Where to Begin With Supplements
Taking supplements can be an overwhelming task to initiate. There are so many different varieties of vitamins & minerals, brands names of vitamins & minerals, and a lot of variation on mixed feelings about the successfulness of absorption rates. When I first decided to look more into proper supplementation, I must say I was slightly overwhelmed with the synergistic properties.
The fact that some supplements need to be paired with others in order to be fully absorbed was a concept that seemed beyond me, I wasn’t even sure which supplements to take that would work on their own. But! Alas, my wariness did not heed my eagerness to learn more, so I put my nose to the books and have come up with the ultimate basic list of supplements and what they can be used for. As always, I recommend getting your vitamins and minerals from the food you digest but I also understand that sometimes that is not possible in today’s crazy world. Enter the supplement.
Some of the supplement information I have provided below does not elaborate on the synergistic qualities of supplements. For instance, Vitamin D is excellent for the immune system but also can provide relief from anxiety and depression. If you are browsing through and are not seeing a supplement that you had expected under a particular category, try reading through the other recommendations to see if there are alternative vitamins and minerals that can work for multiple symptoms.
Calcium and Vitamin K2: If you are deficient in calcium and supplementing instead you may want to think twice, or do some research on your vitamin K levels. Vitamin K actually helps carry the Calcium into your bones, meaning if you are deficient in Vitamin K2 and supplementing with Calcium then you may not really be doing any good.
Take this if Your Immune System Needs Help or If You Are Feeling Fatigued
Taking D3 keeps me cold-free all year long (literally, I got terrible colds until I started taking it), and keeps me from being depressed and anxious in winter months. If you don’t take cod liver oil, and even if you do but need more D, this is the supplement to take. Vitamin D is associated with overall improved health, and can help with diseases as advanced as cancer.
Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins, and one we are most likely to be deficient in as Americans. Some estimates say anywhere from 80-90% of the population may have sub optimal levels of Vitamin D in the blood.
This is worrying because Vitamin D plays such an important role in health. From reducing autoimmune issues and inflammation, to preventing disease, Vitamin D is a nutrient we shouldn’t neglect. Vitamin D has a protective effect on the immune system, helping T-cells and B-cells to to fight immune threats while also preventing autoimmune issues.
Several autoimmune diseases (including Lupus and MS) have a high range of deficiency and supplementation with Vitamin D has been shown to improve health in these individuals.
Having sufficient Vitamin D has been shown to reduce upper respiratory infections in both summer and winter. Those with deficiencies of Vitamin D are found to suffer from upper respiratory infections much more often, even accounting for the seasons.
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is primarily processed through the skin rather than through food. During the summer, we wear less and tend to spend more time outdoors, and this increases the amount we produce. In turn, we get sick less often and feel altogether happier. Vitamin D deficiencies are also associated with lower mood and decreased cognitive function.
However, Vitamin D needs range depending on specific conditions. Recommendations for average adults age 19-50 are about 600 i/u a day to prevent deficiency. This can come from sunlight, diet, or supplements, but it may take up to 1500 or 2000 i/u a day, depending on the individual, to keep blood levels about the recommended 30 ng/ml.
Vitamin D foods: Salmon, Mushrooms (cooked), egg yolk, canned tuna, sardines and cod liver oil.
This vitamin is crucial for immune system health, for the manufacture of neurotransmitters, and for adrenal (stress system) health.
Foods that contain Vitamin C: Leafy greens, other vegetables, and all fruits (yes, citrus, but others too!) all have high quantities of vitamin C. If you are a paleo dieter but don’t go heavy on the veggies you may want to consider upping your dose.
Vitamin C Supplement
Take this for Mood & Sleep Improvement
70% of Americans do not get the recommended daily dose of magnesium. And magnesium is crucial for more than 300 essential chemical reactions in the body. Without magnesium, these vital reactions simply don’t take place.
Without magnesium, systems malfunction all over the map, from bone growth to adrenal health to the ability to fall asleep at night. Magnesium is also, and perhaps most importantly, one of the primary nutrients involved in the regulation of cellular stress and activity. And when I say stress here, I do mean stress. Any sort of cellular activity is a stress of sorts, because it upregulates activity and requires energy and resources.
Magnesium’s role is simple: it opens channels on cell membranes. When a muscle fiber, for example, needs to tense up and become active, magnesium will open the membrane and help usher in calcium, which helps make it tense. Then, when the period of stress is over and the muscle can relax, magnesium opens up the cell membrane to usher the calcium out of the cell again. The problem for most people is that they have enough magnesium to usher calcium into the cell, but not enough to usher the calcium out.
