Stress is not our friend, neither for our mind nor for our skin
With everything going on at the moment we are all currently having to deal with a lot of stress. Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies, and it can show signs of stress in a number of different ways, from mild skin dryness to more serious bouts of psoriasis and eczema flare-ups, seborrheic dermatitis and even acne.
Stress can affect the skin in the following ways:
- Stress triggers inflammation
- Stress can dry your skin out
- Stress hormones can trigger existing conditions to worsen or flare up
- Stress can also make you oilier, which could lead to acne breakouts
- Stress can also take a toll on your scalp and hair
- Stress can wreak havoc on your nails
What we eat can help alleviate the effects of stress (it can also have the opposite effect). Below is a synopsis of what we can eat to help alleviate the impact of stress on our bodies, thus helping us maintain healthy looking skin without those horrible flare-ups.
- Dark, leafy greens like kale or Swiss chard
- Pumpkin seeds
- Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like sardines, salmon or canned tuna
- Dark chocolate
What does the evidence show?
Eat more when you're stressed? You're not alone. More than a third of the participants in a survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health said they change their diets during stressful times.
And many of us are quick to turn to either sugary foods or highly refined carbohydrates such as bagels or white pasta when the stress hits.
According to David Ludwig, a professor of paediatrics and nutrition at Harvard University says ”When we feel stressed we seek foods that are going to comfort us immediately, but often times those foods lead to surges and crashes in hormones and blood sugar that increase our susceptibility to new stresses."
So, if eating lots of refined carbs and sugar may exacerbate our responses to stress, are there other types of food that can help us become more more resilient? Joe Hibbeln of the National Institutes of Health has spent the past two decades investigating links between the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and emotional health. "I think there's a very strong connection between what you eat and your mood," "One of the most basic ways that omega-3s help to regulate mood is by quieting down the [body's] response to inflammation," Hibbeln says.
When you get walloped by something, whether it's a virus or an emotional stressor, you want to bounce back as quickly as possible, he notes.
"You can either be good at weathering stress or you can be brittle. And omega-3s make your stress system more flexible," Hibbeln says. He points to studies showing that omega-3s can help protect neurons against the damage that can be done by chronic stress.
Drew Ramsey, a psychiatrist at Columbia University and author of The Happiness Diet, says a nutrient-rich diet is best for beating stress.
He points to his favourite stress-busting breakfast: scrambled eggs mixed with kale (or other greens) and topped with pumpkin seeds.
With this meal, Ramsey says. The eggs are a good source of B vitamins and protein, which can be more satiating than a carb-based breakfast. The greens are incredibly nutrient-dense, and are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin K and potassium. And the pumpkin seeds are a good source of magnesium — which is thought to play a role in fending off anxiety — and zinc, which may help boost the immune system.
For dessert, go for dark chocolate, which can have "an acute affect on mood," Ramsey says. He points to a study that found cocoa flavanols can help boost mood and sustain clear thinking among adults who are engaged in intense mental efforts — like students cramming, or journalists on deadline.
In addition, dark chocolate has been shown to improve vascular health by increasing blood flow and reducing inflammation.