Relief, food, drink

Have you ever lost someone close to you; a loved one, parent, best friend or pet? The grief of loss can be so intense that you feel there is no emotional relief in sight! Grief, however, is the key emotion that alerts us to this loss. It is well recognized that grief is the universal, instinctual and adaptive reaction to the loss of a loved one. It has been subcategorized as acute grief (the initial painful response), integrated grief (the ongoing, attenuated adaptation to the death of a loved one), and finally complicated grief (sometimes labeled as prolonged, unresolved, or traumatic grief). Complicated grief is acute grief that remains persistent and intense and does not transition into integrated grief, which leaves you feeling that the possibility of emotional relief is impossible[i].

It is not unusual when you are experiencing grief, particularly after the death of a loved one, to also feel other emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, anxiousness, and despair (refer to our other blogs in this series; calm, carefree, harmony and love-food, drink). You constantly think about the person who passed away and their life as well as all the events that led up to their passing. You may also experience other reactions in relation to this loss such as sleeplessness and feeling ill. Socially, you may find it difficult to return to work or to socialize with your friends and family. Emotional relief for these painful emotions and thoughts gradually diminish for most people usually within 6 months or so of their loved ones passing, however, for a few people, complicated grief may occur where no emotional relief is in sight. This is where you may have intrusive thoughts and images of the deceased person and a painful yearning for their presence. You may also deny their loss, feel desperately lonely and adrift, and want to give up yourself[ii].

Although grief is a necessary emotion that allows you to mourn such losses, when you get stuck in this emotion (complicated grief) you are then stressed! Grief-induced stress will trigger your sympathetic nervous system to send messages to your adrenal glands to release the stress hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol is essential in ‘fight or flight’ situations, however, when you are not fighting or flighting as is the case with complicated grief, then this is bad news for your health and wellbeing. Irrespective of why the stress is present, psychoneuroimmunology and epidemiology research have both associated prolonged stress with poor health outcomes. This may include a weakened immune system, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, impaired formation of long-term memories, damage to certain parts of the brain, especially hippocampal damage, increased cardiovascular damage, and other symptoms such as fatigue. Also an increased likelihood of osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes, aggravated clinical depression, accelerated ageing and even premature death[iii].

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Traditional medicine practices, such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) have also recognized the issue with chronic stress, in particular associated with the emotion of grief and melancholy and their impact on your health and well-being. Based on the TCM understanding of emotions, it is believed that the TCM theory of the five elements relates emotions of grief and melancholy, to the organs of the lungs and large intestine, because they all correspond to the same element, the element of metal. Complicated grief, where emotional relief seems impossible, may cause lung and large intestine disharmonies, possibly presenting in low spirits, difficulty breathing and lassitude[iv].

Based on the unhealthy effects of complicated grief, it is therefore essential that you are able to process your feelings of grief so that you may prevent the systemic complications categorised by western medicine or TCM. This recommendation has been supported by the research of Prigerson et al (2009) where they state that by helping people avoid the onset of complicated grief by providing better treatment, it should then be possible to reduce the considerable personal and societal costs associated with prolonged grief[v].

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What can you do to find emotional relief from grief? It is suggested that you could do various relaxation techniques such as the TCM advocated relaxation activity of Qi Gong[vi], you can use breathing techniques[vii] [viii], meditate[ix] or have a relaxing massage[x]. TCM also advocates the importance of food and drink choices as another way of assisting you when faced with grief-induced stress. The emphasis here is to support the metal element from the five element theory by choosing nourishing foods that, according to TCM, strengthen the metal element.

For example, from a TCM diet therapy perspective, food choices that may support the metal element, the associated organs (the lungs and large intestine) and their meridians to be of greater health include vegetables such as alfalfa sprouts, asparagus, eggplant, bamboo shoots, beetroot, bok choy, carrot, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, coriander leaves, cucumber, endives, kale, leek, lettuce, mung bean sprouts, mushrooms (button), olives, onions, pumpkin, scallion, spinach, squash, sweet potato, water chestnut, water cress and yam; fruits such as apples, apricots, avocado, banana, blueberries, cherries, dates, grapes, lemons, limes, pear, persimmon, plums, pomegranate and strawberries; grains such as amaranth, barely, buckwheat, oats, sorghum and wheat bran; proteins such as kidney beans, lima beans, peas, soybeans, eel, herrings, shark, whitefish, beef, duck, milk (cow, goat and sheep), yoghurt and eggs; nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, coconut, linseeds, pine kernels, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts[xi].