This leaves them in a chronically up-regulated state, leaving muscles tense, nerves firing, and neurons on high alert. This is why magnesium deficiency is associated with muscle tension, with headaches, with poor adrenal health, and with anxiety.
Without magnesium, the body simply cannot calm down.
Magnesium is very hard to get in a paleo diet (really only in grains) and is CRUCIAL for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. You need it to prevent headaches, relax your muscles, calm anxiety, prevent depression, and fall asleep at night, among so many other things. At one point it nearly saved my life.This is the form of magnesium that is easiest on the gut. Other forms in high doses can cause intestinal motility to speed up enough to cause diarrhea. This one is the best for avoiding that if you have a sensitive stomach.
High quality magnesium citrate supplement
As important as magnesium is, it unfortunately is no longer abundant in the human diet. Research estimates that at least 48% of Americans do not get nearly enough magnesium in their diets. This is in part because magnesium has been depleted from American soils.
Unfortunately for paleo dieters, the majority of foods high in magnesium are not on the typical paleo menu. High magnesium foods include mostly legumes, nuts and seeds: soybeans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, quinoa, black beans, cashews, navy beans, sunflower seeds, almonds. Grains are also reasonably high in magnesium.
Fortunately for paleo dieters, kale, swiss chard, and beet greens are all great sources. Nevertheless, magnesium is probably one of the greatest “risk” minerals for paleo dieters, which is why I typically recommend supplementing.
Take this if You’re Breaking Out
Zinc is an essential mineral that is not only found in several enzymes–which makes it crucial to lots of bodily functions–but it also, notably, is critical for immune system function. It also plays a key role in the metabolism of RNA and DNA, and promotes plasticity (flexibility) in the brain. It is important for immune health, hormone health, insulin modulation, and brain health. Zinc also has anti-inflammatory properties that resist and combat bacteria, making it wonderful for helping acne relief.
The best sources of zinc are oysters (by almost a factor of ten), followed by liver, beef, and lamb. Turkey and shrimp also have good amounts of zinc. From plants, zinc can be obtained from lentils, quinoa, chick peas, and many kinds of seeds including pumpkin and sesame seeds.
High quality Zinc supplement
Take this if You’re Trying to Heal Your Gut
This vitamin is rare because even though you think you might be getting it every time you eat a carrot (the packaging always says “good source of vitamin A!”), you are unfortunately being misled. Carrots do not have vitamin A in them. Neither do any other plant foods. What these foods have in them instead is beta carotene.
Beta carotene can be converted into vitamin A in your intestines by gut flora (here’s a great probiotic and great probiotic foods that can help with that). If you do not have the right gut flora it just won’t happen. Unfortunately that’s the case for a lot of people today. Gut flora just aren’t as robust as they could be.
So many people are deficient in vitamin A. The only robust source of true vitamin A in the diet is organ meat, particularly liver. Most people cringe at the idea of eating liver. Yet ancestral human cultures prized the liver above almost all other parts of the animal. Presumably this is because they figured out how important it is for health. If you cannot stomach the idea of eating liver a couple of times a month (but you should because it’s delicious), you can try a desiccated liver supplement like this one, which is my favorite.
You can also obtain vitamin A from cod liver oil, which is actually a better supplement for absorbing vitamin A specifically because oil is the right form for a fat soluble vitamin. (Desiccated liver is the best for a lot of other nutrients, though, including the rare and important choline). Most people do well with 10-15,000 IU’s per day.
This is the healthiest, most nourishing cod liver oil supplement on the market today.
Take This if You Are Combating Brain Fog
Vitamin K is rare in the diet today for a few reasons. One is that people do not eat organ meats anymore, and organ meats are one of the only good sources of vitamin K2.
Another reason is that most animals today are raised on grain products and other random bits of food instead of grass. Yet grass is the natural diet for cows, bison, and other ruminants. The highest quality beef comes from cows that eat grass specifically because it enables them to make the right nutrients that they need.
Vitamin K2 can be found in grass-fed butter, but it cannot be found in grain-fed butter. So you can boost your vitamin K (K2, specifically) intake by getting some grass-fed butter in your diet. If you cannot do that, then you may definitely want to consider that cod liver oil supplement I mentioned earlier. Because not only does it have cod liver oil and vitamins A and D in it, but it also has high quality butter oil added, which is rich in vitamin K.
This is how fermented cod liver oil kills three birds with one stone. Most people will do well with 100 mcg/d.
Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, is necessary for energy production and normal cell function and growth.
Riboflavin deficiency is common in women of child-bearing age and of a low socioeconomic level. Using hormonal birth control exacerbates that problem. Studies have shown that vitamin supplements remediate riboflavin issues in women taking the pill.
Altogether, these findings suggest that vitamin B2 supplementation in women taking OCs may be important where vitamin nutrition is poor.
Greens, eggs, turkey, other sources of animal protein, and plant protein sources such as beans and legumes tend to be good sources of vitamin B2. With a diet rich in animal products, vegetables, and fruits, B2 should probably not be a problem to obtain enough of. Not many sources of B2 are excellent sources, but there is a wide variety of foods which contain a decent amount of it.
High quality B complex supplement
If Your Liver is Needing Assistance Detoxing
Vitamin B12 (also known as cobalamin) is an essential nutrient for many things, but perhaps most of all liver support and detox.
Vitamin B12 is fortunately very rich in pretty much all animal protein sources, especially liver. But beef, lamb, poultry, seafood, and eggs all have fairly abundant B12. Dairy also has a reasonable amount of B12 in it. If you are a vegetarian, and especially if you are a vegan, you will need to supplement with B12.
If you struggle already with a slugglish liver or have a condition like estrogen dominance or PCOS, the following supplements help support the liver through Phase I and Phase II detoxification and can be really helpful:
- Methylated forms of B12 (find it here), B6 (find it here), and Folic Acid (find it here): important for the passing of methyl groups which helps with the excretion of hormones like estrogen and is sometimes difficult in women with PCOS.
- DIM (I like this one): contains the strongest components of cruciferous vegetables known to help break down excess hormones.
- Calcium D Glucarate (I like this brand) supports the glucuronidation of the liver and prevents excess estrogen from being re-absorbed in the bowels.
- Glutathione (find it here): important for the detoxification of alcohol. Smoking, chronic stress, and infections or inflammatory disorders also deplete this important nutrient
So there you have it! Where will you be starting on your supplementing journey? Maybe you are sticking to food instead? Leave me a comment and let me know!
I saw a facebook video the other day talking about Japanese Forest Bathing and how it had been shown to improve health and well being, even without any form of exercise.
The personal experience of myself and many friends and relatives can confirm this anecdotally.
Being out in nature is just better.
It’s not just about the great Vitamin D, or the great hikes. It’s about being outside, with the trees and plants, connected to the earth the way we once were.
Ancestrally, we probably spent our entire lifetimes mostly out of doors. Even as recently as a few hundred years ago, many of our ancestors were farming people and spent a great deal of time connected to nature.
Somehow along the way, we’ve lost that.
But it’s that time of the year! The weather is just right and it makes sense to hit a state park and go camping.
But seriously, have you tasted camp food?
Or what do you do when your allergies make being outside completely miserable?
And WHAT ABOUT SMORES?
Here’s a few little suggestions to make your camping trip more paleo.
For backpacking, campfires often aren’t allowed. If you’re using a camp stove but sad about the very non gut friendly foods available at your local camp store, try ordering some of these. They are paleo freeze dried meals.
No guarantees that they taste good, but its better than the alternative! Find them here.
For long hikes when you need a snack, there are tons of great options. I like dried fruit from my FAVE Steve’s Paleo Goods (find out more here) or even paleo trail mix. Yep, it exists. And this one’s NUT FREE!!! Find it here.
I also like this tuna jerky for something different.
For smores I get creative. You can make your own paleo graham crackers and marshmallows.
But honestly, I just like to get down with an awesome chocolate bar from Enjoy Life (find them here) sometimes paired with these yummy cinnamon maple graham crackery things (find them here).
Don’t forget to stay hydrated while you’re spending lots of time outside. I like to make sure I do that BPA free.
Here’s a favorite bottle of mine.
Keep Those Allergies Under Control
Allergies can make things tough. I like these allergina drops. Find the one for your zone and they can help reduce allergy symptoms.
I also like D-hist. It is not an anti-histamine but does the job similarly to one. I use this product a lot. You can find it here.
That’s all for now! Enjoy the camping trip and remember that many of the health and wellness benefits of camping come from the relaxation and reduced restriction and anxiety of modern life. So if you want to fudge a little and eat something you don’t normally eat, let it go! Enjoy the moment. Times like these don’t come around often enough.
Woah, 2017. I can’t believe you are almost here!
At the writing of this blog post I’m pondering the making of new years resolutions. Are they healthy? Are they harmful? Are they something in between?
