stress

Spotlight On: Magnesium

Photo by  Radu Florin  on  Unsplash

Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash

Magnesium is one of my favourite essential minerals because it does SO much in the body, and is helpful for mental, emotional and physical conditions.  Along with zinc, it is also one of the nutrients that I tend to see signs of deficiency in many of my clients who come to see me both for Naturopathic and remedial massage treatments.

Every cell in your body requires magnesium to function, and it plays many roles in the body including converting food into energy, creating proteins and amino acids and repairing DNA.  It can also help with reducing insulin resistance, improving PMS symptoms, reducing inflammation and improving exercise performance. But some of the more commonly known roles (and the ones people tend to come and see me for) are muscle contraction and relaxation, and the regulation of neurotransmitters. (1)

Not getting enough magnesium can lead to many common symptoms including low mood, higher than normal stress levels, restless sleep, fatigue and muscle twitches and spasms.  Other symptoms that low magnesium may contribute to include high blood pressure, heart palpitations, migraines, osteoporosis and asthma. (2) Let’s have a look at some of the more common conditions and symptoms that low magnesium may contribute to:

Stress & Mood
The relationship between magnesium and stress is a two way street – stress depletes magnesium, and magnesium counteracts stress.  So when you are going through times of high stress, you need more magnesium!  Magnesium helps to reduce stress by balancing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is the body’s main stress response system.  Without enough, your cortisol and adrenaline is left unchecked which exacerbates your body’s fight or flight response.  Stress can be physical or mental, however the results are very similar.  When in this fight or flight state, your muscles become tense, which can further exacerbate stress.  Magnesium is muscle relaxant, and so can help calm both the nervous system and your muscles, reducing your overall stress levels. (3)  Magnesium also plays a role in neurotransmitter function, including those responsible for regulating mood such as serotonin, GABA and dopamine.  It is required for the body to both create these neurotransmitters and allow them to transmit, and so can be a factor in mental health and mood conditions such as depression and anxiety. (4)

Sleep & Fatigue
If a client has troubles with getting to and staying asleep, one of the first things I recommend is magnesium, especially if they’re showing any other signs or symptoms of deficiency.  Not only can magnesium help you get to sleep, it can help you get a better quality and deeper rest.  As mentioned in the previous section, magnesium can help calm the nervous system down which in turn can help promote sleep. It helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for helping you relax, and it plays a role in regulating melatonin, which is the chemical responsible for managing your sleep/wake cycle. (5) Poor quality sleep can also contribute to fatigue, and so one thing to really look at is if you are fatigued, are you sleeping poorly?  In some cases, addressing the sleep issue can help to improve fatigue.  The other way magnesium helps with fatigue is that its involved in formation and storage of the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP).  Low magnesium can also contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, which has been shown to contribute to conditions such as chronic fatigue and depression. (6)

Muscle Tension & Exercise Performance
Magnesium can help reduce muscle tension and improve recovery from exercise due to its role in relaxing muscles.  Its opposing mineral is calcium, which contributes to muscle contraction – and so the balance of these two minerals in the body is important.  This also relates to how magnesium status can impact on heart palpitations and increases in blood pressure – due to increase contraction in the cardiovascular muscles. Low levels of magnesium can also increase lactic acid build up which is well known to cause post workout tension and cramping.  For those who exercise frequently, and especially endurance athletes, the need for magnesium increases due to increased sweat and overall nutrients required for the body to function. (7)

Now that you know how important magnesium is, how do you get it?  The food sources highest in magnesium include seeds, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate (yay!), whole grains, bananas, legumes, nuts, avocado and some fish. (8) However some people have a higher demand that exceeds what they may get from dietary sources alone, and may require supplementation.  I generally recommend a powder form of magnesium over tablets, because it is better absorbed.  I don’t recommend buying a cheap product from the supermarket, if you are looking for a retail product go for brands like BioCeuticals, ATP Science, Ethical Nutrients or Herbs of Gold. 

And if you’re ever unsure about whether you need magnesium or something else to help with your stress, sleep or fatigue, then please be sure to visit the Holistia Naturopathy page so that you can start your own personal healing journey!

