What you eat can have a dramatic impact on the balance and function of the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) nervous systems. Most often, people experience SNS dominance (to determine SNS or PNS dominance, see this post); the following recommendations can be used to calm the sympathetic nervous system.
- Get enough protein. Protein is needed to supply vital amino acids that are essential for calming the nervous system. Eat plenty of eggs (from grass/pasture fed hens preferred), raw nuts, fish (especially deep sea fatty fish including anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, and sardines) and grass-fed meat (chicken, beef).
- Get an oil change. Avoid hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated and trans fats and get plenty of omega-3 (and some omega-6) fatty acids. Excellent sources are deep-sea fatty fish (see above), eggs from grass-fed hens, walnuts, flaxseeds, avocado, coconut oil and fish oil supplements.
- Bone up on B-vitamins. B-vitamins are used in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body related to nervous system balance and control. Good food sources include nutritional yeast (1-3 tsp/day)
- Get grounded – vegetables that is. Root vegetables contain many nutrients– including vitamin A, B-complex, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, iron and trace minerals- that the body needs to calm an overly active sympathetic nervous system. Eat plenty of carrots, beets, yams, sweet potatoes and potatoes to help get you more grounded. Soups and stews are great options.
- Heat things up. Research indicates that capsaicin, the heat component of red/hot peppers, can significantly lower sympathetic responses after consumption. Pour on the hot sauce!
- Drink up. Dehydration puts a lot of stress on the body. Drink one-half your body weight in ounces of water throughout the day. For example, a 150 lb. person would need at least 75 ounces of water divided up throughout the day. Aim for 2-4 ounces every ½ hour.
- Chew. People that are SNS dominate generally don’t digest food well. Give your body a fighting chance by chewing every mouthful of food until it’s a liquid (at LEAST 30 times) before swallowing.
- Decrease/eliminate caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the SNS – you don’t want to do that if your SNS is already over-stimulated. Opt instead for herbal teas, Teeccino or water.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol also increases SNS activity. A study published in June 1995 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that SNS activity nearly doubled after participants received an alcohol infusion. When you go out, try a juice and tonic or sparkling water instead.
Part 3 of this series will outline lifestyle measures you can use to decrease SNS dominance.