I’ve gone back and forth, but concluded that, like them or not, new year’s resolutions are a part of our culture, exciting and important motivators that can give someone the push they need to make valuable and lasting changes.
I’m not into crash dieting (or “diets” of any kind really) and I’m not into resolutions that end up making people feel worse about themselves when they fail to live up to unreasonable standards.
But health IS important, and focusing on feeling better and doing better in the new year is something admirable, after all.
So here’s my list of 5 Paleo for Women Approved New Years Resolutions!
#1 Cook More
Cooking is something I usually despise doing and avoid if I can help it. But it gets old eating canned salmon all the time.
As the new year begins, take some time to plan a daily schedule.
If you’re a detailed list maker, you’ll love it and if you’re not, you might feel caged in, but sketching out your time might show you ways you can be more efficient and leave room for home cooked meals.
Try buying books with meal and shopping plans already inside for you. Practical Paleo (find it here) is one of my favorites, because it contains meal plans for every possible variation of paleo.
There are other great books too. Stick with ones that focus on easy recipes that can be made quickly like Well Fed Weeknights (find it here). Or try books that utilize less dishes for easier cleanup like One Pot Paleo or Paleo Slow Cooker.
Cooking more will mean eating more veggies, one of the biggest indicators of a healthy lifestyle, and will cut down on the amount of rancid oil, sugar and Omega 6 you eat, making you feel healthier, improving skin and cardiovascular health, and probably helping you lose some weight.
#2 Lose Weight
Speaking of losing weight…
I might catch some flack here. You see, I believe strongly in body positivity and the body positive movement. That means I do hold firm to a belief in health at every size.
However, I also believe that weight loss can be a valuable goal for certain people.
Excessive adipose tissue does produce inflammatory responses in the body and does contribute to a range of health issues. And whether we like it or not, it IS something that we need to consider in our modern world of convenience foods and obesity related illness.
If you’ve become out of sync with your body, feel you need to lose excessive body weight (and remember that doesn’t mean you need to be stick thin!) the only real difficulty is finding a way to do it gently, positively, and with as little guilt and shame as possible.
That’s where my weight loss program, Weight Loss Unlocked comes in.
It’s designed to help you lose weight efficiently but mindfully, learning to listen to the natural signals of your body, rather than the mean girl in your head.
It can help you follow those New Years Resolutions without the fad dieting that normally goes with it. I’d suggest pairing it with a great paleo cookbook with meal plans like the ones I mentioned above.
Find Weight Loss Unlocked Here.
#3 Focus on Self-Love
While most people choose to lose weight at the beginning of the new year, it’s just as important to choose to love.
We often become our worst enemies and meanest critics, beating ourselves up and tearing ourselves down.
Disordered eating, low self-confidence, so many things stem from not loving ourselves.
To give and recieve love in the new year, we’ve got to start with healing our own hearts.
There are many, many people out there happy to help you do it.
To discover the sexy, confident woman you really are, try reading my book Sexy By Nature.
If you’ve strugged with disordered eating and are ready to take control of negative thinking, try my friend Kayla’s program Starting the Path to Recovery and Discovery here. Try reading When Food is Love (find it here), a classic for any emotional eater.
If you’re shy, perhaps try pushing yourself to do something that sounds fun but makes you a bit nervous- go out dancing or join friends at a party.
And if you’re always out to avoid being alone at home, perhaps try a night in of reflective thinking and journaling (Let it Out is a great resource) and sit with some of those emotions.
You’ll gain self-awareness and balance which we all could use in the new year!
#4 Breathe More
Breathing is something we do far too often without really thinking about it.
Most of us don’t even use the full capacity of our lungs, but only a tiny portion of them.
And breathe, just like food, is so important to life itself, and quality of life.
Improper breathing can do damage to the body just as poor food choices can.
Proper breathing, taking deep, long breaths, and long, smooth exhalations, can also be a form of meditation that has been shown to reduce stress, calm the nervous system and relax the mind.
It’s an imperative especially for those with anxiety, and may help anyone with stress-flaring conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, autoimmune conditions, and more.
With the new year, I’m vowing to remember to breathe in positivity and breathe out negativity. I hope you’ll do the same.
#5 Let Go
And as I work to breathe out negativity, I’m going to be trying my best to let go of anger, expectations, and arbitrary standards I place on myself and others.
2016 was a hard year for many and it’s easy to pick out the bad things that happened and let them stew and boil within us.
We can focus on that negativity, that anger, and let it fester.
Or we can consciously make the choice to let it go.
