We talk about stress management a lot. Popular psychology discusses the impact of our relationships, work life, finances, and emotional state on our brains. And truly, excess stress causes the chronic release of cortisol (our primary stress hormone) in our bodies which is directly correlated with the development of nearly every physical or mental illness known.

But this innate stress response developed in an evolutionary context, where our primary stressors were predators, enemies, infection, and starvation. Cortisol is not inherently harmful- in this perspective, the effects that cortisol has in our body, long and short term, make sense. The function is to optimize our bodies in response to a threat. Short term, the effect of cortisol will help us deal with a threat like being chased by a lion, or the need to find food before it gets dark. We need the stress response to run faster and to focus our attention on what we need to do to survive. The longer term effects of cortisol make sense too. In an ancestral context, a “long term” stress response would have been cortisol was elevated for days or weeks. The only time, evolutionary, we would have such long term stress would be if we were traveling in a dangerous setting or were in starvation mode. Say we would have had to travel through a valley full of tigers or a tribe we were at war with, or we were trying to survive a seasonal drought. When cortisol is chronically released for days or weeks, our bodies start stripping all the sugars out of our food and storing it as fat on our bodies. We go into a “hyper vigilant” survival mode where we are seeking out potential threats around every corner.

What does this mean today? Unfortunately, most people in the modern world are not experiencing stress for minutes, days or weeks. They are experiencing it for months and years on end. This is a truly new phenomenon for humans, and our physiology is not made to manage it. And the function of cortisol is less effective when we are being faced with modern threats like over due bills, a micro managing boss, a messy divorce, or racial bias.

Another common factor in modern stress is HIGH CALORIE MALNUTRITION. This is a term coined by Dr. Derrick Lonsdale, expert on thiamine and other non acute nutritional deficiencies. His work supports the idea that many people in the modern world are experiencing a totally novel type of stressor: eating plenty of calories on a day to day basis, but these calories lacking key nutrients needed for necessary bodily functions, and even the nature of these high calorie foods actively depleting nutrient stores through excess carbohydrate intake and toxic exposures in the food itself (many processed foods testing high in heavy metals, molds/mycotoxins, pesticides, etc.).

A starving brain is a stressed brain. Our brain needs key nutrients to function properly, and a healthy metabolism that allows us to properly produce energy. Our brain is a very expensive organ to run: it takes a massive amount of not only calories, but ENERGY (on a cellular level this is called ATP), and nutrient co factors to produce neurotransmitters and hormones that fully dictate how we see the world.

A starving brain is a mentally ill brain. It has been well documented, the connection between chronic stress and mental illness. But what if some of that chronic stress is coming from a lack of key nutrients in your diet? This is a massively overlooked contributor to mental illness, but I think an empowering one to recognize. While we cannot always change when a bill is due or what a stranger will yell at us on the subway, or how our boss is going to talk to us today, we CAN change the food that we put into our body. Most of us have three times a day, if not more, to start making a profound change in our brain’s functioning. We can properly resource our brain through high levels of key nutrients and a balanced metabolism.

Are you ready to learn more? Be sure you click the link below to look at all of my mental health and mood resources, and watch my youtube video on this topic as well.

About the Author
Jen Donovan completely rebuilt her life and career as a result of her experience with severe chronic illness. After finding no answers from conventional medical approaches, she took matters into her own hands and with the help of key mentors, found a path to healing.
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