Cortisol: The Stress Response Hormone that Can Cause Havoc in the Body

Cortisol: The Stress Response Hormone that Can Cause Havoc in the Body

Mental Health Gut Article

Believe it or not, we all need some stress in our lives. Stress is healthy and necessary. It’s when stress becomes significant and chronic that it can wreak havoc on our health. Stress can manifest in many different ways whether it is oversleeping or under sleeping, loss of appetite or overeating – everyone’s stress response can be different.

What happens to our body when we are stressed?

When we are stressed, our adrenal glands produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help launch our “flight-fight response”, which increases our blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugars so we are physiologically ready to deal with an imminent threat and can fight or flee. Adrenaline tends to be short lived in the body, but cortisol can stay around for a while. If a person has constant high stress levels then it can lead too excess cortisol, which can contribute to a whole host of health issues.

What is cortisol?

We need cortisol. Cortisol helps your body respond to stress. It has many health benefits when we have appropriate levels in the body. Cortisol helps regulate your blood pressure, reduces inflammation, and keeps your heart and blood vessels functioning normally. It also regulates the way your body converts proteins, carbohydrates and fats in your diet into useable energy.

What happens in the body if we have too much cortisol?

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing – and cortisol is no exception. Cortisol in large amounts can cause the following problems:

  • Excess belly fat
  • Weight gain around the face and upper back
  • Acne/thinning skin
  • Interfere with our ability to think clearly
  • Contribute to muscle breakdown
  • Contribute to blood sugar spikes
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Reduced libido
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Bruising easily
  • Poor wound healing

What causes us to have too much cortisol?

Excess cortisol can often be due to chronic high levels of stress but may also be caused by problems with their adrenal glands. High cortisol can be caused by certain medications such as corticosteroids which are frequently prescribed to treat arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, or asthma. (1)

Drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis can cause cortisol levels to rise. Research of over 3,600 men and women found that alcohol consumption increased cortisol secretion in the body. The increased cortisol levels occur due to the impact alcohol has on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. (2)

Caffeine also increases cortisol secretion in people at rest or people undergoing mental stress. (3)

Poor sleep can also increase cortisol secretion. Research found that individuals that had poor sleep had high evening cortisol levels and the levels decreased slower than the control subjects. These elevations in cortisol levels increase the likelihood of developing diabetes and obesity. (4)

Interestingly enough, poor blood sugar control can increase cortisol as well. When our blood sugars drop, which can be caused by missing meals or eating foods high in sugar and refined grains, our body naturally produces the stress hormone cortisol to help raise our blood sugars back up. So, if you struggle with hypoglycemia or diabetes, balancing blood sugars can really help to reduce your cortisol levels.

What is Cushing’s syndrome?

Cushing’s syndrome occurs when you have too much cortisol in the body over a long period of time. Signs of Cushing’s syndrome include a fatty hump between your shoulders, a rounded face, and pink or purple stretch marks on the skin. Cushing syndrome can also result in high blood pressure, bone loss and, on occasion, type 2 diabetes.

Cushing’s syndrome can be treatable, and affected individual’s can return the body’s cortisol levels to normal and improve symptoms. The earlier treatment begins, the better the chances for recovery.

7 Ways To Reduce Cortisol Levels

  1. Balancing blood sugars – Eat 3 meals a day following the “My Plate” method of ½ a plate of vegetables, ¼ plate of protein and a ¼ plate of starchy carbohydrates such as a baked sweet potato, brown rice, or whole grain pasta. Not only will this help lower cortisol levels but help to support better sleep, mood and energy levels
  2. Avoid caffeine and alcohol – these both stimulate the increase in cortisol. Alcohol is inflammatory to the body and inflammation can fuel many of those stress-like symptoms.
  1. Phosphotidyl Serine has been suggested in some studies to support healthy levels of cortisol, with subjects taking 400 milligrams daily (5). Phosphatidlyl serine can be found in organ meats, soy beans, eggs and white beans.
  2. Modify your exercise routine – Intense exercise places stress on the body and raises cortisol. You may find switching to less stressful exercises such as walking and yoga can lower cortisol levels and lead to weight loss that wasn’t happening when engaged in intense workouts. Also, working out in the morning will raise cortisol levels much higher than evening workouts. That’s because our cortisol is also naturally higher in the morning to help get us going for the day.
  3. Get good sleep – Sleep is when your body goes into repair and recovery mode, balancing hormones and supporting healthy weight management and lean muscle mass. If you experience poor sleep then cortisol will naturally go up and your ability to deal with stress during the day becomes even more difficult.
  4. Laugh – Laughter can have a positive impact on elevated cortisol levels. Research found that laughing more could help reduce stress and keep cortisol levels down. (6)
  5. Stay well hydrated – One study found that levels of hydration can affect cortisol. When the body is dehydrated, cortisol levels increase. (7)


  5. Kingsley M. Effects of phosphatidylserine supplementation on exercising humans. Sports Med. 2006;36(8):657-669. doi:10.2165/00007256-200636080-00003
Can Gut Health Impact Mental Health?