I don’t have a 3 step program to help you do that (though I’m sure one probably exists!) but I think we should try it nonetheless.
Let’s focus our hearts and minds on the good in 2017 and work for peace, justice, and positivity in the new year.
I will. I hope you will too.
What are your new year’s resolutions?
I just wrote a blog post about my experiences with anxiety.
I am also in the middle of writing a guide to managing stress and anxiety. (Cool, right?!) It’s about time one of us paleo bloggers does it. The need is certainly great enough.
Stress – and, in particular, anxiety – are topic that are near and dear to my heart. I have been besieged by both of these problems throughout the course of my young life. They have at a time or two–literally–almost killed me. So I care very, very, very deeply about helping any of you who may need it overcome these life changing hardships.
It will probably be another few months before I get around to publishing the book, perhaps in the spring. In the meantime, I want to help as much as I can. So today I’m going to share with you my own favorite resources for managing anxiety.
Neither of these resources cured me of my problem. Nonetheless, they made it manageable while I had it. They taught me that I was the one that was truly in control. They helped me let go of my fear. They taught me how to breathe deeply, to stop panicking, and to have faith that I was going to get better some day. (For a bit on how stressed I was, see my posts on drugs and anxiety and adrenal recovery.)
That faith was perilously tested at times, but I managed to hang onto it. (Because what else are you going to do?)
These are my favorite resources for anxiety:
1) The Anxiety and Phobia Handbook, by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD
(Available on Amazon @ here.)
This book was actually recommended to me, when I was a patient of hers, by the brilliant paleo psychiatrist, Dr Emily Deans. It did for me exactly what she intended: it taught me everything I needed to know about managing anxiety. I learned how panic attacks happen, the fact that anxiety would never kill me nor necessarily be bad for my health, and how I could do certain practices (like deep breathing or holding my nose closed) to help sooth my rapidly beating heart.
The book is full of different techniques for managing anxiety. It asks questinos about your fears, and it helps you figure out where your anxiety is coming from and what to do about it. This book has now been published in several different editions and has been purchased by more than a million people. Psychologists everywhere rely heavily on this book. It is, no questions asked, the definitive practical guide to managing anxiety.
It is important to note when dealing with anxiety that there are many different forms. There are generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, specific phobias, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other anxiety-related issues. Personally, I simultaneously experienced both generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks. Honestly, even though the panic attacks sound like the worse option of the two, they’re not. Generalized anxiety was relentless. At least the panic attacks only happened occasionally. Suffering from both at the same time was like running a marathon that once every couple of miles dropped bricks on my head.
Anyway. Each type of anxiety is discussed in this book. Doing, as the dust jacket says, “helping you develop a full arsenal of skills for quieting worried thoughts and putting yourself back in control.” Cool.
This new edition has been thoroughly updated with the latest anxiety research and medications. Each worksheet in this book helps you learn the skills like challenging negative self-talk and mistaken beliefs, using imagery and real-life desensitization, making lifestyle, nutrition, and exercise changes, acceptance and commitment therapy, and panic-attack skills you need to manage your anxiety.
This kick ass book is, again, available on Amazon here.
2) The Calm Clinic
Accessible @ Calmclinic.com.
The best free E-resource
The last resource I recommended, the anxiety workbook, is an excellent physical book. It’s a workbook. It takes you step by step through its pages by empowering you with knowledge, tests, and skills.
The Calm Clinic, on the other hand, is a website. You navigate it all your own, click through links on your own needs, and have a more self-directed experience. It provides bountiful audio and video resources as well.
In my experience, the best way to deal with anxiety is to use both of these resources–the Bourne book was well as the clinic — as they offer such different types of media and assistance.
When I found the Calm Clinic, I was bowled over by surprise. I had no idea that no one would get me so well. More than any resource that I found, this one made me feel like I was being led by the hand by people who had been there and learned the ropes. It was truly remarkable.
Here is an excerpt from the “about” page, for example, discussing the director Ryan’s journey:
Ryan Rivera’s life was on pause for over 7 years after he suffered from what he liked to call the “complete package.” From panic attacks, severe anxiety, agoraphobia, social anxiety, and some of the most unbearable physical symptoms (headaches, neck pain, tension, diarrhea, and heart palpitations), Ryan Rivera found that his life was an intense day to day struggle.
After attempting and failing with dozens of different types of anxiety treatments, including anxiety medications and therapeutic practices, he reached a tipping point where he decided he was going to commit to making his life better and overcoming these emotional problems.
