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Fiber: The Stress Fighter

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Fiber.  I know it's good for me, doc, but how do I get enough of it?  Do I have to eat the wrapper off my bran muffin?  Perhaps bark chips and kitty litter? 

Luckily, its a lot easier than you thought. More importantly, if you do eat enough fiber you can help make yourself a lot more bullet-proof to stress.

Fiber: A Stress Defense


Fiber is the non-digestible part of the cell wall found in all plant materials, such as fruit, grains, and vegetables.  It cannot be found in any animal products, such as meat, milk, or eggs.  Fiber is inert, and has no caloric value, and thus could be said to do nothing.  In fact, fiber never even enters the body in the sense of getting into the blood stream.  Not unlike a swallowed plastic button, fiber leaves the bowels largely unaffected by the stomach’s attempts to digest it.  But fiber is also one of the most powerful, if often underrated tools we have to defend our bodies from stress.

In the stomach, fiber makes the digestive juices work harder.  The stomach acid burns itself out on the inert fiber, and the stomach takes several hours to empty.  As a result, you are more ulcer-proof, and will feel fuller longer.  In the bowels, fiber, as long as it is taken with sufficient water, will prevent constipation, and help protect you from inflammations such as colitis and diverticulitis. The U.S. and Canadian Cancer Societies have recommended we eat more fiber, to reduce the incidence of cancers of the digestive system.  The Heart associations have endorsed fibers such as found in oat bran as a means to reduce circulating cholesterol, which is of course implicated in heart disease. 

Fiber also makes the body work harder and longer to extract sugars out of our foods, meaning that blood sugar levels tend not to have such high and low swings.  Not only does this reduce the hypoglycaemic urgency of a quick sugar fix a couple of hours after a meal, but it helps diabetics reduce their intake of insulin by a few units a day. I have even seen borderline adult diabetics come off their pills when they switched over to a diet with exactly the same number of calories, but with a high fiber load. 

The overweight dieter also benefits from increasing dietary fiber.  Because the stomach stays full for about four hours after a high fiber meal, there is less room to accommodate post-prandial nibblers.  After all, if one lived next to a field of sugar cane, one could eat endless sugar and not get fat, because the sugar comes with such a high natural fiber content.  When that fiber is refined out of the sugar, and put into candies, then huge quantities of sugar can be crammed into the same space, and dissolves almost instantly into the bloodstream, causing obesity.  As an added bonus to help the obese lose weight, a high fiber diet will carry out about 150 calories of undigested food each day, which helps fiber fans stay slim.

Fiber is a great help in fighting stress, as well as many other conditions.  Try to have at least 35 grams of it per day, or more if you can.  Remember you can get the whole regimen of fiber from your favorite foods: Bran cereal, oatmeal, baked beans in tomato sauce, corn, peas, potatoes, apples and bananas are all foods people enjoy, but are often avoided by people who are trying to lose weight.  Think again.  As long as you don't garnish these foods with butter, margarine, or fattening sauces they will actually help you stay full, and lose weight.  Remember, you needn't eat grated pine cones to win against stress. 

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Top Ten ways Stress can Hurt You

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For the past year, I have been working in active Family practice, including busy walk-in clinics, as well as my private office.  Having seen thousands of new people in these past months, it is clear that Stress is still one of the major factors in our Health Care Crisis. 

Stressed Worker

Our headlines have never been more stressful, and are all about issues that are beyond the grasp of the individual reader, even though the effects are felt by all.  For example, the gulf oil spill, the worsening economy, the jobless "recovery", and, not to forget, our two wars that are claiming more lives, more treasure, and seem to be generating more corruption from the governments we are supposed to be saving.  To paraphrase the old saying: "if it weren't for bad news, we'd have no news at all". 

But bad news preys on the human body and mind.  Especially because we are bombarded with these disasters dozens of times a day (newspapers, emails, talk radio, 24-hour TV news, cell phones, twitter etc).  Granted, stations now try to lighten up with idiotic stories, like "Skippy the Squirrel Learns to Water Ski...with film at 10".  But the omnipresence of bad energy leads to predictable results.  The following is the result of a survey of over 500 patients whose health drove them in to see me in the last three months, and asks the question "What does Stress Do to You?".  Each patient could mention more than one choice, depending on their body's responses.

Let's take a look at the Top Ten Ways that Stress Hurts:

1.  Insomnia  (71%)  From having difficulty falling asleep, to having troubles staying asleep, this was the most common complaint.  Waking up refreshed was rare.

2.  Anxiety (65%)  Bad news contaminates our conversations, our dinner hour, and our "down time" that we try to carve out of our busy days.  People are developing white knuckles on their Blackberries and I-phones, consuming the latest iterations of horrible news.

3. Depression (52%) With so little control over these stressful stories, no wonder people are depressed.  Sales of Effexor have never been higher! (note, antidepressant medications are rarely the best line of defense here, but more about that in other blogs!) 

4.  Skin reactions (acne rosacea, excema etc) (38%) Breakouts of acne, including rosacea, as well as itchy patches of excema are very common as a manifestation of stress. 

5.  Cardiac effects: racing beat, increased blood pressure.   (23%)  Many people can "hear" their heart pounding, as the internal carotid arteries pump close to the ear mechanisms.  Palpitations are often felt in the chest, and people will often break into a sweat.  Blood pressures can also rise, along with heart rates.

6. Indigestion, stomach pains. (22%)Sales of medicine for heartburn, stomache aches, and acid reflux have never been better. 

7. Change of bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea)  (22%) Some respond to stress with diarrhea, while others seize up and get constipation. 

8.  Headaches (including tension, migraines)  (20%) Lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of days, headaches are a powerful reminder of the mind-body connection. 

9.  Fibromyalgia  (17%) When you have pain in a joint, it is called "arthritis".  When you have pain between the joints (in the muscles and soft tissues) it is called "fibromyalgia".  No blood tests or X-rays will pick it up, but millions of Americans know it is sure real.

10. Obesity.  (60%)  While some respond to stress by cutting down their food intake, the majority are seeking comfort with "comfort foods".  Obviously badly named!  The "white death" of white sugar and white flour contributes to our epidemic of obesity, especially in our children.

While the Prescription Drug Cartel wants us to all believe that each of the above symptoms is caused by the Lack of a Brand-Name Drug, there are a host of ways to defend ourselves before reaching for a prescription pad.  We will discuss each of these in upcoming articles!

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