 References:

1.         Spritzler F. 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Magnesium2018 23 April 2019. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-proven-magnesium-benefits.
2.         Arnarson A. 7 Signs and Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency2017 23 April 2019. Available from:
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-deficiency-symptoms.
3.         Smith MD. Can Magnesium Help You Cope with Stress?2018 23 April 2019. Available from:
https://www.betternutrition.com/supplements/more-magnesium-less-stress.
4.         Greenblatt J. MAGNESIUM: THE MISSING LINK IN MENTAL HEALTH?2016 23 April 2019. Available from:
http://www.immh.org/article-source/2016/11/17/magnesium-the-missing-link-in-mental-health.
5.         Jennings K-A. How Magnesium Can Help You Sleep2017 23 April 2019. Available from:
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-and-sleep.
6.         STAFF U. Low Energy Causes May Be Rooted in These 3 Nutritional Deficiencies2018 23 April 2019. Available from:
https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/energy/3-top-nutritional-deficiencies-as-fatigue-causes/.
7.         PHARMA W. This is how to protect your muscles from magnesium deficiencyN.D. 23 April 2019. Available from:
https://www.woerwagpharma.de/en/health-topics/bone-muscle-joint-health/this-is-how-to-protect-your-muscles-from-magnesium-deficiency/.
8.         Blackmores. 10 magnesium foods for your health2018 23 April 2019. Available from:
https://www.blackmores.com.au/energy/10-magnesium-foods-for-your-health.

 

Passive Superficial Front Line Stretch

If I’ve sent you the link to this page, chances are that I have recommended this stretch for you to help open up the front of the body, especially through the chest and the front of the shoulders.

In this day of desk sitting and technology, the majority of clients I see who come in for remedial massage or structural integration work have the typical head forward, shoulders rounded posture. This posture is problematic because it can create tension and pain in the back, shoulders and neck. And that’s where most people feel it so assume that’s where the problem is.

I love this stretch because its easy to do, and that makes it doable. For most people, in the evening when watching TV or winding down for bed can be a great time to do this. To start with you may only be able to do it for 3-5 minutes, and that’s ok! As long as you do it consistently, every day. Chances are, if you’re shoulders are pulled forward and down, or your head is drawn forward, it’s something that has been building consistently over many years - and so it will take time to counteract this. And, once things are aligned a bit better - this can be a great way to help prevent the problem in future.

How to do the stretch:

1. Use either a rolled up yoga mat or a half foam roller for this. Either works, it depends on how much of a stretch you need. For many, rolling up the yoga mat can be enough to begin with. I would not recommend using a full round roller for this as it will be way too high.

2. Lie on the foam roller or yoga mat as pictured below. You will want to try and get your back nice and flat by tucking your tailbone under, and dropping your chin towards your chest a little more than is pictured below, to give you some flatness in the upper neck (but only go to where is comfortable). Have your arms out at 90 degrees (or less, if needed) with palms facing upwards. The amount of stretch and how comfortable you feel depends on where you move the arms - and you can have them wherever works for you.

3. Hold this position for however feels comfortable for you. You can start with 3-5 minutes, and then work up towards 10-15 minutes. The more time you spend at a desk or in a position which encourages your shoulders to round forward, the more important this will be for you.

20190408_124949.jpg

Spotlight On: Massage

Hands up if you’ve ever had a massage?  Did you love it?  Never had one before?  Massage has so many wonderful benefits for both the mind and the body.  But what IS it? And what does it actually DO?  Read on to find out…..

Massage is considered a “complementary therapy” in that it can be used alongside other traditional therapies and allopathic medicines or treatments.  I personally do not use the term “alternative medicine” (though some people do) as this implies that it is an alternative to western or allopathic medicine, and I’m a firm believer in collaborating with health practitioners to get the best outcome for a client.  

One of the core principles of complementary therapies (or natural medicine) is that as practitioners we look to treat the whole person and not just the presenting symptoms.  We also believe that prevention is better than cure, and that it is our job to teach you how to lead healthier and happier lives.  We don’t want to just fix you up when you come in and leave you to go back and break again.  We want you to get better!