Ryan soon found that he was able to make huge leaps towards eliminating his anxiety and living a fulfilling life. His successes inspired him to provide resources to help others that are also suffering from severe anxiety, and show them that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Calm Clinic was founded on the idea that knowledge is power, and Ryan continues to dedicate himself towards providing information designed to help others permanently overcome their anxiety issues while bringing greater awareness to what it’s like to live with constant anxiety.
In terms of resources, the website is full of both breadth and depth. It provides information on all the different types of anxiety, how to tell if you have it and how severe it is, and what to do about it.
In fact, one of my favorite resources was an “anxiety test” I took that helped teach me about my own problems, where the first section is dedicated to “finding if your anxiety is in normal ranges.”
Which you can find here.
And finally – for some examples – here are the links available in the website’s sidebar (I have to remove the links here but you can access them at the site):
Learn about anxiety disorder…
- Anxiety (GAD)
- Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety
- Anxiety Treatment Options
- What Causes Anxiety?
- Anxiety Drugs & Medications
- Different Anxiety Types
- Panic Disorder
- Panic Attack Symptoms
- Panic Causes
Where to start?
- Anxiety Help Options – Start Here
- Can’t Take it Anymore? Read This!
- How to Cope With Anxiety
- Eliminate Stimulants
- 5 Destructive Anxiety Habits
Advanced Things to Try
- Anxiety Relaxation Techniques
- Anxiety Breathing Techniques
- Desensitization Techniques
- How to Manage Your Anxiety
- Diet Considerations for Anxiety
- Improve Your Internal Dialogue
- Visualization Techniques For Anxiety
- Natural & Herbal Anxiety Remedies
- What are Anxiety Attacks?
- Stress Anxiety
- What are Panic Attacks?
- Anxiety & Depression
- Anxiety & IBS
- How to Discontinue Anxiety Medication
- Dealing With Specific Fears & Thoughts
- Public Speaking Anxiety
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Anxiety or Social Phobia
So go check it out. I promise I’m not making any money on the clinic. None of these authors or editors know I am linking to them. I am simply sharing with you the few starting points I benefited from while dealing with my own anxiety.
These two resources are mostly psychological in nature. (The Bourne book unfortunately does give standard nutritional advice). There is a whole other aspect to stress and anxiety, however. Your body matters. My own anxiety was caused by a drug I took – spironolactone – which over-spared potassium in my kindeys, caused an electrolyte imbalance that gave me heart palpitations, and upregulated angiotensin II levels, which stimulates the nervous system.
Tthe most common causes of anxiety on a physiological level–broadly speaking–are inflammation, poor gut flora health, and certain nutrient deficiencies. Paleo is excellent for mental health. There are specific ways to eat within a paleo template that might be particularly helpful for some people, but nonetheless eating natural foods is an excellent place to start.
My forthcoming book will talk about physiological components of anxiety. But that’s ages away.
In the meantime take a look at these guides that helped save my sanity. 🙂
It may not be a double-blind study, but this poll of thousands of Americans conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health has some pretty damning – and alarming – evidence in store for us Americans:
We are stressed out.
Not just a little bit.
But to a frightening degree.
I feel two very strong, antithetical emotions when I look at this data. On one hand, I feel so much sorrow for all of us stuck in vicious stress cycles. I am saddened, and hurt, and I wish desperately I could make it all better. On the other hand, it’s kind of comforting to look at this data, and to know that I am not alone.
50 % of respondents reported a major stressful event in the past year.
More than 25 % reported being significantly stressed within the past month. When we combine these two statistics, we get the very real conclusion that many people are under significant chronic stress.
There are many fascinating graphs over at the NPR website. I recommend you check them out. They’re good for learning. For example, one piece of data I find particularly interesting, and quite funny, even, is this:
By age group, it’s the 20-somethings who are the most stressed out by having too much responsibility.
I guess it takes some time to adjust to, but I’d imagine having a spouse, children, aging parents to take care of, mortgages, and empoloyees… many of the responsibilities that come later on in adulthood, is a fair bit more pressing than what most people have going on in their twenties.
Like making sure to buy groceries over the weekend and showing up for work on Monday.
Not like I can do any hating, since I am a significantly stressed 20-something. I’d like to excuse myself, on the other hand, or at least get a giant tattoo on my forehead about it, because the vast majority of my stress comes from my heart/kidney issues, which give me palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia.
And I know, I know, I can’t judge anyway. Life as an adult is hard, and it hits you like a freight train when you first try to do it.
