Stress is a way of life in modern society. It’s everywhere. It can’t be avoided. And stress affects all of us in unique ways. However, the body responds to stress in the same way. At times, when stress is ongoing, a serious condition called Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) may occur. How can choosing to eat fresh veggies fight AFS? To understand, we first have to examine AFS as a health condition.
AFS is a condition affecting many adults. The collection of symptoms making up the condition is broad, and they are usually brought on by stress. Often, these symptoms are so nonspecific that traditionally-trained physicians conclude the person presenting with them is simply responding to ‘stress’, and only address a few symptoms. However, a number of other factors are likely to be involved in AFS. Factors such as metabolic and nutritional problems, nervous system problems, immune system problems, and dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
This HPA axis is part of the body’s normal pathway for dealing with stress. Under conditions of stress, the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete certain hormones that then affect the adrenal glands. When the adrenals are involved in stress situations, they release a hormone called cortisol, the body’s hormone for fighting stress. Located on top of the kidneys, the adrenal glands are an integral part of the body’s stress response.
If stress continues, the adrenals release more and more cortisol to fight against it. At some point, adrenal fatigue occurs, and the adrenals may reach the point of not producing sufficient cortisol to assist the body in regulating the effects of stress. When this happens, certain symptoms may show up including cravings for salty, fatty, or high protein foods, food allergies, and constipation alternating with diarrhea.
These symptoms all have to do with the metabolic system that regulate the way food is converted into energy for our internal use. Choosing the best foods, among them fresh veggies, can help the body deal with these symptoms. But the stress response may
With a continuation or increase in stress levels, the body may begin breaking down physically. This continued stress affects the adrenal glands especially with the constant demand for them to release more and more cortisol to handle the stress.
Fortunately, physicians now have a more comprehensive way of viewing the body’s response to stress that will help them better understand AFS and its symptoms. This perspective allows physicians to catch the symptoms of AFS in the early stages, diagnose the condition more accurately, and remedy it more effectively. This way of evaluating the stress response is the called the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) perspective.
This model shows how many of the body’s systems interact in a dynamic way to help regulate the stress response. The burden stress places on the adrenal glands as part of the HPA axis can be mitigated by balancing body systems that are also a part of the stress response. Bringing into play the metabolic component helps us view the stress response from a functional medicine perspective.
Two main response circuits come into play in the body’s response to stress. The HPA axis, which includes the release of cortisol to fight stress, is part of the neuroendocrine circuit. The metabolic circuit also springs into action when stress becomes an issue. It is this latter component that much of conventional medicine fails to consider when faced with patients presenting with symptoms of AFS. In reality though, the body is a closed system in which the stress response of one part affects all other parts. A functional medicine approach to the stress response considers all of the systems of the body working together to combat the symptoms and effects of stress.
The metabolic component of this systemic approach works to ensure the body gets the proper amount of fuel it needs to function optimally. Our body’s fuel comes from the foods we eat. Some of the best fuel comes from fresh foods, especially veggies.
This more comprehensive approach to understanding the stress response shows how various food and dietary signs and symptoms may signal trouble with HPA dysregulation which can lead to AFS. These signs and symptoms are subtle. However, if they are ignored or not investigated, over time these metabolic derangements can worsen, leading to stronger, more serious symptoms. They also increase the probability of AFS through continued stress on the adrenals, leading to adrenal exhaustion.
Thus, the right foods are essential to the body’s ability to fight stress.
All of us know garden fresh veggies are some of the most healthy foods available. But do you know how to choose those veggies that are really garden fresh?
Most of us have probably gone at some time or another to a local farmers’ market or even to one of the grocery stores that claim to have fresh produce. We sniff, squeeze, check for certain colors, and thump the supposedly fresh veggies to find what we want. We may even have a special way Grandma had of choosing the best produce that we follow religiously.
But have you ever carefully selected your produce, only to get home and find it bland and tasteless? Most of us have.
The produce found in most large chain grocery stores is chosen for the way it looks, the color, the size, etc. This is so the displays in those stores look good. All of the vegetables are uniform in size and in color, and many are uniform in lack of taste as well.
One thing to keep in mind when looking for the freshest and tastiest veggies is to shop seasonally. That’s what the top chefs do. Doing your shopping at small local stores and farmers’ markets will force you to shop seasonally. Those veggies in season will be the ones with the best flavors.
Plus, those veggies bought in season will be the healthiest for you as well. They will have more of nature’s nutrition, and more time to ripen in a natural environment, which translates into the best fuel for your body.
Here is a guide for choosing the best fresh vegetables for the season:
These are only a few of the things to watch for when choosing vegetables in order to get the best ones for your table.
When you eat fresh veggies, you’re fueling your body in the best way. This helps keep your body healthy and better able to handle stress. Good food equals good metabolism as well. This helps the body maintain balance in stressful situations and allows the adrenals to do their job better, reducing the chance of developing AFS. Choosing fresh veggies is a great step in the direction of improving metabolism and overall physical health.
While raw foods is a great diet and food option for many, in advanced stages of adrenal fatigue, raw foods can become difficult to digest and add stress to an already tired body. Many people in advanced AFS may not be able to tolerate raw, fresh veggies. Their digestive system slows down due to a lack of energy, and so foods stay in the stomach and intestinal tract longer, leading to constipation. Due to already low nutritional reserves, the body may not be able to produce the proper digestive enzymes to break down raw veggies properly, leading to partially undigested food and possible upset stomach. Raw vegetables may also detox the body, which can add stress onto the liver as well if there are already too many toxins in the body for it to handle. This may further worsen how a person feels.
It is vitally important that the body be able to absorb as much nutrition as possible. In these advanced stages of adrenal fatigue, steaming or boiling vegetables may be the best way to create nutrition for the body is able to absorb. Do not argue with your body. It’s best to consult an AFS literate practitioner for help.
© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.