Can Gut Health Impact Mental Health?

Mental Health Gut Article

It may be hard to comprehend that our gut has anything to do with our emotions. But, there is growing research showing that our gut has an instrumental role in managing our mood and supporting our mental health. Now, more than ever, the prevalence of mental health issues and mood disorders have been soaring to all-time highs. This has a huge impact on our ability to function at work, manage a household, puts strain on relationships, and challenges our ability to enjoy what life has to offer.

For many, the first line treatment for mood disorders are a prescription for antidepressant medications. Unfortunately, although some people find antidepressant medications helpful, a growing body of evidence is showing they are often ineffective or provide only minor relief and come with a whole host of side effects. With mood disorders and mental health challenges, as with most aspects of health care, we believe it is really important to address the underlying root cause.

There are a number of contributory factors concerning depression. Among the common factors are trauma, life events and genetics. There are also biophysiological factors that can also heavily influence our mood, and these include:

Why does our gut impact our mood?

Believe it or not, there isn’t one reason, but rather multiple factors that influence our brain chemistry and mood via our gut.

Our gut – and in particular our gut microbiome – can play a role in a wide range of neurological conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, chronic pain, stress, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and of course, depression and anxiety. (15)

There are various nerves that connect from our brain to our gut and these are in constant communication with each other. Plus, we have neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which play a crucial role in regulating mood – and 80% of serotonin is produced by the gut!

How does our gut impact our mood?


  1. Gut-brain connection

Our gut has also been coined “second brain” and that it because it has its own complex nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS). Our gut contains an estimated 500 million neurons, stretching 9 meters long. No wonder it is referred to as the second brain! There are hundreds of millions of neurons connecting the brain to the enteric nervous system. 

The gut-brain-axis connects the ENS and central nervous system (CNS), allowing your gut to communicate with the brain, and vice versa. So, when our gut is not working properly then our brain can often become negatively impacted as well via a feedback loop in the nervous system.

  1. Good versus bad bacteria in the gut

We all have good and bad bacteria in our gut. What is important is that we keep the bad bacteria in our gut to a minimum and make sure we have plenty of good bacteria that include a variety of different healthy species. In fact, bacteria outnumber human cells in the body 10 to one and they have an instrumental role that these bacteria have in our body.

Research suggests that healthy gut flora may help reduce depression symptoms and that changing the gut microbiome could potentially be a treatment option. (4) One of the reasons for this is that research shows the gut microbiome can influence levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter — a chemical messenger — that helps regulate mood and promotes feelings of happiness.

Different types of species can have a role to play too. Researchers found that those with depression showed differences in specific groups of “bad” gut bacteria and that people with higher concentrations of certain other “good” gut bacteria generally reported better mental well-being. (1). People with depression were also seen to more likely have depleted levels of the good bacteria (specifically Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus Coprococcus and Dialister) compared with people who reported a higher quality of life and mood.(2,3)

The gut microbiome is so powerful in influencing our body chemistry that it can even affect our response to medications in both the effectiveness and/or side effects of medications used to treat these disorders. So, even if you are taking an antidepressant your response to that medication, either positive or negative, could be as a result of your bacteria in your gut. (5,6)

  1. Digestive Disorders

Another reason why the gut impacts mood can be seen through individuals that have issues with their digestion. Research has found that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) had higher levels of depression than people without IBS. (7) One reason goes back to the microbiome imbalances. One study showed that people with depression also had bacteria associated with Crohn’s disease. (2,3)

Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks are particularly common among patients with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and IBS. Changes in neurotransmitters play a role in the development (or potentiation) of mood disorders seen in patients with SIBO and other GI issues. 

How to Improve Gut Health to Benefit Mood

  1. Follow a Mediterranean diet

A 2018 systematic review concluded that people who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 33% lower chance of being depressed than people who did not. (8) This is due to the limited intake of processed foods and sugars and the high intake of fish, good fats, nuts/seeds, whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables which support gut health and help feed good bacteria.

  1. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables contain high antioxidants that can help manage inflammation associated with depression and other mood disorders (9). A recent study found eating four extra portions of fruit and vegetables could boost people’s mental health. The more fruit and vegetable people ate, the less likely they were to be diagnosed with a mental illness. (10)

Dietary fiber, like that contained in fruits and vegetables, supports the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria. One study found the variety of bacteria in the gut microbiome was based on the variety of fruits and vegetables in a person’s diet and that the microbial composition of the gut can be rapidly altered with dietary changes. (11)

  1. Make sure you include berries in your diet each day

Berries are high in anthocyanins and fiber to support healthy gut flora and digestion. They are also a great option if you have sugar cravings and need a healthy alternative. One study associated a diet rich in anthocyanins (such as berries) with a 39% lower risk of depression symptoms (12).

