Everyone feels tired some of the time – it’s natural, particularly if you have a hectic schedule and a busy family and work life.

However, it is not natural to feel stressed and exhausted most of the time.

In fact, if you often find yourself reluctantly crawling out of bed in the morning, or lying in bed worrying about the day ahead (what you’ve got to do, what you haven’t done, what you should have done, what might go wrong, etc.), it might be that you are fuelling your body in the wrong ways.

Addicted to stimulants?

When you’re feeling tired, it’s a natural instinct to reach for a strong cup of tea or coffee, or sugary snack, to boost energy levels. But why is this?

The main reason is low blood sugar, which stimulates cravings for sugar and stimulants and also triggers higher stress levels. There are two ways for your body to react in order to raise its blood sugar levels:

  • eat more glucose
  • increase the level of adrenalin and cortisol, the stress hormones.

When you consume a stimulant (such as tea, coffee, sugar or cigarettes) or react in a stressed way, the result is an increase in your body’s production of adrenalin.

The trouble is, raising your blood sugar in these short-term and artificial ways can leave you feeling even more tired, as well as stressed, depressed and de-mineralised. By resorting to them, you could simply be exacerbating the problem without realising it, ending up in a vicious cycle of stress, sugar and stimulants.

Over time and through excess exposure, you can start to lose control over your blood sugar levels. Each morning, you will wake with low blood sugar levels and insufficient adrenalin to kick-start your day – and so the cycle continues, with all its negative effects on the mind and mood…

But caffeine wakes me up!

People tend to get hooked on caffeine, particularly coffee because it makes them feel better – more energised, focused and alert. Or does it?

According to research from Dr Peter Rogers at Bristol University, it is more likely that this short-term sensation is simply relief from the symptoms of withdrawal – coffee is addictive! Plus, rather than making us feel better and improving concentration, there is evidence to suggest that coffee actually worsens mental performance and has an adverse impact on health.

A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that:

– moderate to high consumers of coffee (drinking 5 or more cups a day) had higher levels of anxiety and depression than abstainers

– high consumers had the greatest incidence of stress-related medical problems, as well as lower academic performance.

In fact, a number of studies have shown that the ability to memorise lists of words is reduced by caffeine.

But how can this be?

Well, for those who are interested, here is the science behind it:

Caffeine blocks the receptors for a brain chemical called adenosine, which is responsible for stopping the release of dopamine and adrenalin (motivating neurotransmitters). With less adenosine activity, levels of dopamine and adrenalin increase, with a corresponding increase in alertness and motivation.

The trouble is, the more caffeine you consume, the more your body, and brain, in particular, become less sensitive to its own natural stimulants. This is how the vicious cycle is triggered – you then need more and more stimulants just to feel normal. The net result is often adrenal exhaustion, as your body is pushed to produce ever-higher levels of dopamine and adrenalin. It is at this point that apathy, depression, exhaustion and an inability to cope set in.

Something to think about before reaching for that next sacred cup!

Immune system strain and energy drain

Of course, the other notable downside of unnatural stimulants and energy sources is the strain they can place on your liver, immune system, general health and well-being.

Not only do they ultimately sap you of energy, they are also highly acid-forming, often packed with chemicals and can drain your body of essential nutrients, such as antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. The tannin in tea, for instance, interferes with the absorption of essential minerals, such as iron and zinc.

High-caffeine consumers can even become allergic to coffee and ultimately unable to detoxify their bodies of caffeine, leading to serious disruptions to both the workings of the body and mind.

So, if you think that you could be addicted to stimulants, why not try to go without for a trial period of 2 weeks? You may experience withdrawal symptoms for up to 3 days (depending on how addicted you’ve become), but if you then start to feel perkier, more energetic and your health improves, it’s a good indication that you are better off without these unnatural stimulants.

Natural energy foods

Changing any food habit can be a challenge, and should only be done with care and, if required, under the guidance of a qualified health practitioner (contact Barbara Anne Olivier – Holistic Nutrition Practitioner).

In the early days, you are likely to experience cravings. A great way to help reduce these, and support energy levels naturally, is to have a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet.

Since all stimulants directly affect blood sugar levels, you can start to work on keeping yours stable by having a healthy breakfast. Eating a highly alkaline-forming diet can also do wonders for helping to reduce cravings for stimulants, cigarettes and alcohol.

This means packing your diet with plenty of fresh, preferably organic fruit and vegetables. Not only will these alkalising foods provide you with valuable nutrients to help re-mineralise and energise your body, they will also provide you with dietary fibre (great for stable blood sugar levels) and support your body’s natural cleanse and detox processes at the same time!

Supplementing your diet

Vitamins and minerals play a central role in regulating blood sugar levels, and therefore appetite. They can also help to minimise the withdrawal effects of stimulants and the symptoms of food allergy. The key nutrients in this respect are the B-complex vitamins (especially vitamin B6), vitamin C and the minerals calcium, magnesium and chromium.

Fresh fruit and vegetables provide significant amounts of these nutrients, but for maximum effect, supplementation is a good option for those concerned that their diet alone may not be meeting their nutritional requirements.

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