Stress and diet have a very interactive relationship. Not only is your digestive system affected by stress, diet has the mighty power to improve your stress levels or to make them worse. Diet can even be a causative factor of your stress levels.
So what is stress?
Stress is a non-specific response of the body, a syndrome, characterised by a group of symptoms which consistently occur together. Stress can have physical, mental or emotional origin. No matter which one you are starting out with, stress will eventually affect all of them.
It is probably common sense that overindulgence of junk food does nothing for your immune system. Junk lacks nourishment and makes it harder for the body to digest and expel toxins, and function properly. This puts the body under a lot of physical stress.
– Tamasic food includes junk food and any processed foods, i.e. canned, processed, frozen, reheated foods; incompatible foods; foods eaten in excess as well as foods eaten at the wrong time; and foods which are incompatible with one’s own digestive capacity and body bio-energy type. So, dietary advice is personalised and although personalised medicine is new to modern medicine, it is well established in Ayurveda, the traditional system of Indian medicine. Individuals with balanced body bio-energies are less susceptible to disease than individuals with abnormal ones. In fact, imbalances or disturbed interactions between body bio-energies are considered a major cause of disease. Stress is a perfect example of how the body bio-energies get disturbed initially and eventually manifest in long-term, chronic lifestyle-related diseases.
– Ama is a type of toxin, also referred to as an endotoxin. It occurs from half- digested, unmetabolised food products circulating in the body, acting as toxins. Ama builds up in individuals whose digestion is either weak or overloaded with the wrong foods. Since one’s digestive powers are in part determined by one’s genotype, individuals with strong digestive powers can eat larger quantities and richer foods without forming ama. In contrast, individuals with weak digestive powers produce ama more easily. The right diet and lifestyle choices can also compensate, at least in part, for a weaker digestive system. Overall, a weakened digestive capacity is the root cause of ama, which is a major risk factor for disease. As many diseases arise from toxins, the first stage of any disease is also sometimes called the ama stage.
How does a bad diet cause and worsen a stress response in the body, with the potential to lead to a chronic disease condition?
This process works by means of inflammation. Every food has a pH value, a scale measuring how acidic or alkaline a fluid or substance is. When there is a lot of acid-forming foods in your diet, and there typically is with modern diets, it can lead to inflammation. This inflammation can manifest as arthritis, acne, fatigue, feeling bloated, weight gain, and more.
From Ayurveda, we know that it is not just the pH value which causes inflammation. There is the wider category of tamasic foods too, the formation of ama by a weak digestive system, and toxins or pesticide residue in foods. This category also includes incompatible foods which when eaten on their own are fine, but in combination are tamasic. How we eat plays a role too and can determine whether the endotoxin ama is formed during the digestive process. Tamasic foods which can cause inflammation are refined sugar, canned foods, packed juices, dairy, additives, processed meat, some over-refined grains and breads, fried foods, and alcohol.
The inflammatory response occurs when tissues are injured by toxins, bacteria, trauma, heat, or any other cause. The damaged cells release chemicals including histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins. These chemicals cause blood vessels to leak fluid into the tissues, causing swelling.
And mental stress, depression, and wider psychological factors can also cause physical stress; it can affect movement and contractions of the GI tract, making inflammation worse, or make one more susceptible to infection through a weakened immunity.
What are the problems with chronic inflammation?
Chronic inflammation produces continual free radicals that can potentially damage DNA, speeding the aging process and contributing to disease. Free radicals are atoms that are missing an electron and want to pair with oxygen. Hypoxia is the name for a condition which describes a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues. As the body ages, it loses its ability to fight the effects of free radicals. The result is more free radicals, more oxidative stress, and more damage to cells, which leads to degenerative dis-ease processes, as well as the aging process.
What helps in this process are antioxidants. Antioxidants are chemicals that lessen or prevent the effects of free radicals. They donate an electron to free radicals, thereby reducing their reactivity, preventing aging and diseases. Organically grown foods have a more beneficial free radicals / toxins ratio than conventionally grown foods. I would advocate naturally grown and organic foods for this reason and advise you to research alternative growing methods, such as permaculture.
Chronic inflammation, the result of persistent stress and tamasic diets have been linked with a range of long-term, chronic lifestyle-related conditions, which are occurring in epidemic proportions.
Chronic inflammation precedes most cancers and is now considered a critical hallmark of carcinogenesis. Inflammation is an environment that diseases thrive in and therefore work to maintain; once the inflammatory microenvironment has been created in tumours, there are mechanisms which sustain it.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions: increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels, which occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Amavata / Rheumatoid Arthritis
For rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or amavata to develop we need to have the following mechanism present: the body bio-energy of vata to be involved plus an accumulation of ama in the joints
What does treatment or prevention involve?
The first and foremost line of management for any disease is the removal of the cause. So, a change to diet and lifestyle is always part of the Ayurvedic approach in disease management. And prevention is possible through stress management and a healthy personalised diet. I provide an online course teaching the basic steps for a personalised diet and offer a 40-day coaching course for those who are serious about changing their lifestyle, followed by seasonal refresher coaching sessions throughout the year.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are drugs that help reduce inflammation, which often helps to relieve pain. In other words, painkillers are anti-inflammatory drugs. But the problem with these drugs is that they cause damage to the permeable membrane of the intestine and this damage leads ama to enter the blood stream, so in the long run they are promoting inflammation by ama.
So, we are looking to natural methods to prevent and manage. Ayurvedic medicine is perfectly suited to chronic lifestyle conditions caused by toxins, inappropriate diets, and lifestyle damage. Lifestyle change is always required and if there is an addictive element to these lifestyles, i.e. they cannot be changed easily, then Ayurveda is more limited in its effectiveness.
Curcumin is a key chemical in turmeric. It reduces pain, inflammation, and stiffness related to rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Several recent studies show that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and modifies immune system responses naturally.
Yoga can slow the harmful effects of inflammation. Yoga reduces the occurrence of inflammation by removing stress and detoxifying the body. It also reduces the effect of hypoxia by providing increased amounts of oxygen. A person with lesser stress will also be able to make better lifestyle choices and sleep better at night, which in turn regenerates the body and removes stress levels.
A healing lifestyle is one which is personalised and helps to prevent as well as manage disease. It is useful in any case; everybody can benefit from it. A personalised, ayurvedic lifestyle helps to normalise natural processes, reduce stress, and promote conditions, such as good sleep, which are necessary for regeneration.
Sonja Breuer (MSc. ayur. med.) is tapping into a niche solution for improving sleep with Eastern Medicine of Ayurveda and Yoga. The products available are online courses and individual coaching. She encourages people to embrace lifestyle changes to bring about better sleep, leading to greater levels of well-being, energy and performance.
Sonja is qualified with a post graduate degree in Ayurvedic medicine, more than 1000 yoga teaching hours, coaching and mentoring diplomas and energy healing abilities. She has devised online programmes for better sleep: “7 Steps to Better Sleep” and “Yoga for Better Sleep” so you can get started immediately, either before or whilst working with her in person, either online or offline.