So what is massage?  Massage is a tactile therapy.  Tactile refers to the sense of touch – and it can be defined as the physical manipulation of a body’s soft tissues to improve a person’s health and wellbeing.   The benefits of massage are numerous, and they include reducing stress and muscular tension, improving vascular and lymphatic circulation throughout the body, reducing pain, and improving mental and emotional wellbeing.

There are two types of massage that people are generally familiar with. 

Remedial Massage:  Remedial massage is usually aimed at addressing a specific area of tightness or pain in the body.  The treatment consists of assessing for neuro-musculoskeletal dysfunctions, and then formulating a treatment plan where a variety of advanced techniques are utilised.  The primary aims of remedial massage are to reduce or prevent pain and restore or promote motion of the affected areas.  You may also be given stretches or other aftercare suggestions to further reduce your pain or tightness and prevent the issue from recurring.

Relaxation/Swedish Massage: The main purpose of Swedish massage is to relax the body and mind, improve your mental or emotional state and reduce stress and overall body tension by soothing and loosening the soft tissues.  The techniques used in Swedish massage are firm but gentle, with slow gliding strokes and light to moderate pressure depending on the client’s preference.   The lighting is kept low and quiet music may also be played to aid relaxation.   If at all possible, it’s a great idea to go home and chill out after a massage to really get the full benefit.

Think about the people closest to you, in your family or workplace.  How many would you say are experiencing some form of stress?  Most?  Massage is a therapy that can be helpful for almost everyone, and is very beneficial as part of a long term treatment plan to manage stress levels and improve mental and emotional health.

Is your body telling you that it could benefit from some de-stressing and tension-easing? Email alexia@holistia.com.au or phone 9293 2999 to book a relaxation massage right away!

 

 

 

References:
Casanelia L, Stelfox D. Foundations of Massage: Elsevier Australia; 2009.
Photo credit: Hernan Sanchez, http://www.unsplash.com

 

Winter Wellbeing - Stress & Immunity

Do you find that every time the colder months start to hit, you end up coughing, sneezing and needing to take time off work?  Or even worse, having to soldier on even though you really should be resting in bed?

Are you are parent with kids who have perpetually runny noses and spend the entirety of winter coughing, or having to take days off school?

Summer did try and sneak in for a few extra days over March, but there is no escaping the fact that winter is on its way.  Spending the colder months sick and tired and feverish is not fun for you, or anyone around you.  Unless maybe you have some Netflix series to binge on, or a dog who gets to curl up on your blanket and keep you company when you’re home sick…  

Now is the time to start thinking about whether there are any changes you can make to your diet or lifestyle to minimize the risk of getting sick this winter.

You may be surprised that my first tip is not a diet tip or herbal concoction, but in fact this very important lifestyle factor.   According to the Australian Psychological Society’s 2015 Stress and Wellbeing Survey, 35% of Australians reported having a significant level of distress in their lives, with anxiety symptoms in 2015 being the highest they have been in the five years of the survey. (1)  Stress has a huge impact on the body, and many people associate it with decreased energy levels or low mood.  But did you know that stress has an impact on your immune function too?

When we are in a situation of high stress, cortisol is released as part of the body’s “fight or flight” mechanism.  This allows us to be in a heightened state of arousal, allowing us to quickly deal with the stressor.  In a normal situation, the stressor is dealt with and the cortisol levels (and subsequently heart rate and blood pressure) reduce. However many of us are dealing with long lasting periods of stress, and so the stress-response system is activated over a long period of time.  When cortisol and other stress hormones are constantly high, the body’s immune response is lowered, the production and activity of natural killer (NK) cells is reduced, and inflammation is decreased. This leads to increased rate of infections and reduced ability to recover quickly from viruses. (2)

So what actions can you take today to decrease your stress levels right away?

