What is stress?
Stress is a normal reaction to a demand placed upon us. When the brain perceives an immediate threat, it activates our sympathetic nervous system, triggering a cascade release of neurotransmitters, including adrenaline and noradrenaline. These chemical messengers affect almost every part of the body. You might notice an increased heart rate, dry mouth, and tingling in the hands for example.
Stress helps us to survive in life-threatening situations when we need to think and move rapidly – for example when faced with a physical threat. But our brains tend to respond in the same way regardless of whether the threat is real or imagined.
While a small amount of stress can help us get through a difficult challenge, stress becomes more of a problem when it turns into long-term chronic stress. Chronic stress leads to increased levels in the body of the hormone cortisol.
Stress can in turn cause a number of symptoms:
- Raised blood sugar levels
- Muscle breakdown
- Low mood
- Impaired immunity
Left unchecked, these symptoms can eventually lead to stress related conditions:
- Weight gain
What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers released from glands that send messages to different parts of the body. There are many different types of hormones supporting each system in the body, such as reproductive hormones, stress hormones and digestive hormones.
Hormones act together in harmony to keep our bodies functioning properly and keep us feeling at our best. Their balance in turn relies on a healthy lifestyle, incorporating regular exercise, rest, good quality sleep and adequate nutrition.
Sometimes, the harmony of hormone activity can become disrupted. This can be due to the hormone not working properly (for example insulin in type 2 diabetes), or because there might be too little or too much of it in circulation (for example under or overactive thyroid).
How does nutrition help with stress and hormonal health issues?
If you suffer from any of the following, nutritional and lifestyle interventions (in conjunction with any necessary ongoing medical treatment) may make an important difference to your day to day health and wellbeing:
- Stress related problems: Anxiety / Depression / Insomnia
- Type 2 diabetes / pre-diabetes
- Menopausal symptoms
- Irregular / heavy periods
- Polycystic ovaries / PCOS