Regardless, the source of my stress – my health – brings up the most important and relevant factor for the PfW blog. Of all the respondents surveyed, those who suffer from disabilities or health conditions are the most likely to be stressed. As we would expect, those with health conditions score the highest in reporting stress from their own health conditions (80%). But they also report the highest amount of stress from nearly all other sources, too.
| Overall||Chronic illness||Disabled||In poor health|
|Too many responsibilities overall||54%||53%||53%||63%|
|Problems with finances||53%||58%||64%||69%|
|Own health problems||38%||51%||65%||80%|
|Family health problems||37%||46%||50%||58%|
|Problems with family members||32%||38%||37%||26%|
|Unhappy with the way you look||28%||38%||33%||46%|
|Problems with friends||15%||16%||19%||n/a|
|Changes in family situation||10%||11%||11%||10%|
|Problems with neighbors||7%||5%||7%||4%|
(The graphs are prettier at NPR – go look!)
The far left column is “overall.” The far right is “in poor health.” Taking a look at the above graph, then, we see that, overwhemlingly, those in poor health rank far above the average in just about every category of stress.
It’s not just our health conditions themselves that directly stress us out…
but our health conditions that make everything else stressful, too.
Now, you might ask: is there not a problem in the inference I am making between correlation and causation? Am I drawing a cause and effect relationship where there isn’t one? Perhaps it is a coincidence that people in poor health are more stressed by all stressors than other people. Perhaps people who have stressful situations also develop poor health! Perhaps people who don’t have their shit together just don’t have their shit together, in all categories.
Perhaps, I’d say. Perhaps that is possible.
One piece of data that might support the hypothesis that “just not having your shit together” is the fact that people who earn under $20,000/year also report much greater stress than those who earn more. Without much income, it’s much more likely you’ll eat an unhealthy diet, develop health conditions, and struggle to get the medical and nutritional support you need. It’s also much easier to lose your grip on everything without money. Financial stress bears on the ability to do just about everything in society today.
Nonetheless what these stats and questions all invariably demonstrate is that stress and poor health go hand in hand. If you’re stressed, you might get sick. If you’re sick, you’re almost definitely going to get stressed out by it.
And, if you’re sick, there’s a good chance other aspects of your life will become more challenging, too. Sometimes it’s harder to work. Sometimes it’s harder to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. Sometimes it’s plain old harder to deal, such that even small stressors end up feeling like monumental weights. Poor health very quickly leads to “not having your shit together” syndrome.
And boy, oh boy, do I ever know what that feels like.
The evidence is in for health and happiness, and damning.
Is there a takeaway message? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have done significant work to help people with health conditions feel better, which can help reduce stress.
My book PCOS Unlocked can help you take charge of a very stressful chronic hormonal condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Weight Loss Unlocked can help you to healthfully decrease fat if it is necessary for you.
And my bestseller Sexy By Nature can help you put it all together, understand your body and how it functions, how to love it and treat it well.
The best I know that I can personally do with it is have forgiveness for the anxiety I feel, and to move forward working on my health issues with patience, knowing that easier times in many regards are likely ahead.
(Statistically, they’ve just got to be.)
I recently became a bit obsessed with gut flora research via a long story:
I began getting migraines again this winter after eating a lower-potassium diet to help with my electrolyte problem. Low potassium is associated with migraines. It didn’t help that I was visiting my father, who likes to cook with MSG. To help with the migraines, I took Aspirin, which is an NSAID. It worked, so I began taking Aspirin for my regular headaches, and that helped, too. However: NSAID’s are notoriously bad for your gut flora. My skin began breaking out a little bit. This could have been caused by anything (I thought: weight loss, fiber in my diet, increased progesterone, poor sleep, dirty towels… skin is complicated!), but I thought “maybe it’s the NSAIDs depleting my gut flora.”
I went to Whole Foods post haste and got kombucha on tap.
(My favorite brand available both in stores and online is THIS one)
I’m drinking a couple of jars a week.
My skin looks great – I’m not sure if its from the kombucha.
Something I did most definitely notice, however, is that my cravings for food, and particularly sweet food, have somewhat dramatically decreased. After just my first few gulps, I felt a difference. These days I walk around during the day, not even thinking about food, and I stop eating meals without needing willpower, and I wonder: is this how ‘normal’ people feel?
So I asked myself if there was a connection. Could my increased freedom from cravings be a result of kombucha’s notorius bifidobacterium?
Turns out, it most certainly can.
