Ah yes, stress, that pesky five lettered word that carries so much weight and has become a norm in our culture. Did you know that about 90% of all visits to primary health-care providers are stress related? It is most definitely true and quite disturbing to know that a word muddled with quite a bit of energy has that much power to result in imbalances within the body. And what about those last few stubborn pounds or that extra love layer around your abdomen, could it be related to stress? Absolutely. Lets not go into self-judgment here, but rather use knowledge as the power to create positive change.
Years of chronic stress and our reaction to it determines its effect on us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The body is equipped to offset and respond to short bouts of heightened stress while recuperating with long periods of rest, yet somehow we have favored the prior and eliminated the latter. Each of us have an inbuilt stress response system consisting of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis and the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) also known at the “Fight-Flight” response. And lets not forget about the adrenals, these two little glands that sit on top of the kidneys. The adrenal glands are a key component of the HPA axis, whose job is to produce the stress hormone cortisol and and anti-stress hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), in addition to, the flight-or-flight chemicals epinephrine and noriepinepherine. So what exactly does this all mean? Not to stress, let me sum it up for you. You are exposed to a stressor, the HPA axis becomes activated to relay the message to the pituitary gland to stimulate the adrenals to produce cortisol. Cortisol diligently goes to work to increase blood sugar, amp up our energy level, and reduce inflammation. DHEA is simultaneously released with cortisol to keep it in check and ensure it does not remain elevated. Chronically elevated blood levels of cortisol may potentiate inflammation, hormone imbalance and weight gain to name an unpleasant few. If the stressor is not processed healthfully, in time one may enter what is known as the “Exhaustion Phase”, and this brings whole other slew of issues, but for now lets take a raincheck on this one.
So how do you know that your hormones are out of balance? The most thorough first step would be to get your levels of cortisol and DHEA tested, and possibly other hormones including melatonin, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone to rule out additional imbalances. Without adequate testing it is a bit more difficult to know which stage of adrenal fatigue you may be residing in, but if you have any of these signs they can be a good indicator that your hormones could use some natural support. Start by paying attention to the following, are you feeling “wired but tired”, experiencing constant cravings especially for sweets, inability to lose weight, impaired sleep, decreased libido and overall lack of zest for life? To get you started, here are 5 tips to help you combat stress and its unhealthy effects on the body, and balance your hormones naturally with diet and lifestyle.
5 Stress-Managing Tips:
- Eat a balanced breakfast within 2 hours of waking and include at least 15-20 grams of protein to start your day off with balanced blood sugar levels. Consider a protein packed and anti-oxidant rich smoothie during the warm summer months.
- Start to become mindful of your stressors and any less than positive self-talk. If a less than kind thought enters your mind, pause and ask yourself, “Is this true”? Consider keeping a journal and for every stressful experience or unkind thought, write out or speak aloud something positive in your life. There is beauty in imperfection and power in focusing upon what is working vs what is not.
- Exercise regularly, and optimally outdoors. Root yourself into the expansiveness of nature while embracing the freedom in physically moving your body. Aerobic exercise stimulates the brain to release endorphins and neurotransmitters to elevate your mood. Can’t fit in 30 minutes? Give your body and mind the gift of 10 minutes three times per day as every minute counts!
- Rest. Sleep has become undervalued yet it is a potent healer for the adrenals. Ideally bedtime no later than 10 pm and aim for 8 hrs on average per night.
- Nutritional supplements and Adaptogenic herbs support healthy adrenal gland functioning and the reduction of elevated cortisol. When stressed B vitamins and minerals become depleted. Consider a good quality B-complex and adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola, Ashawagandha, Siberian ginseng and Licorice root. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement to ensure no potential drug-herb interaction or other contraindication.
Charting unknown territory when it comes to our health can feel less than empowering. We are all in this journey together, and the team at Vitalia Natural Medicine is happy to be of support!
In Health & Happiness,
Dr. Juliana Marie, ND, RN