Sixth Food & Health Group Meeting – Stress

Read Time: 5 min


If you missed the sixth Food and Health talk, or simply wish to look over it again, you can browse the PowerPoint slides in a low-res web format (see below)

For some people the subject of ‘stress’ was not an obvious one for the Food and Health Group, and yet it turns out that there is a lot we can do around food choices that can significantly ameliorate some of the more destructive aspects of stress, particularly important in any ongoing and severely stressful situations, but well worth knowing for all those lesser stresses that are common to us all.

Although it was a rainy evening we had a good number of people at this talk, with a few new faces amongst the regulars.

I must apologise to Prince Charles and Diana for reproducing the very telling photograph of them struggling with their own very public stresses, and I must thank Prof Sapolsky for his outstanding work around the HPA axis and cortisol which I drew on quite heavily. I intended to include some of his work on baboons and their societal stresses, which have parallels with our own, but these sections had to be cut due to time constraints. I did, however, manage to keep to time, and for that I deserve a medal, as it was not easy. Stress involves every aspect of our physiology, and I had to cut a lot of material that had ranged rather wider than seemed necessary at the final edit. So to all those aldosterone aficionados out there, my apologies.

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Isn’t it empowering to know that, through carefully selecting the right food and drink, we can help ourselves and our loved ones to better handle stress when it happens? I am so pleased that our national drink, tea, has had some of the acknowledgement it deserves. We all know it is ‘the great reviver’, through experience, but it does not get enough credit in general as a medicinal herb, and yet that is truly what it is. Not only that, but it is a fermented product. Go back to look at the slides on the importance of fermented foods (the second of the Food and Health Group meetings) to remind you of the significance of this fact.

However, it is coconut oil that is the star of this particular show. Coconut oil, with its medium chain triglycerides (MCT) is readily converted into ketones which can be used by the areas of the brain (the hippocampus in this case) that cannot get the glucose they need due to cortisol overstimulation causing, effectively, cell starvation. Thus, coconut oil through its provision of an alternative fuel for these tissues prevents the neuronal death that would otherwise occur. In my clinic I always stock top quality, organic, cold pressed, virgin coconut oil. I currently have it in two sizes, 400g and 300g (£8 and £6 respectively).

So next time the pressure is really on and you can’t cope or are shaking all over, or just don’t know what to do and can’t think straight, or if you have had a stroke, or an accident, or an operation or whatever form the stress takes, you can take a spoonful of coconut oil and drink a cup of tea and repeat this at regular intervals. Don’t have a biscuit or any other carbohydrate or sweet food with your cuppa, of course, as they will simply add to your already raised blood glucose due to the stress hormone, cortisol’s, glucose-raising effect, and we know that glucose will glycate valuable proteins throughout your body which is very damaging. Tea (without sugar, obviously) and coconut oil will, however, reduce your cortisol level and protect your hippocampus (seat of active intelligence) from the harm that would otherwise occur.  Once the immediate pressure is off, find a space of calm, even if just for a minute, and be still, go inwards, breathe consciously, and see that at this moment there is a pause in it all. And as soon as you sensibly can, find a yoga class at a time that you can regularly attend, and make it a time for you to do nothing but be in your own body, in a calm and meditative manner.

Making coconut oil part of your daily diet, along with good quality grass fed animal products, such as liver, eggs, fatty meats, unpasteurised full fat milk and milk products, seafood and fresh vegetables (all organic, obviously), and fermented foods is easy, as we have shown at all of our events. Fry an egg or a batch of keto-pancakes in coconut oil and they won’t stick to the pan. Use coconut oil in curries of all sorts and you have an authentic flavour base that will combine well with your choice of spices. Making your own coconut milk with unsweetened desiccated coconut and hot water, or using a fresh coconut is incredibly easy and utterly delicious (see recipes). Thanks to Caroline’s demonstration of this simple process, and the samples we all tried, we now all know how to proceed.

Although we didn’t discuss this at this event, I am also a great fan of ‘earthing’ following a stressful experience to mind or body. By ‘earthing’ I mean being directly in contact with the earth, preferably by lying down on it, on your garden lawn for example, or even just walking barefoot on some grass if it is too wet to lie down. I always do this if I have been jangled by a visit to the dentist, for example, or by a contratemp with someone. I suggest it to my patients if they have had an injury, or a tooth out, or a blood sample taken, or any of these small assaults on their body. It is free and seems to steady the body and the being at some subtle yet profound level. It almost definitely reduces cortisol, though I haven’t seen any studies on it. I just know it to be very effective at getting me back into myself, naturally.

I want to end with a quote from the great Robert Sapolsky. He is concerned to prevent the sort of daily damage that doctors can do if they apply what they assume is good medicine, without considering the way things actually work. He is talking here about the standard procedure of giving steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, such as prednisalone, to stroke patients with a view to reducing the inflammation and swelling in the brain brought on by the stroke. However, these drugs do not have the same effect in the brain as they do in the rest of the body, and will make things much worse:

“If you have just had a stroke, the last thing you want is for your neurologist to give you glucocorticoids [steroids] because it is going to make the brain damage worse.”

Robert Sapolsky

Professor of Neuro-endocrinology at Stamford University

1 thought on “Sixth Food & Health Group Meeting – Stress”

  1. This all sounds very interesting though I don’t understand all the detail I know enough to link to other ideas. Looking forward to gradually filling the gaps in my knowledge.


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