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Foods to Relieve Stress

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We often seek relief from stress in the foods we eat. Unfortunately, we often make the wrong choice in comfort foods, and add further stress to our livers in the process. Liver disease patients cannot afford to make the wrong food choices. Learn which foods can help you effectively handle stress and support your liver.

* The information contained is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace advice from a trained medical professional. Dietary suggestions do not apply to everyone, as other health conditions, dietary requirements, food sensitivities or allergies vary greatly from person to person.

The relationship between stress and the perpetuation of disease is undeniable. Stress hinders many of our body’s functions, including the duties our liver performs. We are all exposed to stress; it is an inherent part of living on this planet. One key to sustaining our health is learning to handle stress wisely and gracefully.

A study published in 1984 by Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi revealed that it isn’t excessive stress that makes people sick, but the way they react to stress that determines illness or wellness. A common reaction to stress is overeating. The well-known osteopathic physician, Dr. Mercola reports in a 2002 study published in Preventive Medicine, researchers found that for people who said stress often drove them to eat, the comfort foods of choice tended to be greasy, salty or sweet. This dysfunctional coping mechanism is responsible for a majority of our nation’s current obesity crisis, and subsequent worsening of metabolic related diseases. Whether we turn to these foods for comfort, out of habit, in search of a carbohydrate-serotonin high or other psychologically rooted reason, eating unhealthy foods while stressed sets up a detrimental pattern of worsening current health issues.

It is possible to break the pattern of eating unhealthy foods when we are stressed, especially once it is recognized. A physical component of negatively reacting to stress is an increase in our metabolic rate. According to the noted nutrition author Maureen Salaman, “Stress increases the body’s requirement for various nutrients: protein, vitamin A, pantothenic acid – a B vitamin – vitamin C and magnesium.”

She includes a list of foods high in each of these nutrients that are ideal for healthy food consumption when under stress:

· Protein: Eggs, milk products, meat, fish, soy, nuts and seeds.

· Beta Carotene (the precursor to Vitamin A): Cod liver oil, dandelion greens, carrots, yams, kale, parsley, turnip greens, spinach, collard greens, chard, watercress, red peppers, squash, egg yolk, cantaloupe, endive, persimmons, apricots, broccoli, pimentos, swordfish, whitefish, romaine lettuce, mangoes, papayas, nectarines, pumpkin, peaches, cheeses and cherries.

· Pantothenic Acid: Royal jelly, brewer’s yeast, brown rice, sunflower seeds, soybeans, corn, lentils, egg yolk, peas, alfalfa, whole wheat, peanuts, rye, eggs, bee pollen, wheat germ, bleu cheese, cashews, chickpeas, avocado, chicken, sardines, turkey and walnuts.

· Vitamin C: Rose hips, acerola cherries, guavas, black currants, parsley, green peppers, watercress, chives, strawberries, persimmons, spinach, oranges, cabbage, grapefruit, papaya, elderberries, kumquats, dandelion greens, lemons, cantaloupe, green onions, limes, mangoes, loganberries, tangerines, tomatoes, squash, raspberries and romaine lettuce.

· Magnesium: Dolomite, kelp, blackstrap molasses, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, almonds, soybeans, brazil nuts, bone meal, pistachios, soy lecithin, hazelnuts, pecans, oats, walnuts, brown rice, chard, spinach, barley, coconut, salmon, corn, avocado, bananas, cheese and tuna.

From a Traditional Chinese Medical perspective, the physical translation of stress is congestion in the liver. The beginning stage of stress is an accumulation of non-physical energy in the liver, termed qi stagnation. If the stress intensifies without adequate release, then the accumulation becomes increasingly tangible, termed blood stagnation.

According to nutrition researcher and teacher, Paul Pitchford, foods that relieve stagnation in the liver are typically bitter and sour. Pitchford gives some dietary suggestions to reduce congestion in the liver:

· Vinegars: Vinegar is both bitter and sour and has detoxifying properties. Vinegar should not be relied on indefinitely; but used within a sensible diet. Choose unrefined apple-cider, brown-rice, rice-wine or other quality vinegars.

· Citrus: Vinegar can be too warming for some individuals, in which case citrus fruits that are bitter and sour, such as lemon, lime or grapefruit are good substitutes.

· Notable bitter foods: Some additional bitter foods that can aid in the reduction of liver stagnation include rye, romaine lettuce, asparagus, amaranth, quinoa, alfalfa, radish leaves and citrus peel.

Living with liver disease carries a full spectrum of daily stressors. Learning to optimally handle stress will prevent your reaction to stress from worsening your disease. The essence of preventative medicine is adjusting some of life’s basics, like eating, to give you the best shot possible at health. Becoming aware of this relationship is the first step towards bettering stress management skills; the second is choosing foods from the suggestions above instead of reaching for something greasy, salty or sweet.


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Kobasa, Suzanne, Stressful Life Events, Personality, and Health, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 27, No. 1, 1984, 1-11.

Pitchford, Paul, “Healing with Whole Foods”, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 1993.

Salaman, Maureen, James F. Scheer, “Foods that Heal”, M.K.S., Inc., Menlo Park, CA, 1994.

www.mercola.com, Stress Often Leads to Overeating and Extra Weight, Dr. Joseph Mercola, 2006.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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