1.  YOU-time
Who are you serving right now?  For many of us, the first person to fall by the wayside is ourselves when we are stressed.  What would it take to schedule in time for you?  It can be difficult, especially if the stress is due to being super busy – but even if you schedule 5 minutes of quiet time in the morning to yourself per day just as a start.  Then build it up.  You could get up 20 minutes earlier than you normally do and do a yoga workout from YouTube (pro tip from yours truly!).  Or find a room in your house and shut the door and let your family know not to bother you for those 5, 10, 20 minutes.  Find small ways to serve YOU first.  You cannot serve others if your cup has nothing in it.

2. Exercise
It’s well known that exercise reduces stress.  It reduces the levels of stress hormones in the body, and stimulates the production of endorphins which help to increase mood. (3) Along with the benefits that reducing stress has on immune function, exercise itself has also has a beneficial action on the immune system. (4)  Start small if you need to – 3 x 30 minutes session in a week.  Or, incorporate your new-found morning yoga practices as part of your exercise routine.  Mix it up with some relaxation and power yoga.   Go for a brisk walk (leave your phone at home!) and disconnect from your stressors – you could practice mindfulness techniques at the same time.  Do some body weight exercises in your lounge room.  Or, if you are relatively fit then make the time to go for a run or do a weights session at the gym.

3. Sleep
Sleep is essential for health and wellbeing.  When we sleep, the body repairs itself and our brain recharges.  Stress and sleep can sometimes get caught up in the vicious circle – when we don’t sleep enough we feel stressed, when we feel stressed we can’t sleep.  If you are having issues with sleep then good sleep hygiene is imperative.  Try turning off your electronic devices (TV, phone, ipad) 30 minutes before bed time to disengage and wind down.  Keep a sleep diary, to track how many hours you are sleeping – and whether that sleep is interrupted or not.   You may well find that if you start implementing step 1 & 2, then your sleep improves.

4.  Diet
When in times of stress, it can be quite tempting to buy take-away and indulge in comforting foods however many of these foods can exacerbate stress levels and have other negative effects on the body. (5)  Overhauling your entire diet can be stressful in itself however there are small changes you can make to take steps in changing what you eat and how you eat.
·  Increase magnesium-rich foods.  Many people are deficient in magnesium, and low levels are linked to stress, depression & anxiety. (6) Foods that are rich in magnesium include nuts (almond, brazil, walnuts), sesame seeds, turkey, bananas and dark chocolate.
·  Increase B-vitamin rich foods.  B-vitamins are also shown to reduce levels of stress. (7)  Foods rich in B-vitamins include yeast spreads, liver, broccoli, spinach & egg yolks.
·  Increase antioxidant-rich foods.  Chronic stress and increased levels of cortisol can increase the oxidative stress in the body.  Antioxidants work to counteract the effect (to a degree – reducing stress is still the primary goal!).  Antioxidant rich foods include blueberries, green tea, dark chocolate, fresh herbs and (small amounts of!) red wine.

If you feel like you could benefit with a little one-on-one help with reducing your stress levels and minimizing your risk of being bed-bound with yet another cold over winter, or implementing any of the above suggestions, then please don't hesitate to get in touch to find out how I can help you!

 

 

 


References:
1. APS. APS Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey 20152017 15 March 2017. Available from: http://www.psychology.org.au/psychologyweek/survey/results-stress-and-wellbeing/
2. Randall M. The Physiology of Stress: Cortisol and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science [Internet]. 2011 15 March 2017. Available from: http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/2011/02/the-physiology-of-stress-cortisol-and-the-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis/ - .WMkNcrGr1E5.
3. Watch HMsH. Exercising to relax2011 15 March 2017. Available from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax.
4. Lavelle P. Study proves exercise boosts immune system2010 15 March 2017. Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2010/11/02/3054621.htm.
5. Caldwell E. Weighty issue: Stress and high-fat meals combine to slow metabolism in womez2014 15 March 2017. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140714100128.htm.
6. Deans E. Magnesium and the Brain: The Original Chill Pill2011 21 February, 2016. Available from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201106/magnesium-and-the-brain-the-original-chill-pill.
7. Stough C, Scholey A, Lloyd J, Spong J, Myers S, Downey LA. The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B‐complex on work stress. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental. 2011;26(7):470-6.