Can going Keto help reduce stress?

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How would you grade your stress levels right now?  If 1 is completely zen and 10 is panic, where do you sit?  Most people report they’re somewhere in the middle.  It’s become the norm in modern society to live with a constant state of moderate stress.  But increasingly, adults in the UK are feeling so stressed they admit they’re overwhelmed and at times unable to function.

A UK survey found 74% of the adults felt so stressed they were unable to cope.  With the pressures and expectations of our fast-paced lifestyles, everyday stress can accumulate quickly. Without the right tools and methods to counteract the strain, stress can mount to unmanageable levels, and lead to greater health problems such as chronic anxiety, depression and high blood pressure.

What then can we do to relieve the tension and get back to that awesome care-free mindset?  It may be simpler than you think.

Managing Stress with Keto and Low Carb

What Is Stress?

Stress is unavoidable, but the causes of stress have changed dramatically.  Once upon a time, us humans had to face many terrifying physical threats to survive; hunting, gathering and building was a necessary and normal part of life.  Our bodies evolved to give us the best chance possible, enter the fight or flight response.

Faced with a threat, our body responds fast and autonomically: the hormone adrenaline is released into the bloodstream and triggers the subsequent release of glucose and fats - for energy to fight or run from the threat.  Whilst this was a vital mechanism in the face of a sabre-tooth-tiger, today's stressors look somewhat different!  

The hazards we encounter today tend to predominantly be psychological rather than physical, and so the release of glucose along with an increased heart rate, does little to help us deal with the stressor.  

Instead, the threats we perceive nowadays tend to be enduring, rather than immediate and short-lived.   The fight or flight response evolved the way it did to meet demand quickly, but then to dissipate just as fast. The continuous release of excess glucose and adrenaline to handle modern-day pressures isn’t beneficial for our mental or physical  health.  

As long as our body perceives a stress, our hypothalamus activates our stress-response system, also known as the HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis).  Our hypothalamus releases a hormone abbreviated as CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone), which in turn triggers the release of another hormone, ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone).  ACTH travels to our adrenal glands and prompts the release of cortisol.

Prolonged periods of high cortisol levels in our bodies have detrimental consequences on our health.  Studies have shown that high levels of cortisol increase healing time, have a significant impact on mental health, and impair mental cognition such as memory.

It’s clear stress has a  negative effect on our overall health, especially when the associated mechanisms are active for prolonged periods of time, as many modern day stressors are experienced.

The Relationship Between Diet and Stress

Adults, and more often children, are suffering from the long-term effects of stress. 

Schools and workplaces increasingly advocate stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga and talking therapies.  But there’s another way to counteract the effects of stress - your diet.

Specific foods have been shown to not only reduce stress levels, but also protect your body from the long-term effects of the autonomic stress response.

A high-carb and sugar diet popular in many cultures today, increases stress in your body. All carbohydrates are broken down into sugar; the more carbs and sugar you eat, the higher the concentration of glucose in your bloodstream.

Chronically elevated blood sugar increases inflammation and cellular stress, consequently the HPA axis pumps out more stress hormones.  It’s a vicious cycle that can develop into critically poor health.

How Can A Keto Diet Help?

A keto diet high in healthy fats, moderate proteins and almost no carbs, has the opposite effect on your body.  Instead of glucose flooding our blood, fat is broken down into ketones for fuel.  The ketones produced as a by-product of processing fat rather than carbs, have many beneficial properties.

Contrary to common belief, glucose isn’t essential, in fact ketones have been shown to be a more efficient and healthy fuel source:

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The Incredible Presence Of Ketones

Boost Cell Power

Research has shown that ketones can increase mitochondria in brain cells.  Otherwise known as the power source of cells, mitochondria are vital for efficient cell activity.  Many mental health problems are thought to stem from deficient energy production in cells, so this is incredibly significant for mental wellbeing.

Protective

Other studies have demonstrated that ketones increase NADH oxidation and reduce free-radical formation.

Essential

Findings have concluded that ketone bodies are selectively used by individual brain regions.  A study around the use of the ketone 3-hydroxybutyrate in the brain showed that it was processed by a specific area of the brain.  Suggesting that particular ketones have a specific, and therefore designated role in brain function. 

Further explorations into the effects of the ketogenic diet have shown that as antioxidant levels increase, inflammation levels drop, mood can stabilize, and cognitive function can improve.

Fats For Balance

Did you ever think fat would be associated with balance? The high percentage of healthy fats in the keto diet not only provide vital ketones for fuel, but are themselves protective and balancing for our bodies.  Essential fatty acids (EFAs) like omega 3 and 6 help to moderate psychological and physical stress.  EFAs reduce the levels of stress hormones released by the adrenal glands, even under stressful conditions.

Feel Good Feelings

If you want to enjoy the feel-good factor, the Keto diet can increase the production of a neurotransmitter called GABA, an important brain chemical that is vital for those happy moments.  Evidence has shown dysfunctional GABA activity can contribute to anxiety disorders.  A good balance of GABA leads to better mental focus, along with reduced stress and anxiety.

An Impressive Stress Management Technique

Keto has the opposite effect on the body to a high-carb diet: high numbers of essential fatty acids, fiber and micronutrients consumed on Keto help to sustain rather than spike blood sugar. Subsequently, cortisol levels reduce, hormones balance, feel-good chemicals are increased,  and cell function thrives while protected from oxidative stress.  

Everyday stress is near impossible to eliminate from our lives, but transitioning to a Keto diet will give you the best chance to not only deal with stress, but also protect your body from potential damage and chronic ill-health.

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