Energy and mood
Most of us would like more energy. Every year millions of people go to their GP complaining of tiredness. There are probably also millions more who don't bother to consult a Doctor but who have energy levels which are low enough to significantly affect their quality of life and prevent them from achieving as much as they want. If you feel persistently tired, your Doctor's surgery is a good place to start if only to rule out any serious underlying health problem. Once you have done this you may wonder where to turn next. It can be really frustrating when you know there is something wrong yet you are being told you are perfectly healthy.
The air we breathe, the food we eat, our stress levels and the emotions we feel all have a significant impact on our energy levels. Our nutrition is a factor that we can easily influence. Many people don't realise that how they feel both physically and emotionally and their resistance to stress, can be strongly influenced by what they eat.
For example, a client of mine came to me for advice on healthy eating. He mentioned in passing that he suffered badly from anxiety and also that he drank 6- 8 cups of coffee per day. He had not made any connection between the two. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that sets off hormonal reactions in the body and the quantities this man was drinking were affecting his nervous system. This is an extreme example but there are many less dramatic ones.
The way in which a food or drink affects us varies according to individual biochemistry. Some people are so sensitive that they cannot metabolise a single cup of coffee without getting the jitters. This can mean they are allergic to it or that they need nutritional support for the liver. Caffeine, like alcohol is a toxin that needs to be metabolised and made harmless by the liver before being excreted from the body. Extreme caffeine or alcohol sensitivity often indicates the need for detoxification.
We are constantly being advised to “eat a balanced diet” containing plenty of fruit and vegetables. Many people think they eat a “balanced diet”. But, in my experience as a nutritionist, very few people (official estimates suggest it is only 3% of us) actually eat a truly healthy diet containing optimal levels of nutrients. The main problem is that the concept of a “balanced diet” is too vague and unspecific. Dietary needs will vary subtly according to the individual and must be tailored to the person to fit their unique health picture.
One extremely important factor in the food, mood and energy equation is blood sugar balance. When you eat carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, sweet foods or chocolate, your digestive system breaks them down into glucose, a form of sugar which can be absorbed by your body and used for energy. Ensuring that there is just the right amount of glucose in the blood at any one time is a delicate balancing act and is the function of hormones including insulin. Constant over-stimulation from the wrong foods can over time lead to inefficient blood sugar control.
Diabetes which can be diagnosed by a conventional medical test is an extreme state of blood sugar imbalance involving insulin deficiency. However many people have an imbalance which does not show up in such a test but can be assessed by the presence of clinical symptoms which may include:
- Finding it difficult to get going in the morning
- Mid afternoon energy slumps
- Mood swings
- Dizziness, weakness or irritability on not eating for a few hours
- Lethargy, apathy or drowsiness
- Excess sweating
- The need for caffeine, chocolate or sugary snacks as a pick-me-up.
- Feeling “spaced out” or “not with it”
- Hard to shift weight around the waist
One of my clients thought she had an eating disorder because she could not stop herself bingeing on sweet foods and had been doing so for years. She was surprised to find that a few simple changes to her diet together with some mineral supplements caused her to completely lose the sweet tooth that she had become resigned to.
Stress is likely to exacerbate a blood sugar problem and vice versa. When your blood sugar crashes your adrenal (stress) glands have to pump out hormones to raise it again. Similarly, if you are stressed your blood sugar levels will rise in order to provide energy to deal with the situation. Our prehistoric ancestors would have burnt off the excess energy by fighting a wild animal or running back to the nearest cave! Unfortunately, in our modern day sedentary lives without an outlet for physical action, we are often left with an over-production of hormones and over-stimulated glands and organs, leading in time to exhaustion. In this state of hyperactivity our demand for nutrients increases significantly and our nutrient “bank account” can go into “debt.” In effect we are using up more nutrients than are being supplied, resulting in compromised functioning.
Adrenal gland and thyroid gland function is key to maintaining good energy levels and these glands can be supported with herbs and nutrients. Functional laboratory tests can be useful to assess more subtle imbalances in adrenal and thyroid function which may not show up in conventional tests.