How it works: your gut flora
Gut flora–which are the bacteria that live in your gut and that number in the trillions–are responsible for a whole host of functions in the body. They play a role in digestive comfort, in being constipated or having diarrhea, in immune system health, in depression and anxiety, in insulin resistance, in obesity, and in inflammation. Because these critters are so significant for these issues, they are significant for just about every noncommunicable disease you can imagine.
Gut flora are incredibly important–perhaps the most important aspect of your body–for fighting off disease.
Why are gut bugs so important? Because your gut is the barrier between you and the outside world. Good gut flora help you process nutrients and protect yourself from toxins. When good gut flora populations decrease (as mine may have with my aspirin use), and/or when bad gut flora infiltrate the gut and outnumber the good guys, health problems ensue.
How it works: gut flora and cravings theory #1
One theory for how gut flora influence your gut – and there seems to be reasonable evidence for this – is that your gut flora condition you to continue to feed their own specific populations. Carrot-loving gut bugs beget carrot-loving gut bugs, for example (if a fair bit oversimplified.)
So gut flora from particular foods may make you continue to crave those particular foods. This is great if you eat a lot of natural, healthy foods. This is less good news if you eat a lot of processed foods. The more processed foods you eat, the more bad bacteria will reproduce. They will hijack your cravings, and you’ll crave even more of the same old bad food.
If you are a processed food / sugar junkie, it may be hard to switch your diet, but being sure to include good, natural, healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, animal products and fermented may help you crave those more and more. Read my book, Sexy By Nature or Weight Loss Unlocked for my advice on the healthiest diet.
How it works: gut flora and cravings theory #2
The second theory, which is not exclusive but complementary to the first, is that good gut bacteria like bifidobacterium (these are the famous good guys) cause the body to produce satiation hormones.
Glucuagon-like-peptide-1 is one such satiation hormone. It increases in the “colonal mucus” (sexy, right?) of rats fed oligofructose, a laboratory carbohydrate that resembles the carbohydrates found in many fruits and vegetables. PYY and ghrelin, two other satiation hormones, may also increase in response to oligofructose. Rats that consume oligofructose spontaneously eat less, cease creating fat cells, increase insulin sensitivity, and improved glucose tolerance.
As for humans…we already know that probiotics help with obesity. This happens via biochemical modulation of fat metabolism. Yet it also appears to probably happen via increased satiation and spontaneously reduced food intake.
The more bifidobacteria and other good gut flora you have, the more satiation hormones they will create in response to a meal.
A good probiotic supplement can help with this if you aren’t always able to include raw fermented foods. This is my favorite supplement. And here is my favorite book on fermented foods, if you’re interested in giving it a try!
Moral of the story
There are a lot of different physical and psychological components of food cravings.
For one – you need to eat food. I talk way too much to women who want to reduce food cravings but are eating 1200 calories a day. So be sure you eat when you are hungry all of the time, probably at least 1800 calories a day (though this varies widely), before you address any other issues.
Second, emotional issues should be dealt with. Is food your mother? Your addiction? Your stress-relief? Your boredom? Your celebration? Or do you eat because you spend so much willpower trying not to eat that you end up overeating in the end? Psychological issues with food are also supremely important.
Third, you may consider physiological approaches. Sometimes the issue cannot be resolved psychologically because there’s an underlying problem. Amino acid therapy — boosting serotonin and dopamine levels by consuming precursors 5HTP and tyrosine — can help regulate appetite if your serotonin and dopamine levels are low.
Gut bugs can also help, as we’ve seen. (They can also boost your serotonin levels! Two birds with one stone!)
Consume fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, or grass-fed yogurt or kefir. If those are not available to you, consider a probiotic supplement that contains at least bifidobacterium, as well as other varieties.
You can also try a probiotic supplement. I prefer whole foods since they provide they provide a high degree of variability of bacterial species. Nonetheless probiotics have been shown to improve weight loss and support mental health in studies, so if you go this route (like this option or this one) you can also benefit.
You can also support your gut flora population not only by eating the bugs themselves – which is what you do with the fermented foods – but by consuming their preferred foods. Gut flora love to eat fibrous fruits and veggies, particularly those which contain inulin. These are greens, summer squash, onions, garlic, leeks… and jerusalem artichokes are also a particularly good source. This article demonstrates just how effective this strategy is.
Kombucha (linked to my favorite brand on Amazon) is really helping me. I can’t say if it will help you. Really, I cannot. We all have different bodies and we all have our own unique cures. But I love how much more stable my blood sugar feels and my meals are. I no longer feel so much like I must eat a sweet with every meal. I love my gut bugs very, very much. For this reason, as well as for so many others.