Did you see Doctor in the House on the BBC on 19th November? Dr Rangan Chatterjee lived with a family of three; a man with diabetes, an overweight woman under stress, and a young lady with low energy. He’s an NHS Doctor and his approach on this show was to treat without using drugs while giving the message that non-medical lifestyle changes could benefit their lives.
Here's some of what he did:
Helped the family to clear out their cupboards of unhealthy food.
Showed them how to read food labels.
Helped each of them understand their personal nutrition needs.
Organised scientific testing, including an adrenal stress profile.
Explained the health consequences of their actions.
Listened to them and motivated them.
If you've not met me before then those are some of the topics that I can help with!
One of the common issues is stress and it frequently comes up as a topic in nutrition consultations. The spit test or 'adrenal stress profile' that the GP used with the woman is one I often use. You provide a saliva test by spitting into a tube, you do it four times over a day in the privacy of your home. The samples go to the laboratory who can use the saliva to plot a graph of your daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
I review this with you in a consultation along with your health history. In this show the GP recommended a nutrition supplement to his patient along with diet and lifestyle changes. On the graph, a normal curve would show high cortisol (but not too high) in the morning to get you up, and then this level reduces across the day and you're ready to fall asleep at night time.
Take a moment to imagine what would happen if you were living as a caveman (or woman) millions of years ago….
You see a dangerous animal, it’s a tiger. Your life depends upon your reaction. You can fight, or you can flight and run away. Your body releases stress hormones, these get your heart pumping, blood flowing, glucose (your energy source) moves from the muscles into the blood. You’re ready to react. You react; by fighting or running and you use the glucose and those hormones.
Now move back to real life. Think of your last stressful event, maybe it was an email you received in the office or you were sitting in a traffic jam. Your body still reacts in the same way as caveman. Your modern environment has evolved but your body’s physiology hasn’t moved on. Hormones are released, glucose moves into the bloodstream, you’re ready to go. BUT you don’t, because you’re stuck in that traffic jam, in that meeting or at that desk. The stress hormones and the glucose are still there, circulating around the body.
Some people will just slowly bounce back, some are not so lucky. Over time; weeks, months or years, the stress builds up and the body’s ability to react to stress becomes diminished. Cortisol levels stay high or they go beyond this and become low. The consequence of this might be ill health, tiredness, digestive issues, hormonal issues, weight gain around the middle, weight loss, increased food reactions, difficulty sleeping or getting up, or mental health concerns. In fact, it might be anything that you are susceptible or pre-disposed to.
Even fit athletes who train hard are susceptible to stress. I saw one client who always got ill when she tapered down before an event. That sounds a bit like the busy stressed exec who only gets ill on holiday. We talked about stress and she understood the effect that her outside life was having, we built her resilience through food and found strategies to help manage her stress.
You can easily take action: Get help and identify your Tiger (or Tigers) and how to manage them, test to see where you actually are, get help to use nutrition and yoga to build your resilience. There are so many tools to use and many people have gone through stress and come out the other side with a fresh outlook.
About Joanne: Joanne Hart is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Yoga Teacher and Coach. She delivers nutrition and resilience programmes to help professionals and athletes as they're releasing their inner potential.
If you'd like advice on anything in the article, from reading labels to scientific testing, consultations or online group programmes then please get in touch.