Research also shows that blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries may block the chemicals that cause depression and anxiety (13).

  1. Avoid sugar and processed foods

Sugar and refined grains feed the bad bacteria in our guts which can negatively impact our mood. Research shows that people who ate more unhealthy food were more likely to report psychological distress compared with people who ate a healthy diet. In fact, research showed that eating fried foods or foods contain too much sugar and processed grains is linked to depression. (14)

  1. Eat fermented foods

Fermented foods includes kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha. Fermented foods are filled with good bacteria to help support healthy gut flora. Many beneficial probiotic strains are contained in traditionally fermented foods. Research has shown that these healthy bacteria not only help to produce neurochemicals, but also help the body respond to them as well.


If you are someone that struggles with depression or other mood disorders (and potentially have digestive issues) there could be a number factors that would be beneficial to address – leaky gut, food intolerances/allergies, gut microbiome imbalances such as SIBO, and nutrient deficiencies due to poor absorption.

You may wish to consider seeking support from a health professional. Getting your gut health assessed is best done by a Naturopath doctor who can complete the appropriate testing. Blood lab work, stool analysis, and breath tests for SIBO are just some of the functional tests that can be completed to help get to the root cause of a potential physiological issue that is influencing your mood.


  9. Redzo Mujcic et al. Does eating fruit and vegetables also reduce the longitudinal risk of depression and anxiety? A commentary on ‘Lettuce be happy,’ Social Science & Medicine (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.01.004
  11. Journal information: Social Science & Medicine
  13. Keservani RK, Sharma AK, Kesharwani RK. Medicinal Effect of Nutraceutical Fruits for the Cognition and Brain Health. Scientifica (Cairo). 2016;2016:3109254. doi:10.1155/2016/3109254


How Nutrition Can Support Individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

How Nutrition Can Support Individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Mental Health Gut Article

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs as the result of a traumatic event such as a motor vehicle accident, physical or sexual assault, severe injury, abuse, military combat, and natural disasters, to list some of the most contributing factors. Approximately seven or eight out of every 100 people (7-8%) will develop PTSD in their lifetimes. (1)

PTSD symptoms can vary from person to person but frequently include the persistent reliving of the trauma, avoidance of any place that is a trauma-reminder, trouble sleeping, flash backs, mood changes, feeling on edge, and many others (2). PTSD can be debilitating and impacts an individual’s ability to socialize, work, and engage in day-to-day activities.

Interestingly, women are approximately twice as likely as men to develop PTSD despite the fact that more men than women experience trauma (60% and 51%, respectively) (3).

PTSD is a treatable condition, and many people with PTSD are able to successfully manage their symptoms after receiving effective treatment. However, if left untreated, PTSD can affect relationships and impact daily life making it difficult to work, study, eat, or sleep. It may also lead to suicidal thoughts.

Treatment for PTSD

Counselling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and talk therapy, along with medications are the go-to approaches for PTSD. Unfortunately, the importance of nutrition is often overlooked as a therapeutic modality.

Diet and lifestyle changes can help manage PTSD symptoms by providing foods that calm the mind (down-regulating the nervous system) and avoiding foods that can over-stimulate the mind (up-regulate the nervous system). Similar nutrition strategies that support that those with depression, anxiety, stress management, and sleep will also generally be supportive for an individual with PTSD.

In this article, we’ll review four strategies that may help support individuals experiencing PTSD.

Top 4 Nutrition & Lifestyle Strategies to Support Individuals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  1. Lifestyle Strategies for Managing PTSD

There are a number of strategies that can help better manage PTSD. First and foremost, it is important to learn about PTSD to help better understand your symptoms. Meditating, exercising, journaling, and attending a support group can all be helpful.

Additionally, removing unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs and alcohol is also key. Although drinking alcohol might feel that you are numbing the pain of PTSD, it is a depressant, and can fuel depression-like symptoms, which are already common among individuals that have PTSD.

  1. Increase GABA Levels to Manage PTSD Symptoms

Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a naturally occurring amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in your brain. GABA is considered an inhibitory neurotransmitter because when GABA attaches to GABA-receptors in the brain, it produces a calming effect. This can help reduce (or inhibit) feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear. (4)

In the diet, GABA can only be found in fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, and tempeh and within green tea. In modern day, most people consume GABA in supplement form. According to a 2006 article, two studies found that participants who took a GABA supplement had increased feelings of relaxation during a stressful event than those who took a placebo or L-theanine, another popular calming supplement. (6)

GABA has been shown to increase when adhering to the popular high fat, low carb, ketogenic diet promoting a sense of calmness and relaxation. (5)

Some beneficial bacteria that have taken up residence in our guts can also increase GABA receptors in the brain. When there are more GABA receptors in the brain, more GABA is being put to good use! This is a positive thing, especially since a decrease in GABA receptors has been associated with mood disorders such as chronic depression. (6) To feed the good bacteria in the gut you need to eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid sugar (which will feed the bad bacteria preferentially). Taking a probiotic and consuming fermented food such as sauerkraut can both help to increase the good bacteria in our gut.

  1. Increase Intake Calcium and Magnesium to Reduce PTSD Symptoms

Calcium and magnesium are calming minerals. Deficiencies of calcium and magnesium are known to contribute to anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and feeling stressed and uptight – all symptoms that can commonly be experienced in someone that has PTSD.

Calcium and PTSD

A calcium deficiency can cause irregular moods, heart palpitations, fatigue, anxiety attacks, and depressed thoughts – which are all symptoms that a person can experience when they have PTSD. A calcium deficiency, also known as hypocalcaemia, can masquerade as anxiety or exacerbate symptoms in those who already have anxiety. (7)

To increase intake of calcium rich foods, include sources such as dairy products like kefir (which contains probiotics as well), goat or feta cheese, and low-sugar yogurt, dark green vegetables including kale, arugula, spinach, and broccoli, nuts including almonds, and calcium-fortified breads and cereals.

Magnesium and PTSD

A magnesium deficiency can also lead to many symptoms that are consistent with PTSD such as cardiac arrhythmia, muscle tremors, fibrillation, as well as being tense and unable to relax. A lack of magnesium may lead to high blood pressure, startle reactions, hypersensitivity to noise, and repeated tapping of hands and feet. It is important to make sure that you are getting enough magnesium in the diet along with exploring supplementation. If you are going to supplement it is best to choose magnesium bisglycinate as this form is effective for calming the nervous system.

Foods high in magnesium include dark chocolate or cacao, nuts and seeds, tofu, legumes, and avocado.

  1. B-Vitamins Support A Healthy Stress-Response

When the body is under prolonged stress is tends to use up certain vitamins and minerals more readily. These tend to include calcium and magnesium (as identified above), vitamin C, and the B vitamins. The B vitamins, which include thiamine, niacin, B12 and folic acid, are often referred to as the ‘stress’ vitamins. There are many symptoms of B vitamin deficiency, and these include tension, irritability, difficulty managing stress, poor concentration, and anxiety – again, all symptoms that an individual with PTSD can experience.

B Vitamins are a crucial part of the process of manufacturing various neurotransmitters in the brain. Vitamin B6 is especially important, because not only is B6 essential for at least 100 enzymes, but it also helps the brain make the key neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, GABA, norepinephrine, and glutamate. These neurotransmitters help a person to feel motivated, happy, calm, and energized.

You may want to explore taking a B-Complex and incorporating foods high in B vitamins such as avocado, pork, plain yoghurt, salmon, chicken, eggs, sunflower seeds, chickpeas and tofu.


PTSD can be debilitating and impact individuals every day lives and ability to function. While it is clear that counselling, medications, and making healthy lifestyle choices are all important aspects of treating PTSD, it’s also essential not to overlook the role of diet.

Consuming foods high in calcium, magnesium, and the B vitamins are beneficial to potentially improve PTSD symptoms. Supplementing to address deficiencies that could exacerbate or compound their PTSD may also be considered. Consuming fermented foods to support healthy gut flora, as well as drinking green tea can help raise GABA levels in the brain to promote a sense of calmness and relaxation.

This is not an exhaustive list of nutrition strategies for PTSD but can be a great starting point in helping to better manage your symptoms. 



  2. Tracy, N. (2021, December 15). PTSD Symptoms and Signs of PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, July 21 from
  5. Wang ZJ, Bergqvist C, Hunter JV, Jin D, Wang DJ, Wehrli S, Zimmerman RA. In vivo measurement of brain metabolites using two-dimensional double-quantum MR spectroscopy–exploration of GABA levels in a ketogenic diet. Magn Reson Med. 2003;49:615–619.
  7. to cause a reaction in sensitized individuals
Nutrition Tips To Manage Feelings Of Anxiety With Return To Work Or School

Nutrition Tips To Manage Feelings Of Anxiety With Return To Work Or School

Detoxifying vegetables and fruits

The COVID-19 global pandemic changed how life looked for most of us. Hours spent stuck in traffic, packing lunches, and long days at work or school quickly turned into working or learning remotely, snacking on the couch, and more time spent at home with the family. These changes brought on unique stressors of their own which challenged us to adapt and pivot. It has been over a year and half since the first lockdown began, and we are now in a position to adjust again to reintegrating back to school and work, potentially in new ways, or just adjusting to getting back after being off for so long.

While some of these changes may feel exciting, other changes are likely bringing feelings of apprehension for many of us. After growing accustomed to remote learning and working, beginning to join our peers and colleagues at school and work once again, comes with unique stressors that may lead to increased feelings of anxiety. 

The following nutrition tips will focus on how to best cope with these feelings of anxiety by adjusting what we put into our body. It is important to note that experiencing feelings of anxiety is different than living with an anxiety disorder, where these feelings are prolonged and intensified. In this case it is always recommended to seek assistance from an appropriate medical professional such as a naturopathic doctor, your family doctor, and/or an experienced mental health professional. 

Get More Vitamin D

Vitamin D is famously known as the “sunshine vitamin”. This is because when our skin is exposed to sunlight, vitamin D is produced naturally by our bodies. However, you can also get vitamin D through certain foods and supplementation. This is important to consider when living in the northern hemisphere where the access to sunlight is significantly reduced, especially as we enter into the winter months. 

Deficient levels of vitamin D are well correlated with symptoms of depression, but more research is showing insufficient vitamin D levels are correlated with individuals with anxiety disorders (1) as well as with fibromyalgia patients with increased anxiety symptoms (2). More recently, researchers have tested vitamin D as a supplement for supporting anxiety symptoms, with positive results. Women with type 2 diabetes who demonstrated significant anxiety symptoms were provided with weekly vitamin D supplementation for six months. Outcome measures showed a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms, suggesting that vitamin D supplementation can improve mood (3)!  

A reliable source of vitamin D is from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines! Our brand-new recipe for one pot Mediterranean mackerel pasta is an excellent option get your vitamin D. For individuals looking for non-animal options for vitamin D, mushrooms can also be a good source, (4). If you’re looking for a new mushroom recipe, take a look at our Glazed Mushroom and Edamame Stir Fry

But despite your best effort vitamin D is hard to get from food sources alone and supplementation is highly recommended. Check out this great vitamin D supplement

Incorporate Omega-3 Fatty Acids In Your Diet

The brain, in particular, is highly concentrated in PUFAs including omega-3s. The brain uses omega-3s to help maintain the functioning of our brain cells. They surround our brain cells to help preserve cell membranes and improve communication between cells (5). When communication between our brain cells is optimized it positively impacts both our thinking skills as well as our mood. Research that demonstrated that reduced dietary intake of omega 3 was associated with an increase in depression and anxiety disorders (6). 

With the marked association between Omega 3 and mood disorders. A systematic review examined 19 clinical trials who used omega-3 supplementation with individuals with clinical anxiety symptomology, the omega-3 supplementation significant improved anxiety symptoms (7).

How can you make sure that you’re consuming sufficient levels of omega-3s?

The most abundant sources of omega-3s are fatty fish including salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring. Check out Smoked Salmon and Avocado Toast recipe as a fun way to get more salmon into your breakfast! Given that these fish are such rich sources of omega-3s, many supplements are derived from fish oils. However, for plant-based options, flax and chia seeds are high sources of omega-3s that can be incorporated into your diet. 

Load Up On B-Vitamins

The B-complex is actually a group of water-soluble B-vitamins, meaning that your body does not store these vitamins in fat tissue, therefore it gets used up in the body quickly. The B-complex includes a list of well-known vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and more. These individual vitamins have been grouped into the B-complex as they are commonly found together in similar foods and often rely on each other for optimal performance in the body. Evidence suggests B-complex supplementation can assist in managing mood, including anxiety symptoms.

In a recent study on over 7000 adults, the relationship between B-vitamin intake and anxiety-symptoms was examined. Researchers found that a higher intake of B-vitamins was correlated with lower odds of anxiety (8). A separate study explored the effect of supplementation of B-vitamins in combination with Ashwagandha, on anxiety symptoms in adult women. It was found that after four weeks of supplementation, anxiety symptoms, measured both by self-report questionnaires and physiological responses (i.e. heart rate), were reduced (9).

The B vitamins are commonly found together in food, meaning that you shouldn’t have to focus on incorporating multiple food sources to get all of your B-vitamins in! Leafy greens, including spinach and kale are high in B-vitamins, particularly folate. Eggs are also a good source of B-vitamins, including biotin! Check out Quinoa Kale and Fritter recipe which contains both of these ingredients to bump up your B-vitamin intake! 

Drink your Chamomile Tea

Chamomile is one the most well-recognized herbs in the world. It has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine to calm anxiety and anxiety-related symptoms, such as upset stomach. Most commonly, chamomile is consumed as a tea, best had before bed due to its relaxing properties. 

Anxiety-related disorders have been associated with increased levels of inflammation in the brain. Neuroimaging demonstrated increased inflammation in anxiety-related areas of the brain, which correlated with anxiety behaviours (10). Chamomile is known to have anti-inflammatory effects. Specifically, research has demonstrated that chamomile actually inhibits the gene expression of molecules that increase inflammation, such as nitric oxide (11). Secondly, chamomile is also believed to provide calming effects through its modulation of neurotransmitters related to mood. For example, chamomile is able to bind to a neurotransmitter referred to as GABA, and when it does so, it leads to feelings of sleepiness (12). Chamomile, specifically its flavonoid compounds, down-regulate the HPA axis, resulting in reduced anxiety symptoms (13). 

With a better understanding of these mechanisms, it is evident why studies evaluating the long-term effects of chamomile on Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), found positive results. Researchers found that 38 weeks of chamomile extract treatment significantly reduced moderate and severe symptoms of GAD (14). 

Eat Less Refined Sugar 

Lastly, it is important to mention the role refined sugar can play in triggering feelings of anxiety. There is a marked difference between refined sugars and natural sugars, such as those found in fruits. Natural sugars, when consumed in their whole food form, are digested slower and therefore do not result in large spikes and dips in your blood sugar levels. Natural sugars are also found in foods, such as fruits, which contain fibre and essential vitamins for our body. On the other hand, refined sugar, which typically comes from cane sugar goes through processing to extract the sugar and does not contain essential vitamins. Consumption of refined sugar leads to large spikes and dips in your blood sugar, which impacts mood stability. We’ve all been “hangry”, right?

The relationship between blood sugar and symptoms of anxiety has been exemplified by studies finding a correlation between diagnosis of diabetes and anxiety symptoms. One study examining this correlation found that adults with diabetes were 20% more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety compared to healthy controls (15). This evidence suggests that removing refined sugar from your diet is likely a smart strategy to help manage anxiety symptoms.

While individuals may find it difficult to cut out refined sugar from their diet, an effective strategy may be to find healthier replacement. Maple syrup is an option that fits this description and has been recently used in Koru’s Apple Berry Crisp recipe. It is important to note that adding maple syrup to your current diet is not recommended, but rather using this an alternative to the refined sugar you are currently consuming. For more on this topic, check out our article on best sugar alternatives.

In Summary

It isn’t uncommon to be experiencing feelings of anxiety during this challenging time. However, by supporting your body through your food choices, you have the power to better manage these feelings.

We hope you  find these nutrition tips helpful! If you feel you would benefit from more one-on-one support with adjusting your diet to support your mood, you can book an appointment with one of our clinicians here.


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  2. Armstrong, D., Meenagh, G., Bickle, I., Lee, A., Curran, E., & Finch, M. (2007). Vitamin D deficiency is associated with anxiety and depression in fibromyalgia. Clinical Rheumatology, 26, 551-554. doi: 10.1007/s10067-006-0348-5
  3. Byrn, M., Adams, W., Emanuele, M., Mumby, P., Kouba, J., & Wallis, D. (2017). Vitamin D Supplementation Improves Mood in Women with Type 2 Diabetes. Journal of Diabetes Research, 2017, 1-11. doi: 10.1155/2017/823863. 
  4. Cardwell, G., Bornman, J., James, A., & Black, L. (2018). A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D. Nutrients, 10(10), 1498. doi: 10.3390/nu10101498. 
  5. Dyall, S. (2015). Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA, and DHA. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 7, 52. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2015.00052
  6. Müller, C. P., Reichel, M., Mühle, C., Rhein, C., Gulbins, E., & Kornhuber, J. (2015). Brain membrane lipids in major depression and anxiety disorders. Biochemical Journal, 1851, 1052–1065. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2014.12.014
  7. Su, K., Tseng, P., & Lin, P. (2018). Association of Use of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids with Changes in Severity of Anxiety Symptoms. JAMA Network Open, 1(5), 1823-1827. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.2327
  8. Mahdavifar, B., Hossseinzadeh, M., Salehi-Abargouei, A., Mirzaei, M., & Vafa, M. (2021). Dietary Intake of B vitamins and their association with depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms: A cross-sectional, population-based survey. Journal of Affective Disorders, 288(1), 92-98. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.03.055
  9. Li, I. (2020). Stress & anxiety improvements with Ashwagandha and B-vitamins. University of Delaware, 2020.
  10. Felger, J. (2018). Imaging the Role of Inflammation in Mood and Anxiety-related Disorders. Current Neuropharmacology, 16(5), 533-558. doi: 10.2174/1570159X15666171123201142
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  12. Amsterdam, J., Li, Q., Xie, S., & Mao, J. (2020). Putative Antidepressant Effect of Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) Oral Extract in Subjects with Comorbid Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 26(9), 813-819. doi: 10.1089/acm.2019.0252
  13. Keefe, J., Guo, W., Li, Q., Amsterdam, J., & Mao, J. (2018). An Exploratory Study of Salivary Cortisol Changes During Chamomile Extract Therapy of Moderate to Severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 96. 189-195. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.10.011
  14. Mao, J., Xie, S., Keefe, J., Soeller, I., Li, Q., & Amsterdam, J. (2016). Long-term Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized clinical trial. Phytomedicine, 23(14), 1735-1742. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2016.10.012
  15. Li, C., Barker, L., Ford, E., Zhang, X., Strine, T., & Mokdad, A. (2008). Diabetes and anxiety in US adults: findings from the 2006 behavioural risk facto surveillance system. Diabetic Medicine, 25(7), 878-881. doi: 10.111/j.1464-5491.2008.02477.x 

Comparing Current Common Diets

Comparing Current Common Diets

Mental Health Gut Article

There are so many diets out there, that it can be completely overwhelming. You can’t turn on the TV, listen to the radio, or use social media without being subjected to advertising or discussions about the latest diet craze. It is hard to know where to start, and what the right diet is for you.

So, we are here to provide some guidance and insight to some of the current common diets. The 4 diets we are exploring today:

  1. Mediterranean Diet
  2. Vegetarian
  3. “Flexitarian” Diet
  4. “Paleo”

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most researched diets in the world, as it has been around for centuries. In short, the Mediterranean Diet is based on the traditional foods eaten in Mediterranean regions such as Italy and Greece. The Mediterranean diet is considered to be the “best overall diet” by US News & World Report and many others in the nutrition and health world. Plus, the Mediterranean Diet is known to be beneficial for heart health and diabetes, plus it’s super easy to follow!

What Is The Mediterranean Diet

A traditional Mediterranean Diet is rich in plant-based foods including fruits,

vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and moderate amounts of red wine (yes, wine!); as well as plenty of good quality fats, with the main dietary fat being extra virgin olive oil; as well as fish, poultry, fresh dairy, and eggs. Red meat is used sparingly, and on a traditional Mediterranean Diet there is avoidance of added sugars, refined grains and oils, and other highly processed foods.

The Mediterranean Diet is flexible, simple to follow, and delicious! Plus, individuals typically feel satisfied and satiated thanks to the high-fibre content of the various plant-foods and goods fats being consumed.


  • Nutritionally sound/well researched
  • Diverse foods and flavours
  • Promotes heart health
  • Better diabetes prevention and management
  • Mental health benefits
  • Weight management
  • Reduced inflammatory markers
  • Cancer prevention
  • Environmentally friendly


  • Some foods are costly
  • Additional guidance may be necessary for certain conditions
  • Some dietary restrictions may be challenging
  • Concerns with it including alcohol intake
  • May fall short on some nutrients
  • No specific guidelines to follow
  • Can be time consuming

Specific Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

As a result of the high fibre intake from whole foods, and the avoidance of refined sugars and grains, the Mediterranean Diet can help prevent blood sugar fluctuations and may improve cholesterol levels (1).

The Mediterranean Diet can also positively affect physical and mental well-being. It is associated with decreased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases (2,3,4,5).

Multiple studies have determined that the Mediterranean Diet can assist with weight loss, help prevent heart attacks and strokes, reduce the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, and decreases premature death (6). One long term study showed that the risk of combined heart attack, stroke, and death from heart disease was 31% lower and appeared to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 52% (6).

What We Think?

The societal movement back to more traditional diets is a positive dietary trend. The Mediterranean Diet offers loose guidelines for overall healthy eating that the average person consuming a standard Western diet would benefit from, especially if care is given to moderate alcohol intake.

Vegetarian Diet

Vegetarian Diets have been followed for centuries, maybe millennia, in regions the world over – from Israel to India. In modern day, it’s a common misconception vegetarians are generally healthy, but this sometimes is not the case. A healthy vegetarian will focus on whole foods, but nowadays there are many vegetarians that will fill up on refined grains and sugars, which in combination with the avoidance of meat and seafood, puts individuals at high risk of nutrient deficiencies.

What Is A Vegetarian Diet?

While following a Vegetarian Diet, individuals avoid meat products. However, there are several versions of vegetarian diets:

  • lacto-ovo vegetarians eat both eggs and dairy products
  • lacto vegetarians eat dairy products but not eggs
  • ovo vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy products

Ideally focussed on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, fresh dairy, eggs, legumes, lentils and whole grains. Vegetarians need to take special care to ensure they are consuming adequate vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns of the risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies in vegetarians.


  • Possible reduced risk of disease
  • May boost longevity
  • May increase food variety
  • Improved weight control compared to a standard Western diet
  • Reduced food costs
  • Less environmental impact
  • Ethical treatment of animals


  • Possible nutrient deficiencies
  • Fewer food choices
  • Reduced satiety
  • Less convenient
  • Not always healthy
  • Difficult if eating out or dining at others homes

Specific Health Benefits of the Vegetarian Diet

There is ample research on the vegetarian diet. In a large cohort study evaluating vegetarian diets, researchers found that the group experienced a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, cardio-metabolic risk factors, and some cancers (7).

Vegetarians may be up to one-third less likely to die or be hospitalized for heart disease (8) and had half the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with non-vegetarians (9).

Osteoporosis rates are also lower in countries where people eat mostly vegetarian diets (10).

Several studies have shown that people who follow a plant-based diet may lose more weight than those who do not (11). A review of studies including over 1,100 participants determined those consuming a vegetarian diet for 18 weeks lost 4.5 pounds (2 kg) more than participants who weren’t (12). However, there are many other diets that provide even more effective weight loss and weight management, so vegetarianism may not be the optimal weight loss diet.

What We Think?

Vegetarianism, done well, can be a therapeutic diet for those addressing cardiovascular conditions or some forms of cancer. Additionally, for individuals particularly concerned with their environmental impact and/or the ethical treatment of animals, the vegetarian diet addresses many of those concerns without the elevated risk of nutritional deficiencies associated with a vegan diet (where eggs and dairy products are avoided in addition to meat and seafood).

The “Flexitarian” Diet

The diet was developed by nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner. She believes that eating a vegetarian diet is healthiest, but recognizes that giving up meat isn’t something everyone is willing to do. Plus, it enables individuals to get some of those key nutrients found in meat such as B12 and iron. She designed a balance that keeps meat in the diet but consumed at a reduced amount and consists of healthy foods to help lose and maintain a healthy weight.

What Is The “Flexitarian” Diet?

The Flexitarian Diet is a meal plan focuses on a vegetarian based diet with consumption of some meat and fish on occasion. Flexitarians limit processed foods and eat more whole foods.


  • Emphasizes nutritious foods
  • Easy to accommodate personal preferences or needs
  • Budget-friendly and sustainable
  • Supports weight loss
  • May reduce risk of diabetes


  • May be difficult for daily meat-eaters to follow
  • Potentially low iron intake
  • Additional guidance may be necessary for those with diabetes

Specific Health Benefits of the “Flexitarian” Diet

Since “Flexitarian” diets are relatively new, there limited evidence addressing it specifically, but it is expected to offer many of the same benefits as a vegetarian diet while offsetting some of the negatives with adhering strictly to vegetarianism or veganism.

What We Think?

There are no specific rules to follow on a “Flexitarian” Diet, making it an appealing option for many individuals and allowing the space to tap in to what your body is feeling day-to-day or week-to-week and adjusting accordingly. A “Flexitarian” Diet can easily be tailored to suit your own nutritional needs and health goals, which we love.


The “Paleo” Diet also referred to as the Paleolithic Diet, Stone Age diet, hunter-gatherer diet and caveman diet has become increasingly popular over the past decade. It is based on eating the way our early ancestors did.

What is the Paleo Diet?

The basic Paleo Diet consists of whole foods including: animals (meat, fish, reptiles, insects, etc.) with a focus on “nose to tail” eating consuming almost all parts of the animals, including organs, bone marrow, and cartilage; animal products such as eggs or honey; vegetables and fruits; and nuts and seeds that can be eaten raw. While following the Paleo Diet foods that became common when farming emerged about 10,000 years ago are avoided including: dairy products, legumes, grains and, of course, processed foods.

 Specific Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet

There are many health benefits to following a Paleo Diet. In 2017, when researchers compared people whose diets most closely matched the attributes of a Paleo Diet to those whose diets least matched, they found a lower risk of all cause mortality, cancer  mortality, and cardiovascular disease mortality in those that followed the Paleo Diet (13).

Research has shown that participants that followed the diet had improved body composition. One study, in which participants followed the diet for just 3 weeks lost an average of 5lbs per person, as well as experiencing slight reductions in their waist circumference and systolic blood pressure (14).

There is emerging research on possible benefits for patients with MS, and other autoimmune conditions.


  • Rich in nutrient-dense foods
  • Helps some people lose weight
  • May promote heart health
  • Linked to longevity
  • Avoids many common food allergens/triggers


  • Eliminates entire food groups
  • Unclear impact on gut health
  • Small risk of iodine deficiency
  • Costly and time-intensive
  • Difficult to follow long term

In Summary

Bottom line, everyone’s biochemistry is different. The ideal diet for one person might not necessary be the best approach for the next. It really is true that there is no one diet out there that fits everyone.

Your health goals are, what disease or health conditions that you are struggling with, along with your individual genetics and biochemistry – all must be considered together to determine what dietary strategy is best for you.

We would love to help you on your health journey by creating an effective dietary plan that fits for your goals and lifestyle! To find out what is the best approach for you, please reach out to us at Koru Nutrition or book with us today!



1.Mediterranean diet adherence is related to reduced probability of prodromal Parkinson’s disease (2019,

2. Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan (2019,

3. Role of Mediterranean diet on the prevention of Alzheimer disease (2017,

4. The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health (2019,


6. Le, L., Sabaté, J. (2014). Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts. Nutrients, 6(6), 2131–2147. doi:10.3390/nu6062131






12. Whalen KA, Judd S, McCullough ML, Flanders WD, Hartman TJ, Bostick RM. Paleolithic and Mediterranean Diet Pattern Scores Are Inversely Associated with All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality in Adults. J Nutr. 2017;147(4):612–620. doi:10.3945/jn.116.241919

13. Osterdahl M, et al. Effects of a short-term intervention with a paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers. Trusted Source European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008.