What Food Choices are best for an Entrepreneur?
(and why stress and food choice matter)
We are living in a society that is much different than the Hadza, a culture described as being the closest group to that of our hunter gatherer ancestors 12,000 years ago. In Western Tanzania our hunter gatherer replicas are likely not worried about the survival of their company, about giving a presentation, about making it to work on time, picking the kids up from school, and fitting in exercise. Yes, the Hadza do have stress — they hunt their food, they forage and pick and grow what they eat; both involving risk and danger.
Today is much different. Today we are nudged to hustle, to work hard, to be the best entrepreneur, employee, mother, father, daughter, son. We show up, give presentations, put in the hours, and get sh*t done. According to the American Psychological Association, with our daily preoccupations, stress levels have increased, and Millennials have the highest proportion of that stated perceived stress.
Should we try to eliminate that stress or try to re-frame it?
I am a firm believer in the power of mindset, and utilizing and shifting our energy into a place of courage, which research has shown matters. I do think these bouts of acute stress are necessary for individual, and universal progress to occur.
However, the Physiology of short and long term stress is different, and usually has different impacts on food choice.
(For example, why are sprinters only considered sprinters up to 400 meters? Past this point, we can see physique change, the athlete HAS to slow down; and now she’s considered a middle or long distance runner).
There are physical limitations.
Here's how the stress response works:
Cortisol (a glucocorticoid) increases in response to a Stressor (like a work obligation). We’re running late to work, we immediately focus, blood flow is diverted to our muscles, and this stress then has substrate (think glucose, amino acids, fatty acids) mobilizing effects on our liver and fat- generating immediate use of resources. This of course helps us to make it to work just in time.
While running to this meeting, we simultaneously have a quicker-acting catecholamine response — modulators such as Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Epinephrine which you may have heard of before. Like the glucocorticoid cortisol, catecholamines help to increase blood pressure, heart rate, blood glucose — all with the intention to respond the necessary action quickly.
And once we make it to the meeting, these systems negatively feedback to relieve the effect of the stress response.
What if we have to have the stress response stimulated repeatedly?
What if we then have to run to our meeting, give a high-profile presentation, run to 3 more meetings, pick up the kids from school, make them dinner, get more presentation work done in the evening after they go to sleep, and then repeat again tomorrow. And the rest of the week What happens then?
During repeated bouts of acute stress, the stressor turns into chronic stress, and the whole stress response “power” is shifted down.
what happens under chronic stress:
Every day, we wake up, our glucocorticoid Cortisol is at its highest, and rises even more within the first 30 minutes of waking up. It then gradually decreases throughout the day, and is at its lowest in the middle of the night while we're sleeping. Throughout the day, it increases slightly after each meal, but overall has a decreasing shift.
In chronic stress (what's initially called hypercortisolemia... hyper meaning "beyond" or "excessive" then turning into hypocortisolemia, "hypo" meaning "low" or "under"), the whole Cortisol curve shifts down.
If we’re in a constant hypercortisolemic hyperdopaminergic (high catecholamines) state, it over time down-regulates these systems, decreasing sensitivity to receptors, making us not as ABLE mobilize energy sources to help us perform the necessary action, not as able to decrease inflammation, and ultimately may lead to inability to maintain glucose balance (which leads to insulin resistance), to hypocortisolemic diseases such as Addison’s (chronic low Cortisol), Parkinson’s (death of Dopamine neurons), and possibly other disease states associated with the inflammatory response, such as type II diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s, gout, arthritis, & multiple sclerosis (inflammation is sort of this common denominator, and most of your immune cells happen to be in the gut).
The stress response is crucial
It helps to mobilize energy sources so we’re able to “rise to the occasion,” in all sense of the statement. It mobilizes amino acids, glucose, puts us into gluconeogenesis (increasing glucose from non-carbohydrate sources), and contributes to the health of the inflammatory response by increasing it acutely, and maintaining its over-activation long term.
“Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today. But… we seem to like it.” (Elizabeth Gilbert)
So what if we DO have chronic stress? Sometimes this is just the way life goes, and it’s not like we can just shut everything off and go on a permanent trip to the Bahamas…
What diet is best for this type of lifestyle?
I have long been fascinated with Centenarian diets. Aside from having essentially no heart disease, they have obviously figured out how to maintain a quality physiological state, for long-lived years. I am intrigued with the 5 major “Blue Zones” — Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Icaria, Greece; and now similar non-atherogenic results are seen in a Bolivian culture, the Tsimane.
Generally speaking, in terms of nutrition, they tend to eat relatively low protein, some lower(ish) fat (especially the Okinawans), plenty of vegetables, fruit, and beans, aren’t carb phobic, drink green tea, and wine, eat some cheese, some sourdough bread,… and live to 100+ years. The longest lived eat 95% of their calories from plants, and 5% from animal products.
Ironically enough, This is NOT what I want you to do.
I think in today’s world, and especially for certain people, a different food mechanism needs to be implemented — particularly for those who ARE under constant pressure, constant stress, and possibly have a resulting hypercortisolemia and a hyperdopaminergic state.
This is already happening naturally…
“Lowering the Overall Volume”
At a recent Nutritional Ketosis Conference in Tampa, Florida, I listened to a researcher by the name of Susan Masino talk about the role of Adenosine in a Ketogenic Diet used for epilepsy (interestingly, Ketogenic diets were first discovered to help epileptic children in reoccurring seizures).
According to Masino, Adenosine is this “prebiotic molecule in our primordial soup.” It makes up our most basic energy- ATP, and it links cellular energy to neuromodulation (it regulates neuronal excitability by acting as a neuromodulator [Masino, in this talk]). It’s also very well known in the context of caffeine, as caffeine is an antagonist to the receptor Adenosine.
Adenosine antagonists, such as the caffeine example above, increase catecholamines Dopamine, which is one of the reasons it is associated with protection against Parkinson’s disease, preventing/delaying the onset of diabetes, and it has overall inverse associations with all-cause mortality.
This talk got me thinking: if adenosine agonists (promoters of the receptors to Adenosine… such as ketogenic diets) treat hyperdopaminergic states, maybe in a fast-paced, already high dopamine and inherently stressful environment, that an Adenosine-agonistic diet would be beneficial?
And in going back to the Hadza and Blue Zones example, where everyday life is likely pretty chill (hypodopaminergic), that a lower-fat, high fiber, lower protein, diet would be better.
So what would this diet look like?
Well, higher healthy fat, lower protein, lower carbohydrates. As a whole, I don’t yet know what the percentages of macronutrient distribution should be, or whether a calorie restriction/fasting-mimicking diet is physiologically better here, butI do think this type of food intake still needs to focus on the above centenarian-style food principles (higher plant intake, healthy fats, etc). MORE to COME on this topic…