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The relationship between stress, heart disease and sudden death has long been documented, yet new scientific advances are also showing a significant link between stress and other diseases. A recent study, published this month in the journal, Psychosomatic Medicine, found that those with highly demanding jobs over which they have little control, face a 45 per cent higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, than those in low stress jobs. To curb stress, regular exercise and a sound nutritional program are key.
The study, carried out by a research team at the Institute of Epidemiology II at the Helmholts Zentrum München in association with Professor Johannes Kruse of the University Hospital of Giessen and Marburg, involved the examination of data obtained from over 5,300 workers aged 29-66. At the start of the study, none of the participants had Type 2 diabetes yet at the end of the observation period (which lasted approximately 13 years), almost 300 had developed the disease. The increased risk faced by highly stressed workers was identified independently of traditional risk factors such as obesity, physical inactivity, gender and age. High levels of stress affect approximately one on five people – those affected feel that great demands are placed on them yet they are given little flexibility or power to make decisions with respect to how their job is carried out. The researchers concluded that in order to battle the growing Type 2 diabetes epidemic, preventing strategies should take into account the negative effects of working in a highly stressful environment.
Combating Stress Though Vital Lifestyle Changes
Suffering from chronically high levels of stress can lead to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, but it can also affect our mental health, and is heavily linked to conditions such as anxiety disorders and depression. One of the most natural ways to lessen cortisol (stress hormone) levels is through exercise; yoga, for instance, was recently found to significantly lessen cortisol levels and increase vitality in a group of women receiving radiotherapy for breast cancer. Another fascinating study revealed that short bursts of vigorous exercise may reduce the negative effects that stress can have on cellular ageing. The study showed that intense exercise reduced one of the main sings of cellular ageing: telomere shortening. Telomeres are tiny regions of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromatid, which stops chromosomes from fusing with other chromosomes and staves off deterioration. The shortening of these telomeres is a symptom of cellular ageing. The study involved over 60 older women, all of whom were highly stressed carers of spouses or parents suffering from dementia. The women were randomly assigned to an exercise or an inactive group. The study showed that those who exercised intensely for a brief period displayed greater telomere length than their inactive counterparts. To make the most of the stress-busting effects of exercise, aim to combine strength training with at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity around five times a week. Cycling, running, swimming and even brisk walking can reduce stress and help you get a better night’s sleep.
The Important Role Played by Nutrition
The abundance of highly processed, high-sugar/salt foods in the typical Western diet also subjects the body to a significant amount of stress. Sound nutrition comprising a wide array of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, is an important component of stress management. A sufficient intake of B-Vitamins, for instance, is essential for a properly functioning nervous system, while calcium counters lactic acid build-up in the muscles. Those who have high stress jobs should also pay particular attention to their Vitamin D intake, since high levels of (stress hormone) cortisol decrease the expression of Vitamin D receptors. Vitamin D is vital for a host of important functions and its deficiency has been linked to everything from the weakening of bones to immune system disorders, cardiovascular disease, dementia and cancer. In addition to spending a few minutes of sunscreen-free time in the sun every day, aim to enrich your diet by consuming high-quality Vitamin D sources, including fatty fish (wild salmon is also an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids), egg yolks from pastured hens and top grade cod liver oil. If you find that your diet is not rich or varied enough, supplementation may be helpful. See your doctor to ensure compatibility with any other medications you may be taking.
The American Institute of Stress, Stress and Heart Disease, accessed August 27, 2014.
C Huth, Job Strain as a Risk Factor for the Onset of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Findings From the MONICA/KORA Augsburg Cohort Study. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2014 (published online ahead of print), accessed August 27, 2014.
K Chandwani et.al., Randomized, Controlled Trial of Yoga in Women With Breast Cancer Undergoing Radiotherapy. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2014, accessed August 27, 2014.
NatureMade.com, How Much Vitamin D is Right for Me?, accessed August 27, 2014.
WholeFoods.com, Vitamin D, accessed August 27, 2014.
