Stress & Allostatic Load

I want to talk a little bit today about stress. Stress and our lifestyle. Stress and our environments. Stress and our jobs. Stress and our family. Stress and our body. And all the other pockets of life where stress may find a niche. I get the feeling (personally, and from the hundreds of folks I’ve seen over the years) that we are all brought up to learn that if we’re not stressed just enough, if we’re not busy enough, if we’re not productive enough then WE are not enough. And I’m calling bullsh*t on that.

It took the better part of my late twenties to learn that stress has zero place in my life, and most of it was optional to take on in the first place. Stress doesn’t serve me. It doesn’t solve anything. It makes absolutely nothing better, and it overall makes me a less flexible person. My entire educational “career”, some 25 years, was enormously stressful. So stressful that I developed chronic digestive trouble that, at the peak of my graduate school finale, allowed me to eat nothing other than mushroom broth and eggs (seriously). It was ridiculous how much stress seeped into my lifestyle and physiology. Here I was, a nutrition and herbal medicine student wasting away and nutrient deficient at 105 pounds and finally, I decided that nothing was worth my health. I decided to stop almost everything in one day. I quit my part time job. Moved out of my house and to another state altogether, and took 6 months to set the intention to mindfully finish my degree, seek the guidance of an Ayurvedic practitioner and functional medicine MD and sleep, relax, and let go of needless stress. It was a scary step, but after I made the decision, everything worked. And it actually took 3 years to fully recover. 6 months was just the start of a long and intentional journey.

I see a lot of students in my practice now and, although they’re not 100% drowning under debilitating stress, they’re pretty close. I see a lot of young professionals who feel like if they don’t work 50-60+ hours a week they’ll never get ahead. I see new parents struggling with the new responsibilities of raising children while juggling jobs and social obligations and I see seasoned professionals stuck in stressful careers because they don’t feel like they have the flexibility to make a change.

Here’s the thing: we all have what is called an “Allostatic Load”. This is the expense accumulated by tissues and organ systems for sustained arousal resulting from chronic over activity (or inactivity) of physiological systems that are normally involved in adaptation to environment change. Basically it’s how much stress we can take on at any given point before we break down. When we have chronic stress, this builds up in our body and breaks down our organ systems. It leads to chronically elevated inflammation throughout the body that can lead to any number of autoimmune imbalances and even shortened life span. Constant environmental demand requiring sustained stress invokes a biological transformation or brain signature that may be long pasting. This is the biological cost for being forced to adapt to adverse psychosocial or physical situations. And it can start at any age.

The expense that we pay for a stress filled lifestyle may be enhanced anxiety, depressive illness, post traumatic stress disorder, cognitive consequences, malnourishment and increased blood pressure (to name a few). Is what you’re doing worth these long term costs? I would encourage you to seriously consider how you spend your day to day life, and if there is persistent stress recurring, what can you do to either eliminate, decrease or tolerate this more efficiently? Obviously, there are stresses in our life that we can’t just eliminate. But there are ways that we can adapt our response to make chronic stress not as damaging to our body such as daily meditation, mindfulness, taking time to cook and prepare nourishing foods, movement and exercise, seeking counseling or taking frequent vacations. It’s amazing what a few deep breaths can do to calm down our nervous system, and what saying “no” can do for our over-packed, demanding schedules. Take a moment to evaluate what is really serving you, and what is not. Make some changes if you need to!

The only different between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.

-Ellen Glasgow

 

Lindsay Kluge M.Sc, CNS, LDN | HealthCoach@EllwoodThompsons.com

WATER ALONE DOES NOT MAKE ORGANIC

ellwood thompson's, food advocate, kirk schroder, richmond virginiaOn of the alarming challenges faced by the natural food movement is the assault on the terminology and standards for “organic” labeling. There is a tremendous value to marketing products labeled as “organic”.  According to industry surveys, organic food and non-food product sales grew from $1 billion in 1990 to $31.5 billion in 2011 and continues to steadily grow.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) operates the National Organic Program whose stated mission is to ensure “the integrity of USDA organic products in the U.S. and throughout the world.” Most everything you would want to know about the National Organics Program (NOP) can be found here.  The USDA agents that operate the NOP are advised by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), whose job is to make recommendations on the standards for labeling products as “organic.”

One can imagine the lobbying efforts, due to the value of the marketing that occurs in Washington to affect the standards for “organic” labeling. Currently, there is an interesting irony of organic labeling when it comes to hydroponic farming. Hydroponic farming, as the name suggests, does not involve the use of any soil (soil being an inherent ingredient of organic farming). Essentially, hydroponics involves soaking the plant roots in water containing nutrients and fertilizers – soil is never involved in the process.

According to Barbara Damrosch, in a piece written last year in The Washington Post, hydroponic farmers want to get their food products labeled as “organic” because according to one supplier of hydroponic equipment, such growers can “market their produce as being organic because that will command a premium price.”

In 2010, the NOSB recommended that hydroponic food products be excluded from being labeled “organic”.  The NOP has not acted on the NOSB recommendations (five years having passed) and as such, hydroponic food products continue to be labeled as “organic” without consumer knowledge.

The irony goes further in that, according to one organic advocacy group, “the vast majority of the “hydroponic organic” produce sold in this country are grown in either Mexico, Canada, or Holland. ALL THREE OF THESE COUNTRIES PROHIBIT HYDROPONICALLY PRODUCED VEGETABLES TO BE SOLD AS ORGANIC IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES. Mexico, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and 24 European countries, (including Holland, England, Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, and Spain) all prohibit hydroponic vegetable production to be sold as organic in their own countries.” http://www.keepthesoilinorganic.org/#!about_us/csgz

To share your views with the USDA on this topic, you can visit their website.

