The Health Risks Of Being A Stress Case
Stress is a part of our day to day life. The stress response is important and keeps us safe from a variety of threats. A boost in cortisol and adrenaline is released to increase the body’s energy and ability to survive dangerous situations. The issue is that we are not often under physical threat anymore. The continuous mental stress of our busy lives can cause a wide range of health risks including premature aging and increased mortality.
Cortisol, along side adrenaline, non-adrenaline, testosterone, DHEA, estrogen, and progesterone are produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol plays a role in blood sugar management, memory, inflammation reduction, stress, and sleep. Cortisol is most commonly known for it’s role alongside adrenaline for the “fight or flight” response. Chronically high cortisol levels can also interfere in the proper function of other hormones. Like most things in the body, our hormones work synergistically with one another. If one thing becomes out of balance, it is likely for something else to soon follow.
Chronically elevated cortisol levels can result in an imbalance in blood sugar. Fluctuating blood sugar levels can increase inflammation in the body. Stress causes us to reach for food rewards. High-sugar, high-fat, calorie rich food suppresses the stress response and helps to calm you. This turns into a vicious cycle of experiencing stress and reaching for food to suppress it. If you are reaching for high sugar foods, you have the potential to create a vicious roller coaster with your blood sugar and insulin levels.
Elevated cortisol levels activate enzymes to store fat. The central fat cells located behind abdominal muscles have 4 times as many cortisol receptors, causing increased fat storage in the abdominal area. This creates the ‘apple’ body shape. Increased fat storage around the middle puts you at risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, and mood disorders like anxiety and depression. An increase in belly fat can also cause elevated estrogen levels.
Weight loss progress can sometimes plateau. During these times, it is a good idea to look at what may be sabotaging your efforts. There are many factors that could be affecting your success and stress may be a contributing factor. Stress is something that most people don’t consider in regards to their weight. Why does stress have an affect on weight gain? It is all to do with the hormone cortisol.
Do you always feel stressed?
Are you making time in your schedule to do things you truly love? The majority of people in this modern day world have adopted this get up and go attitude that often leaves them feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and anxious.
Symptoms of elevated cortisol levels include:
tightness or lump in throat, especially when emotionally upset
a rapid pulse
high blood pressure
bruises or purple stretch marks
a decreased sex drive
neck and or shoulder tension
a decreased immune system, frequent colds or infections
a puffy or round face
I have always been a worrier and a over thinker, creating mentally stressful situations for myself. I have been been shifting my mindset and I have noticed a better ability to handle stress using some of the techniques listed below. I hope they help you like they have helped me!
There are natural ways to help reduce elevated cortisol levels
Prioritizing sleep is key in nourishing your adrenal glands and helping bring balance to the body. Being in bed by 10:00pm is important in regulating your cortisol levels. There is different stages of sleep - deep, rem, and light. It is believed that the deep sleep stage most commonly occurs between 10:00pm and 2:00am. During this restorative time, our body is able to repair. After 2:00am, our sleep is not as restorative, although still important for mood, memory, and learning. A poor nights sleep can cause a decreased ability to handle stress, in turn, increasing cortisol levels. These increased levels can also interfere with melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Relaxation Techniques - deep breathing, yoga, stretching, baths, guided mediation
What do you do to relax? Epson salt baths, trail walks, cooking, listening to music? We all have different ways of coping with our stress. It is important to find something that enhances your health, not hinders it. Stress can often cause us to reach for high salt, sugar, and fat rich food for a quick mood elevator. Find something that benefits not only your mind but your body.
Exercise is an important component in reducing stress levels. Find something that you enjoy doing, whether it be a team sport, running, weight lifting or a fitness class. Try to avoid exercising late at night, as this can actually raise cortisol levels. Exercising strenuously multiple times a day can also increase cortisol levels.
Better Manage Your Time
I know, I know. Easier said than done. Despite being a difficult thing to achieve, one thing that can really help with better managing of your schedule is planning ahead. Whether this means writing to-do lists, meal planning, being present (avoid your phone/social media), or setting yourself boundaries. Are you trying to accomplish too much in a day? Set yourself realistic expectations.
A Nutritious Diet
Include a variety of health enhancing foods in your diet like beans, lentils, vegetables, low sugar fruit, free-range/ethically raised animal proteins, and whole grains. Try to eat locally, seasonally, and organic whenever possible. Prioritize implementing the Environmental Workings Groups Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen as your produce purchasing guide. This will help to limit your chemical exposure. Include dark leafy greens (spinach, collards, kale, chard) and cruciferous vegetables (brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, broccolini, cabbage) for liver support. The liver is the site for hormone regulation. If it is sluggish, cortisol and other hormones may become imbalanced. Avoid refined/processed foods that are taxing on digestion and the liver.