Although it is uncommon for western science to associate recommending foods for processing the emotion of grief or complicated grief, it may be possible to associate foods and their effect on physiological functions. For example, as complicated grief-induced stress causes the chronic release of cortisol, choosing foods, which have been scientifically researched to reduce cortisol levels would be a sensible food selection. Vitamin C acts as a reducing agent for the mixed function oxidase enzyme used in the synthesis of steroid hormones in the adrenal glands and as such supports adrenal function in dealing with prolonged stressors[xii]. It would therefore make sense to consider choosing vitamin C rich foods, such as kiwifruit, citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, and grapefruits), apples, berries (raspberries, strawberries and blueberries), pineapples, mango, cantaloupe, melon, tomato and vegetables, in particular red and green capsicums (bell peppers) and the cruciferous vegetable, broccoli.

Other nutrients that have been shown to reduce cortisol levels include magnesium[xiii] and omega 3 fish oils[xiv]. It would therefore make sense that you could choose foods rich in magnesium, such as whole grains grown in magnesium rich soils, dried figs, almonds, walnuts, cashew nuts, kelp, sunflower seeds, dandelion, chamomile, broccoli, spinach and beetroot; and oily fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.

Another support for your adrenals is licorice root tea[xv]. No, confectionary licorice does not have the same beneficial results! A cup of dried licorice root tea may also support your adrenal glands in times of grief-induced stress. Avoid licorice tea if you have high blood pressure because it can raise blood pressure. If you suffer from low blood pressure and grief-induced stress, then licorice tea could be a great option for you. Always consult your primary health care professional first. Consulting your primary health care professional is also important if you have any know food allergies or sensitives.

Other food choices that you may consider when faced with grief-induced stress may be foods targeting your gastro-intestinal tract. It is interesting to note that TCM associates your gastro-intestinal tract (the large intestine) with the emotion of grief whilst western science identifies that cortisol triggered by complicated grief as discussed above, may also lead to gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammation of the bowel. Based on these associations it is possible to consider the following foods which may assist with supporting your gastro-intestinal system during periods of prolonged grief-induce stress. For example, drinking peppermint tea may assist with calming intestinal spasm[xvi] whereas drinking chamomile tea may not only assist with calming gastrointestinal spasm but also relaxing the nervous system to assist with improving sleep and calming anxiety[xvii].

Chronically stressed individuals, such as those experiencing prolonged grief-induced stress, may also develop a heightened tendency to anticipate stress and mount a rapid cortisol response, which could increase vulnerability to oxidative stress and accelerate biological aging[xviii] [xix]. Based on this association, making food choices that may reduce the effects of oxidative stress could be a sensible choice during prolonged periods of grief-induced stress. It’s been reported that fruit and vegetables contain a wide variety of antioxidant compounds (phytochemicals) such as carotenoids that may help protect cellular systems from oxidative damage and lower the risk of chronic diseases[xx]. Interestingly, the foods that contain carotenoids (the pigments that give many fruits and vegetables their colour) not only reduce the effects of oxidative stress, they also assist with supporting lung function for example beta carotene[xxi], alpha carotene[xxii] and lycopene[xxiii]. The research listed above validates TCM diet therapy ideas, for example carrots which are advocated to support lung function in TCM diet therapy are also high in beta carotene which is advocated by research. Carotenoid rich foods include most coloured fruits and vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin, capsicum, sweet potato, cantaloupe, dried apricot, red bell peppers and pomegranates.

It is also interesting to note that although TCM classifies ginger as a pungent food that may benefit the lungs[xxiv], ginger has been shown in animal studies to have a protective effect against oxidative stress[xxv] as well as having anti-inflammatory properties, which supports the lungs[xxvi] [xxvii].

Relief, food, drink summed up

We all have times in our life when we feel overwhelming grief or melancholy. While grief is a normal and useful emotion after loss, for some people the grief lingers on and becomes increasingly debilitating to their day-to-day life. It is an emotionally painful way to live, and something for which anyone in this situation should seek to emotional relief.

If you are feeling stuck in the state of grief/melancholy, there are many ways in which you can seek relief from within. Perhaps one of the most important is by re-considering what you eat and drink. The state of our bodies and the state of our minds are very much intertwined.

