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A stress-free back to school/work

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

It's back to school/work, don't panic, stay zen...

As you all followed the recommendations that I cited in my previous blog 😜, you were able to enjoy the summer while having the right eating habits to protect yourself from cellular damage linked to excess food and alcohol- hic 🤭. In addition, laughing, relaxing, moving and breathing the fresh air have helped you reduce your stress levels by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. You are now ready to face the "back to work/school", well armed against stress.

After briefly introducing you to the three phases of stress and the cellular damage it causes, I will give you my nutritional advice and other well-being advice to protect yourself from it.

1/ The 3 phases of stress

  • Alarm phase and adaptation phase: temporary stress response

It is the response that the body puts in place in the face of occasional stress: it can be an oral presentation, the sound of a repeated car horn, a fall, an accident... It is a physiological response. which follows the hypothalamic-pituito-adrenal axis (HPS axis). More clearly, the brain (amygdala nuclei, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex) analyzes the stressful situation and sends signals to provide the body with what it needs to deal with it:

1. By activating the adrenal glands which will then secrete adrenaline and noradrenaline, two hormones and neurotransmitters that increase heart rate, blood pressure and level of alertness: this is the alarm phase.

2. By activating the amygdala nuclei of the brain which will secrete glucocorticoids, hormones secreting cortisol. In a stressful situation, the role of cortisol is to manage the level of glucose in order to provide the muscles and organs with the energy necessary to react physically to the stress. Blood sugar increases, as well as energy expenditure. At the same time, the secretion of serotonin and dopamine (neurotransmitters) also increase.

Once the stressful episode is over, stimulation of the HPS axis stops by self-regulation and metabolism returns to normal.

  • The exhaustion phase: when the stress is prolonged and/or repeated

Persistent stress or an accumulation of repeated stress brings the body towards the phase of energy depletion. Our metabolic and physiological systems are overwhelmed and can no longer adapt. This generates a state of permanent hypervigilance which results in a disturbance of the secretion of stress hormones and a dysfunction of the receptors of the central nervous system. The dopamine level collapses (hence the loss of motivation, attention and memory disorder, loss of pleasure, sleep disorder and digestive disorders), as does that of serotonin (hence the disorders sleep and mood, anxiety, irritability, nervousness, appearance of compulsive behaviors (TOC, TCA…), satiety disorders). At first, the cortisol level remains high, which creates hormonal imbalances and a decrease in immunity, which is manifested in particular by fatigue, acne, muscle pain, loss of libido, anxiety, and weight gain. In extreme cases, the cortisol level also drops and we then speak of burnout.

* image issue du site

Stress at the cellular level

Stress also causes damage at the cellular level which can lead to serious long-term pathologies (cardiovascular diseases, early aging, chronic low-grade inflammation, oxidative stress, reduced immune system, cancer, etc.).

3 main mechanisms involved:

1. Disruption of leptin ghrelin balance

These two hormones, secreted mainly by the stomach, manage hunger and satiety: ghrelin is secreted when the stomach is empty and sends a hunger signal; leptin is secreted when the stomach is full and sends a message of satiety. In case of stress, the balance is broken: increase in ghrelin to the detriment of leptin + resistance to leptin. So the appetite increases and the stress being there, we turn to "comfort food": bad fats associated with sugary foods with a high glycemic index which are the door open to inflammation, increased oxidative stress and disturbance of the microbiota.

2. Telomere shortening

Telomeres are the terminal parts of DNA strands that have a role in the protection and conservation of genetic material. The partial or total disappearance of this part of the DNA will lead to early cellular aging through the formation of damaged, non-functional, or even toxic cells for the organism.

3. Methylation defect

Methylation is a very important metabolic reaction in gene expression and strongly influenced by environmental factors including stress. I'll spare you the biochemistry behind it otherwise I'll lose you 😅. But remember that in addition to the fact that having a good degree of methylation is a reflection of good health, methylation reactions are also involved in the formation of neurotransmitters (for example, in the transformation of serotonin into melatonin, a hormone some sleep).

How to act against stress through diet and alternative medicine?

Stress and diet

Having an anti-stress diet is above all providing the body with what it needs to have a good synthesis of neurotransmitters, raise the energy level by boosting the mitochondria, and promote methylation reactions:

- B vitamins: very important for the synthesis of neurotransmitters (especially B6, B9, B12), energy production and methylation reactions. They are therefore at the forefront of stress management. Unfortunately, most B vitamins (except B12) are not stored by the body. This is why it is important to consume it. They are found in brewer's yeast, wheat germ, whole grains, legumes, oilseeds, meat, fish and dairy products. With the exception of vitamin B9 (or folate) which is mainly found in green vegetables, especially cabbage (hence the expression "babies are born in cabbage" because vitamin B9 is also essential in the manufacture of the tube neural).

