The Brain/Body Connection: Stress

How are your New Year health resolutions going?  Are you staying focused?  A healthy body requires a healthy brain.  Chronic stress can interfere with both.

Chronic stress constricts blood flow to the brain, which can lower brain function.  A Canadian study showed that stress hormones decreased activity in the brain that controls cognitive function and emotional balance.  This makes it harder to stay focused and make healthy decisions.

Stress increases cortisol levels.  One study showed that older adults with chronically high levels of cortisol performed worse on memory tests than those with low to moderate cortisol levels.

Chronic stress and high cortisol levels are linked to an increase in appetite and cravings for carbohydrates and sweets.

Stress can interfere with sleep, and a lack of sleep (less than seven hours per night) can trigger an increase in cortisol and interfere with hormones that control appetite.

Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, digestive disorders, and weaken the immune system.

Stress can make you feel tired and less inclined to exercise.  A lack of exercise can decrease blood flow to the brain.  On the flip side, too much exercise can promote physical stress.

Some ideas for managing chronic stress:

  1.  Prayer has been shown to calm stress and improve brain function.  Studies point out that prayer reduces depression and anxiety, improves focus, and protects the brain from cognitive decline due to aging.  Prayer seems to increase activity in the prefrontal cortex part of the brain, the area involved in planning, making decisions, and self-control.  “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.”  Isaiah 26:3.  “Give all your worries to God, for He cares about you.”  1 Peter 5:7
  2. Uplifting music can calm the mind and body.
  3. Lavender has been researched and shown to reduce cortisol levels and promote relaxation.  Add it to a bath or diffuser.  I like to buy small glass bottles with roller tops to make lavender oil to rub onto wrists or temples to help calm stress.  It may even help to lower blood pressure.
  4. Laughter really is the best medicine!  “A cheerful heart is good medicine.”  Proverbs 17:22.  Laughter releases feel-good hormones and helps reduce dangerous stress hormones.
  5. Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps increase serotonin and/or dopamine, which act as natural anti-depressants.  L-theanine can also be found in supplement form but should not be taken by pregnant women or nursing mothers.
  6. Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.  Negative thoughts produce stress!  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8.
  7. Eat foods high in B-vitamins to help with mood and stress.  They also help metabolize fats, which are needed for brain health.  Whole grains, nuts, seeds, brown rice, and nutritional yeast are some good sources of B-vitamins.  A healthy balance of good intestinal bacteria helps the body make B-vitamins.

Keep learning to be healthy!

Lisa Hernandez, Certified Nutritionist & Health Coach

1 Corinthians 10:31–“Whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for God’s glory!”

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.  It does not take the place of any medical care that you may need. Consult your health care provider about making dietary and lifestyle changes that are right for you.



Fish for breakfast?

“Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ . . . .Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.”  John 21:12a, 13

Jesus and His disciples started the day with a power breakfast to sustain their busy ministry.  Fresh fish is a healthy source of protein, potassium, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 essential fatty acids.  Whole-grain bread provides energy and fiber.

People who eat lots of fish seem to have thinner blood.  Norwegian scientists discovered that eating three ounces of mackerel daily could thin the blood within six weeks and reduce the risk of clogged arteries, heart attacks, and strokes.  Mackerel has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help lower blood pressure.

One study in Great Britain, involving hundreds of participants, showed that those who ate a diet heavy in fish developed higher levels of the good HDL cholesterol, even higher than those of vegetarians.

A study in The Netherlands compared those who ate one ounce of fish a week to those who ate none.  The risk of heart disease was 50% less among those who ate just one ounce of fish weekly!

Fish oils also seem to help reduce the risk of many cancers, including breast, lung, pancreatic, prostate, and colon.

A study at the University of Cincinnati of people with chronic migraines reported that 60% of those who took fish oil capsules had a reduction in both severity and frequency of headaches over a six-week period.  The average number of migraines dropped from two a week to two every two weeks.

Fish is often called ‘brain food’ for good reason!

Fish and its oils contain tyrosine, an amino acid that stimulates the brain to produce neurotransmitters that help us feel more alert.

DHA is a type of omega-3 fat that helps enhance brain health, including learning and memory.  It helps keep the lining of the brain cells flexible so memory messages can pass easily between cells.  The brain and retina of the eye contain the highest amounts of DHA of any tissues in the body.

Studies also indicate that taking fish oils can have positive anti-inflammatory benefits for skin and respiratory conditions, kidney disease, and menstrual cramps.

Tips for consuming fish and fish oil:

Choose wild-caught over farm-raised fish.

Mercury levels can be higher in larger fish like orange roughy (sea perch), blue fin tuna, yellow fin tuna, albacore tuna, bigeye tuna, ahi tuna, swordfish, shark, marlin, king mackerel, grouper, and catfish.

Lower levels of mercury are found in salmon, flounder, freshwater trout, mackerel, haddock, herring, mahi mahi, tilapia, whitefish, whiting, sole, pollock, and sardines.  Canned chunk light and skipjack have lower levels of mercury than other tunas.

Eat cilantro with your fish to help remove mercury.

Choose fish oils that are certified mercury free.

Eat fish with fins and scales, as they protect the fish from mercury, worms, parasites, and disease.

Cilantro Pesto

Process in blender until smooth:

1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves (preferably organic)

1/2 cup raw almonds

3 large garlic cloves (peeled)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon mineral-rich salt (more or less to taste)

1/4 cup organic parmesan cheese (optional)

To make it spicy and add a circulatory boost, add a few dashes of cayenne pepper.

Serve with fish, pasta, or fresh veggies.

Keep learning to be healthy!

Lisa Hernandez, Certified Nutritionist, CNHP

1 Corinthians 10:31–                                                                                                                               “Whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for God’s glory!”                                                                                                     Download your free 10 Simple Steps to a Leaner, Healthier You!

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.  It does not take the place of any medical care that you may need. Consult your health care provider about making dietary and lifestyle changes that are right for you.