Stress is a common side effect of the modern way of life, as well as something difficult to control with willpower alone. In addition to having an obvious negative effect on our mood, research shows that stress also suppresses the immune system and thus makes us more susceptible to infections. Resisting the immunity of the system.
Today we will discuss in depth why stress occurs, as well as the specific foods, herbs and nutrients we can consume and the techniques we can practice to relieve stress.
Stress and immunity: The relationship
To understand the impact that stress has on the immune system, it is good to have a basic overview of exactly how the immune system works. Your immune system is made up of billions of tiny cells that circulate throughout your body and act as a first line of defense against invading pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and other toxins. These cells include T cells – natural killer cells, also called phagocytes and lymphocytes, which are triggered to attack as soon as an external invader enters your body. These cells then attack and destroy the pathogen, while storing important information about bacteria or viruses so that they can “remember” them if they encounter such bacteria or viruses again. Antibodies are then produced so that the body can easily recognize and release the same pathogen the next time.
Stress can get stuck in this process. Studies show that it can also immediately reduce the effectiveness of killer T cells and suppress lymphocytes, which can lower your body’s defenses against pathogens. One found that participants with chronic mild depression had poorer lymphocyte-T cell responses and that their immune response continued to decline even 18 months later. Other studies have found that some immune cells have receptors for certain hormones released during stress. This means that when these hormones are released, immune function can be altered by the uptake of these hormones by immune cells. Cortisol, one of the hormones released during stress, can cause your immune system to release inflammatory cytokines. Although this is beneficial in the short term, if stress becomes chronic, it can lead to impaired regulation of the immune system and increase the risk of chronic diseases.
The 10 most useful herbs and nutrients that reduce stress.
Although stress relief may seem easy on the surface, it can often be difficult to get rid of it completely, especially when the stress comes from work or family life, which we have to deal with on a daily basis.
The good thing is that certain foods, nutrients and herbs help calm the nervous system and improve our physical and emotional response to stress, so that it has less damaging effect on our immune system.
Rhodiola is the root of a plant from the northern mountainous regions of Europe and Asia. It is classified as an adaptogen, which is a class of herbs that help the body “adapt” more effectively to stress. Basically, Rhodiola strengthens the body’s resistance to stress, and this reduces the negative effects of it. It also helps regulate the release of stress hormones and has been shown to increase energy levels during stressful situations.
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You can take Rhodiola in capsules or in powder form
Lavender is one of the best known herbs for reducing stress and there is a reason for this. Studies show that it acts as a mild sedative and antidepressant, whether taken orally or used in aromatherapy.
Drink lavender in tea or use it as an essential oil in a diffuser and take a deep breath when you need soothing.
Studies of magnesium have shown that it promotes brain function, which reduces stress and anxiety while helping to regulate the neurotransmitters involved in stress. Try to include more magnesium-rich foods in your day such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, dark chocolate, seeds and lots of root vegetables such as sweet potatoes. You can also drink a dietary supplement with magnesium powder or capsules. Remember that the most digestible forms include: magnesium citrate, magnesium lactate, magnesium aspartate, magnesium chloride, magnesium malate and magnesium taurate.
Passionflower has the ability to boost gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a natural amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in your brain. GABA can help reduce the excitability of the nervous system caused by stress or anxiety. Studies also show that this amino acid almost immediately increases relaxation.
Passionflower can be drunk with tea or in the form of capsules.
- Valerian root
Valerian root is an herb similar to passionflower and has similar effects. Studies show that it helps reduce mental anxiety, and that it can help stimulate GABA levels in the brain.
Valerian root can be taken as a tincture or in capsules.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that helps lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that is released in the body during stress, as well as increase GABA and other relaxation-enhancing neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
As mentioned, green tea (especially matcha tea) is a great source of L-theanine, as is yerba mate tea and, to a lesser extent, coffee.
Foods that help fight stress
Certain foods have been studied for their overall ability to relieve stress; you will notice that some of them include a combination of the above mentioned nutrients.
- Dark chocolate
In addition to the calming power of chocolate, there are studies that show that participants who ate dark chocolate with 74% cocoa content twice a day for two weeks experienced improved levels of stress hormones (such as cortisol and catecholamine’s). Usually associated with anxiety.
Be sure to eat dark chocolate containing at least 75% cocoa.
- Wildly caught fish
Wild-caught fish, such as salmon and sardines, contain high levels of omega-3 and vitamin D, and both nutrients have been shown to relieve anxiety symptoms. Studies also show that the amino acid DHA, one of the components of omega-3 fatty acids, can help reduce psychological stress.
Try to eat wild caught fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel 3 to 4 times a week.
Under stress, our immune system can increase inflammation throughout the body. If this lasts too long, it can damage our tissues and DNA. The antioxidants in blueberries help reduce inflammation and protect DNA by reducing damage to the body during stress.
Try to eat a handful of blueberries or blackberries every day or at least several times a week.
Bananas are rich in an amino acid called tryptophan, the main precursor of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in enhancing relaxation and improving mood.
Eat a banana several times a week or when you feel stressed.
- Probiotic foods
Studies show that probiotics or beneficial bacteria throughout the body help reduce anxiety levels. Research has found that participants who suffer from anxiety are better able to cope with stress when they eat natural (probiotic-containing) yogurt every day than those who eat non-probiotic yogurt.
Eat very probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and natural yogurt, as well as yogurt made from nut milks.
Other practices for relieving the nervous system
In addition to the right foods, there are several proven beneficial practices that you can use every day that directly affect your body to reduce stress. They include:
Diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing is a practice of deep breathing from the abdomen. Usually people breathe superficially, taking in air with their chest, especially when we are stressed. Shallow breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight or flight reaction, while deep breathing activates the parasympathetic response on which relaxation depends.
Studies show that abdominal breathing lowers levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) while improving mental function.
To practice abdominal breathing you need to lie on your back. Put one hand on your abdomen and breathe deeply. Your abdomen should push your arm up. Then exhale all the inhaled air. Repeat the exercise for 5-15 minutes every day.
Change your thinking
One quick way to calm down in stressful situations is to change the way you think about them. For example, you can change your attitude from “My job is rotten,” to “This job shows me what I really don’t like about the work environment.” The information can then help you make more informed decisions in your future work if you choose to use it. Finding a way in which a situation works in your favor (even if that benefit is small in the future) can help you alleviate your anxiety to some degree at the moment.
Studies show that practicing yoga helps lower cortisol levels, similar to abdominal breathing and other forms of exercise. Practicing yoga for even just 15 minutes several times a week is enough to reap the benefits.
Stress can have a huge impact on the ability of the immune system to function effectively. Maintaining your immune system with herbs, nutrients, foods and other techniques such as proper breathing can do a lot to strengthen your immune system against the effects of stress.