- Magnesium: essential mineral in the production of energy and the formation of neurotransmitters. It is difficult to cover intake through food, especially in times of stress when we tend to over-consume it on the one hand, but also to excrete it excessively. It is found in quantity in cocoa, winkles, seeds and oilseeds, soy flour, oat bran, buckwheat, dark chocolate, dried banana. So-called magnesium-rich waters are also an option (to be alternated with classic mineral water).

- Flavonoids: recently studied, the mechanisms of their neuroprotective and anxiolytic effects are not yet well understood. Nevertheless, I think they have an important place in the nutritional management of stress. Indeed, in the same way as physical activity, they have an action on neurogenesis (via the BDNF gene), antioxidant defense (via the Nrf2 gene) and give a boost to the mitochondria (cell factory producing energy, See post of 02/16/2023). In addition, under the effect of stress and high cortisol levels, serotonin will tend to be strongly degraded and eliminated. However, the lower the serotonin level, the more depressed, anxious and stressed we are. Good news, flavonoids would limit its degradation (by inhibition of monoamine oxidase, MAO). It is through these two mechanisms that flavonoids are credited with anxiolytic effects.

Studies have specifically recognized the effects of:

o Quercetin, flavonoids found in broccoli, red onions, garlic, apples, grappes and walnuts

o Chocolate and cocoa: the daily consumption of chocolate > 70% would have a natural anti-stress effect...but what good news 😜!

o Tea (especially black tea which would reduce cortisol levels).

Fighting stress through diet also means regulating blood sugar, protecting the body against inflammation and oxidative stress, and promoting good immunity.

- To regulate blood sugar:

o Increase fiber intake with unmixed vegetables and fruits, whole grains and legumes.

o Consume cooled whole grains (pasta salad, rice, quinoa, etc.).

o Use apple cider vinegar or lemon for dressings.

o Consuming cinnamon which has an effect on blood sugar and insulin resistance.

- To protect against inflammation and oxidative stress:

o Spice dishes with ginger, turmeric, cloves or cinnamon.

o Consume enough omega 3: small fatty fish, vegetable oils (rapeseed, walnuts and flax), seeds (flax, chia and pumpkin). Note that some studies show an anxiolytic effect of omega 3 although the mechanisms are not yet known...

o Consume vegetables at each meal for their content of antioxidant polyphenols (flavonoids), particularly green vegetables.

o Consume berries and red fruits regularly.

- For good immunity:

o Garlic and mushrooms (shiitake, reishi, etc.) have shown their effectiveness on immunity.

o Fruits and vegetables, raw or cooked, to stock up on vitamins and minerals.

o Sufficient intake of omega 3.

o Eat foods rich in zinc: seafood (oysters++), offal, meat, nuts and seeds, wheat germ, legumes, etc.

o Ban ultra-processed products high in sugar.

o Monitor your vitamin D levels and enjoy the last rays of sunshine 🌞.


Beware of industrial products that contain glutamate (E621), a flavor enhancer widely used in the food industry. Glutamate is an exciting neurotransmitter, meaning it acts as a stimulant on the cells of the taste buds and the brain (among others). Double problem! Indeed, on the one hand it will disrupt the action of leptin and therefore the satiety signals leading to overweight and obesity. On the other hand, several scientists are warning about the neurotoxicity of this additive. Doctor Russell Blaylock speaks of excitotoxicity: by excess glutamate, the cell is over-excited, calcium enters massively, potentially causing its death and producing a lot of toxins (free radicals). Commonly noted symptoms are hyperactivity, hypertension, obesity, and migraines.


Stress and alternative medicine

For this part, I don't really have advice but rather suggestions to give you. Everyone has to find what suits them best. The only thing that I strongly recommend, of course, is physical activity!!! I think it is useless to mention the many benefits of practicing regular moderate physical activity but still: weight management, release of endorphins, stimulation of metabolism and immunity, activation of BDNF and Nrf2 genes , fight against hypertension... If you don't like sports: walk! It would seem that the asymmetrical swing would reconnect the two hemispheres of the brain (left and right) thus giving walking this soothing effect.

Puzzle, sewing, coloring...and all other activities that require fine motor skills: this type of activity requires significant concentration from the brain, which allows it to focus its attention on a single task and stop the "overflow" of thoughts.

Sophrology, acupuncture, hypnosis, bach flowers, meditation, purring of the cat 😻, a hug (yes yes it's proven!)... It's up to you to find what suits you 🙂.


To come in the next posts the continuation of the file on stress: "stress and microbiota", "stress and supplementation" and anti-stress recipes.

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