Eat some …

  • Vegetables – alfalfa sprouts, asparagus, eggplant, bamboo shoots, beetroot, bok choy, carrot, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, coriander leaves, cucumber, endives, kale, leek, lettuce, mung bean sprouts, mushrooms (button), olives, onions, pumpkin, scallion, spinach, squash, sweet potato, water chestnut, water cress and yam
  • Fruits – apples, apricots, avocado, banana, blueberries, cherries, dates, grapes, lemons, limes, pear, persimmon, plums, pomegranate, pineapple and strawberries
  • Grains – amaranth, barely, buckwheat, oats, sorghum and wheat bran
  • Proteins – kidney beans, lima beans, peas, soybeans, tofu, eel, herring, shark, whitefish, beef, duck, milk (cow, goat and sheep), yoghurt and eggs
  • Nuts and seeds – almonds, cashews, coconut, linseeds, pine kernels, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts
  • Fiber rich foods – root vegetables, whole grains, psyllium and slippery elm
  • Magnesium rich foods – dried figs, almonds, walnuts, cashew nuts, kelp, sunflower seeds, dandelion, chamomile, broccoli, spinach and beetroot
  • Vitamin C rich foods – kiwifruit, oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, apples, berries (such as raspberries strawberries, blueberries, pineapples, mango and cantaloupe melon, vegetables, in particular red and green capsicums (bell peppers), broccoli, tomato juice and ginger
  • Carotenoid rich foods – carrots, pumpkin, capsicum, sweet potato, cantaloupe, dried apricot, red bell peppers and pomegranates
  • Pungent-tasting foods – ginger, radish, onion, garlic, hot peppers and chilies
  • Omega 3 rich foods – salmon, tuna, mackerel, nuts, flaxseeds, high quality fish oil supplement, or a vegetarian omega 3 supplement
  • Organic natural yoghurt

Drink some…

  • Licorice root tea
  • Chamomile tea
  • Peppermint tea
  • Tomato juice
  • Cow, goat and sheep’s milk
  • Coconut milk

We hope you enjoyed reading this blog written by our qualified and registered team of health care practitioners.

Eat, drink, be happy, healthy and feel relief!


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Use the RELIEF essence if you feel emotional pain, intolerant, cynical, whiney or any of the above emotions.

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Footnotes

[i] Ilanit Tal Young, Alana Iglewicz, Danielle Glorioso, Nicole Lanouette, Kathryn Seay, Manjusha Ilapakurti, Sidney Zisook, Suicide bereavement and complicated grief. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2012 Jun; 14(2): 177–186.

[ii] Holly G. Prigerson, Mardi J. Horowitz, Selby C. Jacobs, Colin M. Parkes, Mihaela Aslan, Karl Goodkin, Beverley Raphael, Samuel J. Marwit, Camille Wortman, Robert A. Neimeyer, George Bonanno, Susan D. Block, David Kissane, Paul Boelen, Andreas Maercker, Brett T. Litz, Jeffrey G. Johnson, Michael B. First, Paul K. Maciejewski, Prolonged Grief Disorder: Psychometric Validation of Criteria Proposed for DSM-V and ICD-11. PLoS Med. 2009 Aug; 6(8): e1000121. Published online 2009 Aug 4. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000121

[iii] Ropeik D. The consequences of fear. EMBO Rep. 2004 Oct; 5(Suppl 1): S56–S60. doi: 10.1038/sj.embor.7400228

[iv] State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine Advanced Textbook on Traditional Chinese Medicine and Pharmacology Vol. 1 New Word Press Beijing, China 1995

[v] Holly G. Prigerson, Mardi J. Horowitz, Selby C. Jacobs, Colin M. Parkes, Mihaela Aslan, Karl Goodkin, Beverley Raphael, Samuel J. Marwit, Camille Wortman, Robert A. Neimeyer, George Bonanno, Susan D. Block, David Kissane, Paul Boelen, Andreas Maercker, Brett T. Litz, Jeffrey G. Johnson, Michael B. First, Paul K. Maciejewski, Prolonged Grief Disorder: Psychometric Validation of Criteria Proposed for DSM-V and ICD-11. PLoS Med. 2009 Aug; 6(8): e1000121. Published online 2009 Aug 4. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000121

[vi] Jahnke R, Larkey L, Rogers C, Etnier J, Lin F. A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi. American journal of health promotion : AJHP. 2010;24(6):e1-e25. doi:10.4278/ajhp.081013-LIT-248.