Vitamins from the B complex family are particularly important for mental function. The brain uses large amounts to function and since these vitamins are water soluble, they need constant replenishing. Certain clinical symptoms will suggest B vitamin deficiencies. There is also a urine test called a Metabolic Analysis Test that profiles markers in the urine which indicate lack of certain B vitamins.
A new study in America one of the largest of its kind, has found that low vitamin D levels were associated with depressive symptoms. The author of the study, Dr E Sherwood Brown, a professor of psychiatry said ”Our findings suggest that screening for vitamin D levels in depressed patients...might be useful”.
Low vitamin D levels are also risk factors for many other conditions; autoimmune disease, hormone related disorders, osteoporosis, diabetes, osteo arthritis, gum disease, cancer, high blood pressure and stroke, muscle weakness and a whole range of neurological disorders.
Recently the chief medical officer for England was flagging up the need to communicate to health professionals, what she sees as the serious and widespread problem of vitamin D deficiency.”We know a significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood” she said.
Lack of sunshine exposure through indoor living, together with increased use of sun protection to avoid skin cancer are the factors most likely to be behind the increasing vitamin D deficiency. Having a darker or paler skin increases risk as do certain common medications that interfere with vitamin D metabolism (for example, antiseizure drugs, steroids e.g. for asthma or chronic inflammatory conditions)
Vitamin D is not easily found in the average diet in enough quantities. Salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, trout, and fresh (not tinned) tuna are particularly rich sources, with wild salmon providing 500-1000IU vitamin D per 100g and farmed salmon providing 100-250IU per 100g serving. To put this in perspective, an adult would need to eat 2-4 servings of wild salmon a day to maintain daily vitamin D requirements.
You can test your vitamin D levels inexpensively and then take an appropriate strength supplement, which will depend on your results. It's important also not to go from one extreme to the other and take too much vitamin D.
Supplements should contain vitamin D in the form of vitamin D3. More information on vitamin D here
In the modern world it's impossible to avoid coming into daily contact with toxins of some sort or another. Scientific research has linked exposure to environmental toxins with a range of chronic health problems. We are subjected to a daily cocktail of toxins, for example in household cleaning products, toiletries and cosmetics, traffic pollution and chemicals in our food to name but a few. But doing some internal housecleaning can make the body more efficient at expelling the toxins before they have time to do any damage. The main line of defence against toxins is healthy organs of elimination, which are the liver, kidneys, lungs, skin, bowel and lymphatic system.
It is not only toxins from external sources that are a problem. The colon or lower bowel is a potentially huge source of toxicity from within the body. In a healthy colon the food mass is able to make close contact with the intestinal wall allowing proper absorption and assimilation of nutrients into the system. What often happens is that the colon wall becomes encrusted with mucoid plaques from partially digested foods which form a barrier around the wall, blocking absorption of nutrients and providing a breeding ground for all sorts of unhealthy bacteria and yeasts, including candida.
If you don't have regular bowel movements (and most of us don't if you consider that a healthy bowel will evacuate its contents twice per day) impacted, putrefying faeces will add to the cocktail of toxins. A sort of self-poisoning occurs whereby the toxins circulate from the bowel to the liver and back again.
Not surprisingly, all this toxicity will affect your energy levels. You'll feel sluggish and tired or you may feel vaguely unwell as if you've got a hangover but without having drunk any alcohol.
Eating the wrong sort of foods (which includes foods that you are intolerant to) is the main reason for such unhealthy gut conditions. The protein in wheat, called gluten is particularly hard for the body to break down and if partially digested, can form sticky chewing gum-like deposits on the gut wall. Giving your body an internal spring clean is common sense and it can prevent more serious health problems developing in the long term.
So as you can see, there can be many underlying factors behind a problem such as fatigue. A nutritional therapist is specially trained to identify the root cause and implement a naturopathic based treatment programme. To book an appointment for a one to one nutrition consultation contact Penny.