With the onset of winter the ‘cold and flu season’ sets in. This is a particularly difficult time for people who may be suffering from chronic stress, as it depletes energy and weakens the immune system. At such times it is important to understand the (positive as well as negative) role that the release of certain chemicals by our brain can play on our health; one such chemical is Cortisol.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal cortex, which is situated on our kidneys. The brain, through the pituitary gland, controls how much of this hormone is released at any given time; changes in this could either be a boon or a bane. There are two types of "stress" - eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress). Under eustress, the benefits of Cortisol can include blood pressure management and reduced inflammation. When we are exposed to stress, this stress-fighting hormone can convert protein into fuel. It is good news that, by a change in attitude we can switch on all the positive benefits of eustress. It is indeed a matter of perspective and attitude, and it is learnable. Further, with this switch to eustress, not only do Cortisol levels rapidly return to normal but also many other powerful and positive neurotransmitters and hormones are triggered by our body-mind. However, if we get a continued exposure to prolonged stress, it becomes ‘distress’; our body keeps pumping the Cortisol engine. And sure enough, if the Cortisol engine is not switched off often enough, there are consequences. When our "fight-or-flight" response is over-used, elevated Cortisol levels can end up interfering with our earning and memory, and worse still, inflict a long list of other ills - which include lowering of immune function and bone density, increased weight gain, higher blood pressure and cholesterol, and heart disease. There can also be an increased risk of mental illness and accelerated ageing. The antidote, in addition to attitude and habit change, lies in great nutritional choices.
Tip of the Week
To counter the negative effects of an over-worked Cortisol engine, we need to take adequate precautions to strengthen our body systems, to help us adapt to the changed conditions. ‘Adaptogens’ are a class of herbs that meet this requirement very well. Many practitioners recommend against using any single adaptogenic herb over a long period of time. Rotating among several Adaptogens, every few months, seems to yield better outcomes.
Nature’s Wonder Food of the Week: Astragulas or Astragalus membranaceus
A tonic in the truest sense of the world, Astragalus can enhance our overall health by improving resistance to disease, increasing stamina and promoting general well-being. It has an adaptogenic effect, which is most pronounced on the heart, liver and kidneys. Unlike Echinacea, Astragalus may be taken long-term, during the cold and flu season. Chinese studies have found it to be an effective preventive against the common cold; Astragalus was first identified over two thousand years ago in China. Some of the common names of this ancient wonder herb are Astragali, Huang qi, Locoweed and Milk Vetch Root. It is widely considered to be an Adaptogen, and has strong antibacterial, anti- inflammatory, antiviral, aphrodisiac, cardio tonic, diuretic, hypertensive and immuno-stimulant properties. It has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries–mainly to boost the immune system, enhance strength and regulate metabolism. Known as ‘The Yellow Leader’ (Huang qi) in China, Astragalus is highly acclaimed as the most important of all deep immune tonics. This is due to its support of T-cells (killer cells that fight infection) in our bone marrow reserves. Astragalus contains betaine, beta-sitosterol, calcium, choline, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, zinc, flavonoids, triterpene glycosides (such as astragalosides), amino acids and essential fatty acids. Astragalus is particularly effective in fighting off colds, flu, bronchitis and sinus infections, because it prevents viruses from gaining a foothold in the respiratory system.
At low-to-moderate doses, Astragalus has very few side effects. However, although considered generally safe, Astragalus can make the immune system more active. This could worsen the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. Similarly, pregnant women should consult their doctor before using this herb. Lastly, use of Astragalus may increase the risk of bleeding - so caution is advised to those with bleeding disorders.
Registered Holistic Nutritionist (Canadian School of Natural
Nutrition) For education purposes only; always consult a healthcare practitioner for medical