooking up new ideas to help her picky eater expand his palate.
Ever feel like your mind is as cluttered as a messy desk? Multiple tasks and responsibilities clamor for your attention, such as caring for children or elderly parents, worry over relationships or financial issues, coupled with the latest news from always-on technology. It can leave your mind feeling like a scrambled egg.
When your mind gets cluttered like this, you are not just momentarily distracted. Your thoughts jump everywhere, and it can be hard to focus on any one thing for more than a few seconds. Productivity suffers, as well as the ability to make good decisions, and you may be tempted to indulge in unhealthy foods or drinks in an attempt to get some short-term relief.
Consider these 10 easy-to-implement, effective, healthful ways to help declutter, calm, and soothe your mind instead.
So start de-cluttering your mind. Pick one of these tips and incorporate it into your life. Then add others as desired. You will love your newfound sense of calm!
According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Yoga Alliance, yoga in America is expanding at an almost exponential pace, with some 37 million people in the U.S. (nearly 1 in 10 Americans!) practicing it on a regular basis. What is behind yoga’s explosive growth and popularity? Why are both men and women of all ages flocking to this ancient practice?
Traditional yoga, which originated in ancient India more than 2,000 years ago, is a complex, rather esoteric system involving eight different “arms” or divisions. These arms include such disciplines as breathing, postures, concentration, meditation, withdrawal of the senses, and other practices, beginning by focusing on the outer world, then turning the focus inward until liberation or enlightenment, known as samadhi, is achieved.
Modern yoga, especially in the West, is almost exclusively focused on the physical postures known as asanas, as well as breathing and concentration. But even this mostly physically focused yoga is much more than just a set of physical poses, and it differs exponentially from simple stretching or other fitness routines. Yoga connects everything, including the movements of your body and the oscillation of your thoughts, to the rhythm of your breath.
Through this connection, your attention is naturally directed inward. And it’s this inward directedness that helps you to become “friends” with your thoughts. Instead of trying to suppress them or judge them or change them, you simply become aware of them and how they change from moment to moment. Gradually, you become more aware, and over time, as your body becomes more flexible, so does your mind.
Ask anyone who practices yoga on a regular basis why they do it, and you’ll get a variety of reasons from “yoga just makes me feel better” to “I like being more flexible.” But as it turns out, there is a plethora of scientific studies to back up yoga’s impressive effects on physical and mental health.
Here are seven powerful reasons, all backed by science, why you should begin your yoga practice today: