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Nutrition for stress

In her weekly column, Bradford West Gwillimbury licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long shares some herbal helpers for stress
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Dear Nonie,

I usually read your articles in the Newmarket Today. I don’t know if I’ve missed it, but have you done anything on managing stress or supplements for that? My teen daughter is having bad mood swings and some early signs of depression. It’s from this extended lock down and isolation. I’m asking you because we really don’t want to use medications. And that’s not all. I usually love summer and all the activities of it but after the year we’ve had I find my nerves are bad. I have very low energy and I get snappy when I shouldn’t be. I get upset quite easily. I feel like I’m in a mental fog. That’s not like me. I’m getting enough sleep but I still don’t feel better. I know we might be near the end of this lockdown but we’re not bouncing back like we should. The both of us are a hot mess of nerves. Can you suggest anything for us to help us with managing our stress better?

Thank you!

Dear Marlene,

I’m sorry to hear about your combined health issues. Having a child who has mood swings is no fun, as I well know. But that’s compounded because there’s also something going on with you that needs to be addressed. As a parent your tendency might be to try to help her first - again, I understand that. But it’s really important that you make your health an equal priority. I think as women our tendency is to take care of everyone else first, but that really isn’t helpful to anyone. It’s nearsighted and can leave us very run down. If you become unable to manage, you’re both really in trouble. So let’s focus on you, then I’ll suggest things for your daughter. There will be some crossover, which will make my suggestions easier to implement.

Hormones and Mood
First, I want to rule out that you’re not in menopause. With a teen daughter it’s unlikely, but many many women are given complete hysterectomies early in life and are forced into medical menopause. Menopause can do a number on a woman’s moods and bad nerves or anxiety are often a part of that. If that is the case, treating that with herbals, homeopathics, and supplements would be my priority. The diet that is best for menopause is the same as I will recommend for your daughter so keep reading.

Thyroid and Mood
Secondly, I’d like to see a full thyroid workup. Frequently medical doctors check one, or at most, two markers of thyroid health that don’t really show the entire picture. I do not diagnose disease - that is a doctor’s job. But I do like to teach my clients how to understand the markers that indicate problems to better manage their own health decisions. Thyroid problems often go under the radar of a formal diagnosis because the symptoms can be so broad and varied, and because the pathology in the early states is often not caught by routine screening. So there are tests I suggest asking your doctor to run and tests we can do to determine if your thyroid is functioning optimally. This could rule out thyroid issues as something to address.

Low thyroid function can seriously impede energy, focus, and mood. It can make a person prone to fatigue with a reduced ability to handle stress. Understanding the function of the thyroid enables us to support it with the nutrients it needs to function optimally. The diet I recommend can be slightly different for clients with thyroid issues, so knowing that piece helps direct the type of diet you should follow. Let’s review some common symptoms of low thyroid function: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Mood and memory changes 
  • Hair loss 
  • Weight gain 
  • Constipation 
  • Dry skin/ hair 
  • Brittle nails 
  • Muscle and joint pain or aches, pains, weakness and muscle stiffness 
  • High cholesterol 
  • Low heart rate 
  • Feeling chilly 
  • Goiter

There are many more symptoms that can occur as a result of low thyroid function, but these are the most commonly used as a symptom checklist. As you can see, these cover your symptoms as you’ve explained them. I highly recommend working with a professional to get the function of your thyroid checked and to support it with dietary means.

Diet and Mood
Next I think it’s important to touch on blood sugar control. This applies to both your daughter and yourself, but I feel teens are especially prone to mood swings from blood sugar dysregulation. It’s not uncommon for me to see a diagnosis of bipolar completely resolve itself when blood sugar is brought under control with a low carb, Paleo or Ancestral diet. For such clients I recommend consuming complete protein at each of 3 meals and keeping carbs under 50g per day. I recommend using something like Cronometer - a free app for your phone - to track carbs and proteins. For these clients I recommend 25-30 per cent of their calories from protein.

Meat has been much vilified in mainstream and nutrition media for a while now, but regular readers know I do not agree with that philosophy. Meat is very grounding for people with mood swings and you can often bring someone out of an aggressive grumpy state with a serving of red meat. Try it and see. Another option is a protein shake that contains easy to digest complete proteins like fermented whey or hemp and chia. A teaspoon of cricket flour stirred in a glass of water will also do in a pinch. These will ground clients and stabilize mood very quickly.

Herbs for Nerves
The last recommendation I have is a category of herbs that are called adaptogens. You may have heard of them. They essentially help the body adapt to stressors. This can mean calming the nerves of an anxious person or energizing a somnolent person. They help strengthen, tone, and build resiliency of the nervous system. They help the body recover from exercise, from trauma, and from the stressors of life. They can help with mental clarity, with immune function, with energy and stamina, and with depression and anxiety. I’ll list some of them for you. 

These are only some of the adaptogens we know about. Each one is linked if you are interested to read more information about it. If readers are interested I could do a piece about them in more depth. There is so much to say about these wonderful herbs and how you can use them to help your family! I could easily do a column on each one! Each has its own unique sphere of action in addition to its adaptogenic benefit, so finding the one that will fit your health needs best is important. It’s also beneficial to combine herbs with synergistic properties to increase the therapeutic benefit, as together, their impact is enhanced. The easiest way to use herbs is to take them in a tea and many health food stores carry a lot of these as teas. You can also contact a herbalist to create tinctures for you. I offer this to my clients where indicated.

I hope this gives you some tangible help, Marlene. Thank you for writing in. I hope you are able to get relief and answers and invite you to contact me if you need more personalized care. As always, if readers have a health or nutrition related question for the column, I welcome you to write to me at And if you’re looking for more specific health information, check out my website and blog at

Nonie Nutritionista