[vii] National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, one of the National Institutes of Health: Relaxation Techniques for Health http://nccih.nih.gov/health/stress/relaxation.htm

[viii] Borge CR, Hagen KB, Mengshoel AM, Omenaas E, Moum T, Wahl AK. Effects of controlled breathing exercises and respiratory muscle training in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: results from evaluating the quality of evidence in systematic reviews. BMC Pulmonary Medicine. 2014;14:184. doi:10.1186/1471-2466-14-184.

[ix] National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, one of the National Institutes of Health: Relaxation Techniques for Health http://nccih.nih.gov/health/stress/relaxation.htm

[x] National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, one of the National Institutes of Health: Massage Therapy for Health Purposes http://nccih.nih.gov/health/massage/massageintroduction.htm

[xi] Leggett D A guide to the energetics of food based on the traditions of Chinese medicine wall chart White Pine Printers Inc 2005

[xii] Meletis, C. D. et al. Adrenal fatigue: enhancing quality of life for patients with a functional disorder. Alternative & Complementary Therapies. 8(5), 2002

[xiii] Golf, S. W., Happel O, Graef V, Seim KE. Plasma aldosterone, cortisol and electrolyte concentrations in physical exercise after magnesium supplementation. J Clin Chem Clin Biochem. 22(11):717-721, 1984.

[xiv] Noreen, E. E., Michael J Sass, Megan L Crowe, Vanessa A Pabon, Josef Brandauer and Lindsay K Averill. Effects of supplemental fish oil on resting metabolic rate, body composition, and salivary cortisol in healthy adults. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 7(1):31, 2010

[xv] Rouse, J. Herbal support for adrenal function. Clinical Nutrition Insights. 6(9):1-2, 1998

[xvi] McKay D.L Blumberg J.B. A Review of the Bioactivity and Potential Health Benefits of Peppermint Tea (Mentha piperita L.) Phytother. Res. 20, 619–633 (2006)Published online 12 June 2006 in Wiley InterScience

[xvii] Srivastava JK, Shankar E, Gupta S. Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Molecular medicine reports. 2010;3(6):895-901. doi:10.3892/mmr.2010.377.

[xviii] Tomiyama AJ, O’Donovan A, Lin J, Puterman E, Lazaro A, Chan J, Dhabhar FS, Wolkowitz O, Kirschbaum C, Blackburn E, Epel E. Does cellular aging relate to patterns of allostasis? An examination of basal and stress reactive HPA axis activity and telomere length. Physiol Behav. 2012; 106:40–45. [PubMed: 22138440]

[xix] O’Donovan A, Tomiyama AJ, Lin J, Puterman E, Adler NE, Kemeny M, Wolkowitz OM, Blackburn EH, Epel ES. Stress appraisals and cellular aging: a key role for anticipatory threat in the relationship between psychological stress and telomere length. Brain Behav Immun. 2012; 26:573–579. [PubMed: 22293459]

[xx] Rui Hai Liu, Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78(suppl):517S–20S. Printed in USA. © 2003 American Society for Clinical Nutrition

[xxi] Grievink, L., et al. Serum carotenoids, alpha-tocopherol, and lung function among Dutch elderly. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 161(3 part 1):790-795, 2000

[xxii] ibid

[xxiii] Pan, H., et al. Protective effect of lycopene on the oxidative damage of lung in rat induced by ozone. Wei Sheng Yan Jiu. 33(5):589-590, 2004

[xxiv] Leggett D A guide to the energetics of food based on the traditions of Chinese medicine wall chart White Pine Printers Inc 2005

[xxv] R. S. Ahmed Vandana Seth, S. T. Pasha and B. D. Banerjee, Influence of Dietary Ginger (Zingiber officinales Rosc) on Oxidative Stress Induced by Malathion in Rats Food and Chemical Toxicology 38 (2000) 443±450

[xxvi] Berthe Ahui, M. L., et al. Ginger prevents Th2-mediated immune responses in a mouse model of airway inflammation. Int Immunopharmacol. 8(12):1626-1632, 2008

[xxvii] Ghayur, M. N., et al. Ginger attenuates acetylcholine-induced contraction and Ca2+ signalling in murine airway smooth muscle cells. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 86(5):264-271, 2008.


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