By Belinda Reynolds, Nutritionist and Dietician
Stress – I’m sure many of you are familiar with it, creeping up on us when the demands of everyday life become overwhelming. Here I speak to nutritionist and dietician Belinda Reynolds about what stress can do to our bodies, and what measures we can take to reduce stress and its manifestations.
Can you explain the different types of stress?
There are two stages that stress can occur in. Acute Stress is the first stage of stress, which we also call the ‘alarm reaction’ or the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Put simply, the ‘fight-or-flight’ response involves an adrenaline boost and how we react to a situation. This usually happens within seconds of immediate danger or after a sudden stressful incident. What happens in our bodies is the adrenal glands release adrenalin into the blood stream. Adrenalin serves to speed up your heart beat, dilate your blood vessels and increase your breathing rate.
Chronic Stress is the second stage of the stress response. This process is much more long-term, allowing the body to continue fighting a stressor after the alarm reaction comes to a halt1. Under normal circumstances, the chronic stress phase is effective throughout a stressful episode. However, prolongation of the chronic stress phase could lead to adrenal insufficiency or shutdown of the adrenal glands, resulting in the final step of chronic stress – exhaustion.
How does stress affect our bodies?
If you have been stressed for a long time period, it may lead to a range of physiological changes, including reduced immune and digestive function and imbalanced hormone and enzyme levels, all of which may have a damaging effect on your general state of health1. Stress may even affect your cardiovascular health; both acute and chronic stress have shown to increase serum lipids (fats) associated with coronary events. On the contrary, a healthy diet, exercise, stress reducing practices and psychological support has shown to minimise the effects of stress on cardiovascular health.
How can we receive treatment for stress?
A nutritionist or naturopath can help you to identify and deal with the sources that trigger your stress, whether they be social, emotional, nutritional and/or environmental factors. A referral to a counselor or psychologist (by your GP) may be advised for more severe cases of stress, including anxiety disorders, or a life changing event.
What natural remedies might help reduce our stress levels?
A herb to keep in mind is St John’s wort, which via several complex actions, may help increase the uptake of serotonin, the ‘good mood’ neurotransmitter,. However, because it is so potent, St John’s Wort cannot be taken in conjunction with some medications, including the oral contraceptive pill and antidepressants; if you are on medication, speak to your healthcare practitioner about whether this herb is appropriate for you.
Another noteworthy herb is rhodiola. Also known as the ‘golden root’, it has traditionally been used to increase physical endurance, work productivity, fatigue, depression, and infections of the nervous system. What’s more, rhodiola has demonstrated the ability to improve stress adaptation, calm the nervous system and inhibit action by cortisol, the stress-hormone,.
Alongside herbs, there are a range of other nutrients that may be beneficial for our stress levels. For instance, research shows that lactium, derived from milk protein, helps to relieve stress symptoms and encourage relaxation when one is under mental stress,10.
What about nutrients specifically for improving sleep?
We all know that stress may affect sleep and vice versa. This is where sour cherry may come in handy; naturally rich in the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin, it has demonstrated the ability to better both the efficiency and quality of sleep11,12,13, so may alleviate those stress-induced sleepless nights.
So many of my blog readers complain of stress-related food cravings. Is there a herb that may help with this?
Give fenugreek a go. Asian and Mediterranean cultures have actually been using this herb for thousands of years and with good reason…Fenugreek may sort out your stress-induced appetite for all the wrong things by aiding blood glucose stabilisation. This is thanks to its potential to slow carbohydrate absorption and increase secretion of the glucose transporter insulin from the pancreas, especially following a carbohydrate-heavy meal14.
What about lifestyle changes for reducing stress?
Good question – As a holistic practitioner I cannot emphasise enough how important healthy lifestyle habits are for stress management. Ideally, for optimum stress alleviation, the nutrients I have mentioned for reducing stress should be administered alongside lifestyle modifications.
Think about unhelpful lifestyle habits to cut out, and some helpful lifestyle habits to add in to your daily routine. For example, cutting out stimulants such as caffeine may be worthwhile, as the adrenalin boost from drinks such as coffee and cola will only exacerbate nervous tension. Things that you might like to add in are regular exercise (known to alleviate stress and increase endorphins) and regular practise of relaxation techniques, whether that be meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. In fact, research has shown that just one week of yoga intervention may decrease anxiety and stress somatisation, and also improve sleep15.
Good sleep hygiene is also something to try implement; Aim to have 7-8 hours of sleep a night and to go to bed and rise at the same time each day…See if it makes a difference to your stress levels.
Speak to your healthcare practitioner for more information about boosting your stress-coping mechanisms.
For more health articles, go to www.bioceuticals.com.au/education/articles
Belinda Reynolds graduated with an Honours Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2003. She has been involved in the complementary medicine industry for nearly 14 years – nine of these working for BioCeuticals as a Practitioner Sales Consultant, Team Leader, Presenter, Educator and Writer, with an involvement in Marketing and Product Development. Outside of this Belinda has spent time working in hospitals and lectured at the Australasian College of Natural Therapies.
Belinda’s greatest passion is assisting practitioners in developing their knowledge by presenting new research in the area of integrative medicine. Now a mother of two, pre- and postnatal, infant and child health have evolved as subjects particularly close to her heart.
 Hunter P. Herbal and Nutritional Support for Stress Management. Advanced Clinical Insights 2002 vol. 30, 1-9, http://www.bioceuticals.com.au/data/resources/C66468_herbal-and-nutritional-support-for-stress-management.pdf
 Chalderon R Jr,et al.Stress,stress reduction and hypercholesterolemia in African Americans:A Review. Ethn Dis 1999 Autumn;9(3);451-62.
 The Congressional Prevention Coalition; Institute of Science,Technology and Public Policy. Presentations by Hagelin J, PhD, Schneider R, MD, Lipsenthal, MD, Hagelin J, PhD (moderator). Stress Prevention. Available online at www.istpp.org
 Sarris J, Panossian A, Schweitzer I, et al. Herbal medicine for depression, anxiety and insomnia: a review of psychopharmacology and clinical evidence. Eur Neuropsychopharm 2011;21(12):841-860.
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 Hudson T 2006. Rhodiola: Stress, Fatigue, Memory, Mood, Reproductive health, http://drtorihudson.com/articles/rhodiola-stress-fatigue-memory-mood-reproductive-health-help-with-these-and-so-much-more/
 Sarris J, Panossian A, Schweitzer I, et al. Herbal medicine for depression, anxiety and insomnia: a review of psychopharmacology and clinical evidence: Eur Neuropsychopharm 2011;21(12):841-860.
 Panossian A, Wikman Gm Sarris J. Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy. Phytomedicine 2010 Jun;17(7):481-493.
 Messaoudi M, LeFranc-Millot C, Desor D, et al. Effects of a tryptic hydrosylate from bovine milk alphaS1-casein on hemodynamic responses in healthy human volunteers facing successive mental and physical stress situation. Eur J Nutr 2005;44(2):128-132.
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