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Announcing: $10.10 Minimum Wage!

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Ellwood Thompson’s announces a new minimum wage of $10.10 for full-time employees. We will be starting our full time employees at $10.10 per hour, $2.85 above the national average. All increases will take effect April 24th 2015.

We want our 130 employees to feel we make an investment in their future at ET, with continuous learning and development. We are particularly proud to say that both of our Store Managers and 2/3 of our Department Managers and Assistant Department Managers started with ET as hourly employees and were nurtured to the positions they have now.

Ellwood’s will not be raising prices of goods to pay for our wage increase.

While we realize this is the minimum wage rate that is currently being called for in congress, we have taken it upon ourselves to act proactively and increase our minimum wage.

Ellwood’s employees are the heart and soul of this small, local business and we want to offer them a higher quality of life. We want our employees to be able to better support their families and call Ellwood’s their home.

Now Serving Only Local Pasture-Raised Eggs in our Bakery and Deli!

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Our eggs are proudly provided by Shepherds Hill Farm via the Local Food Hub. Shepherds Hill Farm is located in Standardsville, VA, just 83 miles from Ellwood’s.

What is “Pasture-Raised”?

“Pasture-raised” means that the chickens freely roam grassy pastures during the day and access a shelter at night to safely lay their eggs while being protected from predators.

About Shepherds Hill Farm

It is difficult to believe that the Bontragers have been in residence at Shepherds Hill Farm since just March 2010. Granted, this family of 10 has many hands to share the work (Glen and Margaret, with children Anthony, Vivian, Joshua, Kalandra, Amber, Katrina, and Kaiya, plus Veronica who is on mission in Honduras).

By adapting an existing barn surrounded by grassy pasture and outfitting it with wooden laying boxes, perches, and egg shelves, the Bontragers keep around 600 laying hens. Glen supervises daily chicken care, plus egg collection and the cleaning, sorting, and packing that prepares the eggs for Local Food Hub and other markets.

From April until October, the Bontragers also cultivate strawberries in what Glen describes as a “low tech greenhouse” – that is, rather than relying on a heat source, the climate is controlled by a hand-crank vent, an insulating layer of air, and shadecloth. The Bontragers grow four plants per pot and stack four pots vertically per thin irrigation line – even at 2992 plants, harvested 3 times a week for six months, it’s never enough fragrant, tender berries!

Our Commitment to Local

The addition of Shepherd’s Hill Farm’s eggs in our prepared foods represents a big milestone for us in our continued commitment to use the cleanest, best local ingredients we can find.

Food = Happiness… Literally!

I recently wrote a blog post for Richmond Natural Medicine talking about how diet affects our emotional health and wellbeing. I’ve been getting these “questions” a lot lately in a round about way from a lot of people. They often wonder why they’re feeing so sluggish, lethargic, ambivalent, drowsy, sad, or unmotivated when they want to feeling to opposite for the beginning of spring. Sometimes it’s obvious why these symptoms arise (either due to lack of sleep, exercise or sunlight), but what is not so obvious is how their food choices are making their body feel less than adequate, and what steps they can take to improve their physical and emotional state by switching out some food choices.

As we come out of winter, we should also come away from eating heavy foods such as thick soups and stews or copious amounts of root veggies. Not that there is anything at all wrong with these, but as the seasons change, so do our seasonal food options. With spring comes color, and with more color comes more vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants. The more color we eat on a daily basis the more variety of nutrients our body can utilize for all of our organ systems.

Purple Vegetables – Nourish the blood; Tones cardiovascular system; Contains anthocyanins to strengthen capillary tone; high in antioxidants

Examples: eggplant, red onion, purple cabbage, beets, blueberries

Red Vetetables – Contain lots of lycopene, great for the heart and cardiovascular system

Examples: Tomatoes

Orange Vegetables – Contain beta carotene which is important for immune system and essential for cell-to-cell communication.

Example: Carrots, golden beets

Green Vegetables – Especially dark leafy & brassicas are important for multiple organ system detoxification; useful in hormonal imbalance; increases liver detoxification (gets rid of excess hormone supplies); LOADED with vitamins and minerals.

Examples: kale, broccoli, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens

White/Green – Extremely nutritive to immune and lymphatic system.

Examples: garlic, onions, leeks, chives

Many of our mood hormones are manufactured from the foods that we eat including serotonin (feelings of wellbeing and happiness), nor-epinepherine and dopamine (pleasure and reward). Without these hormones and neurotransmitters we lack these feel good moods. Foods that are rich in amino acids (leucine, tryptophan, lysine, taurine etc) help to produce these hormones, and without eating these foods we are unable to produce these neurotransmitters at all!

So, simple steps like eating more mangos, papayas, dates, omega-3 fatty acids (flax, chia, hemp, fish or walnuts) and high quality meats and vegetable proteins can greatly enhance the production of some of these hormones.

Quite often, we we start to eat better by making more colorful, whole food choices, we ultimately “feel better” all over because our organ systems are running more smoothly, our digestion becomes more regulated, and our hormone/neurotransmitter production is receiving adequate food intakes to do the job. Take a simple step every day to try and eat 5 different colors with fruits and veggies, and aim for high quality meats and vegetable protein sources for optimal amino acids. If you need some guidance on what foods to look for, let schedule a free health coaching appointment to talk it out!

 

Lindsay Kluge M.Sc, CNS, LDN | HealthCoach@EllwoodThompsons.com