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Balancing Stress and Hormones

Stress levels have probably never reached the levels that we’ve seen in the past few years and that continue to wreak havoc on the lives of not just millions of Americans, but hundreds of millions of individuals across the world.

I want to bring attention specifically to the impact that stress has on our health and our lives, in particular, the lives of women. Why? Because women consistently report higher stress levels compared to men and that gap appears to be widening.[i] Stress at work, financial stress, the stress in relationships, sleep challenges, poor nutrition, and health challenges top the list of causes of stress. And the bottom line is that stress prevents us all (women AND men) from living well and thriving.

Continued or prolonged stress can rob the body/mind of its ability to return to balance after stress. The experience of the stress response can cause exhaustion of our adrenal system and create lowered resistance to diseases like type 2 diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, heart disease, asthma, gut problems, and increase symptoms of menopause like hot flashes and sleep disturbances.

The stress response in the body is geared to deal with everyday pressure. When stress is extreme or unrelenting it can become harmful. Developing a plan to manage stress positively can help to move and balance through stressful life situations. A proactive plan incorporating and aligning nutrition and lifestyle strategies with belief systems can allow us to react to stress more positively.

Under stress, the body can lose valuable stores of important vitamins, minerals, and amino acids (especially magnesium and vitamin C, which are essential for healthy adrenal function). Certain foods rich in these nutrients may help to keep your system strong under stress and possibly offset the damage that stress can cause. Nutritional deficiencies can show up in a number of ways, so I like the idea of a daily multiple vitamin/mineral as one part of your preventive medicine strategy. The ability to handle stress is largely dependent on antioxidants like vitamins C and E, B vitamins, which help prevent fatigue and are vital for immunity and nerve cell activity, magnesium, which is an essential mineral for so many functions in the body, in particular for coping with stress.

I am a huge fan of certain adaptogenic herbs as another form of stress prevention and treatment. Adaptogens help support and revive the adrenal response to stress. Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Holy Basil, Lion's Mane, Licorice root, Astragalus, Reishi mushroom, and Siberian or Chinese Ginseng. These herbs help restore vitality, improve energy, and improve the body’s response to stress.

Mindfulness Practices:

Daily exercise, meditation, journaling, yoga, and biofeedback are all proven methods for helping prevent and decrease stress.

Dietary anti-stress measures include:

Lower Coffee and caffeine (weakens adrenals/adrenal response to stress and compromises sleep)

Lower Alcohol intake

Eliminate Refined Carbohydrates and Simple Sugars (cane sugar, corn syrup, fruit juice, fructose, candy, cake, bread (muffins, cookies) made with white flour, pasta made with white flour, soda pop, most packaged cereals.)

Eat more complex carbohydrates (organic as much as possible):

Greens (Spinach, Kale, Watercress, Lettuce, Mustard greens, Swiss chard), Most Vegetables and Whole grains (Whole Barley, Buckwheat, Oat bran, Oats, Brown Rice, Wild Rice), Legumes (Lentils, garbanzos, soybeans, black beans, pinto beans). Complex carbohydrates can help to raise serotonin levels. When our stores of serotonin become low due to stress (extended stress) our mood can become affected and become less positive or even accompanied by anxiety and depression.

Avoid skipping meals or eating too much sugar/refined carbohydrates as they can wreak havoc on blood sugar and inflammation. Stress hormones can starve the brain of fuel, leading to interference with brain chemistry and chemistry for balance of mood.

Be sure to speak to your doctor to determine whether or not you are a candidate for any of these natural therapies. Healing, reducing stress, and living more positively and aligned with your heart's purpose takes courage, and a willingness to let go of obsessive self-critiquing and judgment. Begin where you are.

[i] American Psychological Association. “Stress in America. Paying With Our Health.” February 4, 2015.

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