Last week I gave a brand new presentation on Stress at the Central West Women’s Health Centre. There were lots of questions at the end and surprise at the connections between stress and our bodies.
Did you know gut bugs, both friendly and unfriendly, respond to changes in stress hormones? Our immune system is intimately connected with our gut microbes, and is also affected by stress hormones.
In acute stress (running away from a predator), our immune system is UP-regulated in anticipation of infection.
In chronic stress (lasting longer than 6 weeks), our immune system is DOWN-regulated meaning we are more vulnerable to infections.
The microbial balance in the gut changes which can affect neurotransmitter production.
Stress also affects our genes. In pregnant women, chronic stress can change the microbial community in the birth canal which can impact the bugs a baby is first in contact with.
Stress also affects DNA repair (telomerase activity) and women with highest levels of perceived stress compared with low stress have shorter telomeres. This has the average equivalent of at least one decade of additional ageing.
So what can you do about this?
Meditation may slow genetic ageing and enhance genetic repair by promoting telomere maintenance
Box breathing is easy to do and can be done anywhere!
Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4. Repeat for 4 to 6 rounds.
Lie down with your legs up the wall or calves resting on a chair, thighs vertical for 2-10 minutes for a gentle inversion.
And maybe consider this saying “Not my circus, not my monkeys” – the downfalls of trying to control what is not ours to control.
Maybe someone is trying to give you their problem to sort out/take on board.
Sleep is the number one medicine everyone should be taking!
I highly recommend a good intake/dose/amount of sleep every night. Research shows on average we are sleeping 2-3 hours LESS per night than in the 1980s – that is a big loss of sleep over 365 days.
So why is sleep so important for good health? While we sleep our brain cleans out metabolic waste products, so we can think more clearly, create more memories and be more engaged with what we do. The most important time to have undisturbed sleep is from 11pm to 3am.
Why do so many people have sleep issues?
I believe there are a whole range of reasons for this including lifestyle, nutrition, stress and environmental. Firstly I strongly believe and have read the research on the impact of screen time on our health. This has been a big change in our daily routine over the past decade and a half since portable devices have become easily available. So what is the issue with screens in the evening? Our screens emit blue light which is part of the natural light spectrum. Blue light tells our brains it is daytime and that we should be awake and not be producing melatonin (our go to sleep hormone). So by using a blue light emitting device right up until you close your eyes (your head may already be on the pillow!), your brain is wired and active and takes longer to relax into the restful state.
What can you do to help your body and mind settle into sleep better?
There are a range of supportive measures you can use:
- Avoid using technology including tv, computers, ipads and phones for 90 minutes before bed.
- Avoid overhead light globes and use warm lighting for example salt lamps or warm globes.
- Buy some blue-light blocking glasses if you must use a screen late in the evening.
- Use a screen dimming application on your computer for example f.lux, to decrease the blue light emitted from the screen – it looks slightly yellow.
- Use the Twilight mode with an Android phone and Night Shift with an iPhone to automatically dim your screen from 7pm to 7am.
- Go for a morning walk to get sunlight on your retinas (back of your eyes). Sunlight is a trigger for our circadian rhythm and if you teach your body when it is morning and time to be up and active, it will help train it to slow down and rest in the evening. Failing time to have a walk, even 5 minutes outside for your morning cuppa is beneficial.
If you can improve your sleep you will notice changes in your health in as little as 24-48 hours. It is fundamental to good health and there is no medicine that can replace regular restorative sleep.
I am so keen to share with you the knowledge that Alzheimer’s disease can be reversed! This was not something ever taught to me during my medical school or specialist training. In my more recent studies I have learnt about the work of Dr Dale Bredesen who has developed the first programme to prevent and reverse the cognitive decline of dementia. He has written an excellent book “The End of Alzheimer’s” and presents many examples of reversing mild cognitive impairment.
We now know that there are changes happening in the brain 10-20 years before symptoms start. Often people feel absolutely fine, then start noticing difficulty recognising and remembering faces, or getting more tired later in the day to do mentally challenging tasks. Other changes an individual or loved one may notice could be a decreased interest in reading or an inability to follow or engage in complex conversation. Sometimes words can be mixed up using a completely wrong word in a sentence. Early physical signs include a change in walking/gait, where someone might make more noise when they are walking, shuffling their feet and taking shorter steps.
Optimising brain health is something dear to me as my wonderful father has Alzheimer’s disease with moderate cognitive impairment. I have seen him slowly decline in communication, energy and endurance, getting lost in new or familiar places, and a slowing and shuffling of his gait. Fortunately he has remained positive and warm-hearted during these challenging times. He is supported by my amazing mother and some additional home help. Mum encourages him to do the concise crossword with her, go for at least a daily walk with her and catch up with friends on a regular basis.
So some of the lifestyle areas to address when looking to reverse Alzheimer’s include:
- Avoid all sugars which cause inflammation in the body.
- Avoid gluten which is inflammatory to 80% of the population and can cause intestinal permeability.
- Eat a wide variety of colourful fruit and vegetables every day. Aim for a 1, 2, 3 plan: 1 veggie at brekkie, 2 with lunch, 3 at dinner.
- Ensure you have a 12h gap between meals overnight.
- Avoid fatty fried foods which have Advanced Glycation End products – these get stuck in the end of tiny capillaries (blood vessels) and can induce AD.
- Sleep: Aim for 7-8h sleep per night. This is essential for the brain to clear out any debris and be ready for the next day ahead. Lack of sleep = debris build up.
- Stress: address your stress is one of the most important areas to target. Low-grade chronic stress is terrible for our systems. We were designed to have short bursts of stress that stopped. Work on up-regulating your Rest-and-Digest system (Parasympathetic Nervous System):
- Sit down to eat
- Take 3 deep breaths before you start
- Chew your food well
- Chill out after a meal
- Hum, sing, laugh or gargle to stimulate your vagus nerve
- Dental health: Brush your teeth 3 times a day. Dental health is related to the risk of AD. Mid-life tooth loss and lack of brushing teeth increases risk of AD. See your dentist regularly to check on dental hygiene and conditions like periodontitis.
If you know of someone who would benefit from this information, please share it so they can improve their brain health. As always, if you have a question please email me directly or contact my rooms if you would like to book an appointment.