Limiting/Avoiding Alcohol, Caffeine, & Nicotine
Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine have been known to mask the symptoms of elevated cortisol levels. Over time, by masking your symptoms, you will put increased pressure on the adrenal glands, leading to further deterioration and adrenal fatigue, a state in which your adrenals have an extremely difficult time producing hormones.
Water helps to counteract stress by circulating nutrients. Are you drinking your 2 + litres a day? If you have a difficult time drinking water, try infusing it with lemons, berries, or herbs. Set yourself reminders so that you will hit your daily hydration target.
Avoiding eating on the go or in a rush. Stress can cause a decrease in hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid is secreted by the stomach to help breakdown food. An insufficiency can hinder digestion and the assimilation of nutrients. Symptoms of low HCL include bloating, stomach cramps, acne, a heavy/tired feeling after meals, and gas. Try not to drink liquids with meals, as this will dilute digestive juices. Chew thoroughly and try to concentrate on each mouthful of food. Enjoy each bight! Regularly include fermented and fibre rich foods, along with healthy fats in your diet. You may want to try starting your day with either a tbsp of apple cider vinegar or lemon, diluted in warm water. This will help to jumpstart your digestion.
Adaptogenic Herbs or Teas
Adaptogens are herbal pharmaceuticals that are known to help people better cope with stress. They include ginseng, rhodiola, ashwagandha, eleuthero, chaga, and maca. They can be found in dehydrated form to add to smoothies or shakes, to be taken as supplements, or in herbal teas.
Vitamin C is depleted during times of stress. How is your gum health? Do your gums bleed when you brush or floss? This may be a sign of a Vitamin C deficiency. Vitamin C is a water soluble Vitamin. This means that, once consumed, it can be easily flushed from the body. It is also a vitamin sensitive to heat and light. It is a good idea to include Vitamin C rich foods in your diet. You may also want to consider additional supplementation during periods of prolonged stress.
In my opinion, a one-a-day is always a good idea . Due to soil depletion, toxicity exposure, stress, and a decrease in the nutritional value of foods, it is not always easy getting everything we need from our diet. Ensure the multi you choose has the B-Complex vitamins for nervous system support. This can help you better manage stress.
The body’s endocrine system is responsible for hormone production and balance. An endocrine disruptor or EDC is a chemical that interferes with the endocrine system. They often mimic, or partially mimic, naturally occurring hormones. Endocrine disruptors can cause tumours, some cancers, birth defects, infertility, endometriosis, developmental disorders, and other imbalances. Unfortunately, we are often bombarded with endocrine disruptors. They are found in the fabrics of our clothing, our air, the water we drink, mattresses and bedding, in our beauty routine, deodorants, household cleaning supplies, pharmaceuticals, perfume, plastics, canned foods, flame retardants, and pesticides. It is increasingly important to limit our exposure.
You can do this by:
make the switch to natural home and beauty care products- avoid sulfates, parabens, mineral oils, talc, aluminum, triclosan, phthalates, isopropyl alcohol, formaldehyde, “fragrance” or “parfum”, colours, BHA, & BHT
laundry detergents/cleaning supplies - natural, chemical free, un-scented or scented with essential oils
candles - bees wax or soy candles. Conventional candles are scented with “fragrance or perfume” and made from petroleum
air fresheners - essential oil diffusers or homemade room sprays
deodorant - aluminum free, natural, chemical free, un-scented or scented with essential oils
eating organic wherever possible
use glass to store food and drinks
always use glass with hot food
limiting canned/processed foods - when you use canned food make sure there is no BPA
make the switch to natural fabrics, not treated with flame retardants. Common examples of flame retardant treated fabrics include drapes, carpets, upholstery, bedding, polyester, and some synthetics
use a water filter
avoid non stick pans such a teflon. Prioritize the use of stainless steel, ceramic (not ceramic coated), and cast iron wherever possible
support the body through regular exercise
include a variety of foods in your diet. An easy way of ensuring this is by including local and seasonal foods
To read more about ‘cleaning up your beauty routine’ and the the 515 beauty related chemicals it is believed most women are exposed to in their DAILY routine and what it’s doing to their health, check out this blog post.
Improving your ability to handle stress is important in preventing many illnesses and diseases. Start focusing on implementing the changes listed above to improve your stress response. You will be cool as a cucumber in no time.