E Puterman et.al., The Power of Exercise: Buffering the Effect of Chronic Stress on Telomere Length. PLoS ONE. 2010. 5(5): e10837.
BodyEcology.com, Vitamin D Deficiency: Are Stress and High Cortisol Depleting You?, accessed August 27, 2014.
When you take your fitness seriously, there is always a chance that you may suffer an injury during the course of training, and indeed around 1.9million people attend the Emergency Room each year due to sporting injuries1. This isn’t just frustrating when it gets in the way of your usual workout schedule, but it is typically a painful experience while you wait for your bones or soft tissues to heal. Although effective painkillers are available to ease your discomfort and these seem like the easy option, pain relievers have their draw backs. Physical Therapy is a useful addition to standard medical treatment to avoid over-reliance on drugs, but there are various changes you can make to your diet to enhance healing and reduce inflammation. One popular approach is to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet2.
Dangers of heavy painkiller use
If you wonder why relying heavily on painkillers is an issue, there are three main problems. Firstly, even seemingly harmless over-the-counter drugs can have adverse effects when taken for more than just a few days. For instance, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like aspirin and ibuprofen can cause digestive upset and in more severe cases stomach ulcers, bleeding and altered kidney and liver function3. There is also a risk that with a drug like paracetamol you may inadvertently overdose, as even taking less than the daily maximum of the medication over several weeks can lead to liver damage4. The last issue is that with a more severe serious injury that doesn’t respond to over-the-counter treatments, you may need a prescription painkiller, which is typically an opiate. These drugs not only lead to unpleasant side-effects, such as nausea, constipation and drowsiness, but they are highly addictive. Around 2million Americans abuse prescription painkillers, which usually requires specialist treatment, and ironically, some of the medications used to treat opiate dependence are addictive. As a result, looking to other strategies to reduce reliance on analgesia is advisable.
Get the right balance of fats
Although you may think that omega-3 fatty acids are mainly advocated to protect your heart, they have a diverse range of properties, one of which is reducing inflammation5. That is why these fats, which largely come from oily fish, are often favored by people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis to reduce joint inflammation. There is also evidence that these oils relieve muscle pain as well. If you dislike fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, and you struggle to increase your intake of vegetable sources like flax seeds and canola oil, omega-3 supplements are available. Indeed, taking around 500mg of a combination of DHA and EPA oils may help to prevent muscle soreness that is associated with exercise6.
However, omega-3s aren’t the only type of fat that is important when it comes to reducing inflammation. Besides increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, you should also reduce your intake of omega-6 oils, while replacing these with monounsaturated fats; the usual advice about cutting back on saturated and trans fats also applies. Omega-6 fats, which are found in large quantities in vegetable oils like sunflower and corn oil, have the opposite effect of omega-3s, so instead encourage inflammation. Meanwhile, monounsaturates are more similar to omega-3 fats, and seem to have anti-inflammatory properties7. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include olive and canola oil, almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, avocados and olives.
Focus on whole foods
We are already encouraged to place an emphasis on fruit, vegetables, pulses and whole grains in our diet, but this is even more important when you want to reduce inflammation, as diets rich in unprocessed plant-based foods help to reduce inflammation8. Oats and pulses in particular are useful, as their high content of soluble fiber helps them to reduce blood sugar spikes that are otherwise associated with inflammation. When it comes to vegetables, green leafy varieties such as broccoli, cabbage and kale are among the best, possibly because vitamin K and the other protective plant nutrients in these foods help to fight inflammation. It is therefore a good idea to include a generous helping of vegetables with meals, choose whole grains in preference to refined carbohydrates and use peas, beans and lentils as an alternative protein source to meat, eggs and cheese.
Include healthful herbs and spices
Herbs and spices aren’t just a tasty flavoring, as many have health-promoting properties as well. Various herbs and spices are known for their anti-inflammatory effects, such as ginger, chili, basil, oregano and thyme, thanks to the inflammation fighting ingredients they naturally contain9. Using these and other seasonings that reduce inflammation in your cooking each day is therefore advisable during recovery.
contributed by Jen Myers