Wired and Tired Post Covid? The Nutrition Connection

  • 8 Jul 2020
  • Reading time 4 mins
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As we come out of lockdown many people are struggling to get back to ‘normality’, both in terms of work and also state of mind. Stress, anxiety and depression are rife. This is partly a consequence of the many disruptions and extra stresses the pandemic has created, but also the ‘fear factor’ that has triggered our adrenal system into heightened alert.

Some, who’ve had a lengthy covid-19 infection also struggle to recover both physical and mental health in terms of both mood and concentration. How do you get your energy back and regain stress resilience? The biological hub is the adrenal system, which involves not only the adrenal glands in the small of your back, but also the limbic system and amygdala in the brain, which switches you into hyper-alert mode. Every flash of fear about social distancing, hand-washing, following the rules, being judged if you don’t, not knowing when you’re safe or not or when things will return to normal, or a second wave, is enough to flick the adrenal switch to red.

There are three hormones involved: adrenalin, which is short acting, kicking in in 0.2 of a second and lasting for minutes; cortisol, which is long acting, lasting for hours; and DHEA, which is the ‘good’ adrenal hormone.

There is, however, a fourth adrenal hormone, that is vitamin C. Vitamin C producing animals can increase vitamin C production by ten times when under either stress or infection. A goat, which normally makes 15 grams day, makes up to 100 grams a day when stressed or under viral attack. While immune cells have ten times more vitamin C than red blood cells the adrenal gland has a hundred times more. There is no organ in the body that is so packed with vitamin C. When the ‘red alert’ message comes from the brain the adrenals release vitamin C and blood levels can go up a hundred fold. Those animals that make vitamin C secrete less cortisol, while those animals like us who can’t make it secrete even more cortisol when depleted in vitamin C. So, reloading your adrenal system with vitamin C, taking 1 gram, twice a day, is key when you’re under stress.

When not stressed, with plenty of resilience, cortisol is low and DHEA is high. In a state of stress cortisol goes high. In prolonged stress cortisol is high, and DHEA levels start to become depleted as you lose your stress resilience. In ‘burn out’ when you can longer cope with the slightest stress trigger cortisol drops too. That means you’re adrenally exhausted. So, cortisol is neither good nor bad – it just needs to be in balance. There are various phytonutrients, called adaptogens, that help to balance out cortisol. These include the three ginsengs – Asian (Korean or Chinese), American and Siberian ginseng, the latter of which is actually a different plant entirely called Eleuthorococcus senticosus – also Reishi mushroom, rhodiola and ashwaganda. The phytonutrients in these plants help to even out cortisol response. So too does the amino acid tyrosine, from which adrenalin is made. Soldiers given tyrosine when under combat stress respond better both physically and psychologically. The production of adrenalin (and it’s partner noradrenalin) from tyrosine also requires B vitamins, especially B3, B6, folate and B12. Combinations of these are especially helpful in balancing out your adrenal system and improving energy.

Caffeine gives you energy like a bank loan gives you wealth. If you rely on more than one cup of coffee a day that’s ultimately going to drain your healthy adrenal response. Tea is somewhat better because, as well as containing caffeine, it provides the calming amino acid theanine which helps to reduce anxiety levels.

In the US you can buy DHEA over the counter, but not in the UK. I sometimes recommend 25mg a day for a month when someone is really burnt out, but actually one of the best ways to raise DHEA is with Heartmath, which is a type of heart-centred meditation. There are more neural connections from the heart to the limbic brain than the other way around, so ‘heartfulness’ more than mindfulness, helps to switch off a stressful reaction. Simply imagining you are breathing in and out from the centre of the chest, therefore bringing your attention to the heart space, and evoking a positive regenerative feeling, perhaps by recalling some you love, or a wonderful experience or magical place, can help build stress resilience. The HeartMath Institute have a device you clip on your ear, and plug into your phone, to measure your stress resilience through an app called Inner Balance. I explain this, and other fast ways to switch off a stressful reaction and build stress resilience in my book The Stress Cure.