How does stress affect your health?

Thursday, June 16, 2022

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Stress is a regular part of life. Some stress helps us to grow – when we are confronted with and overcome a challenge, when we take a risk. We feel stressed before or during these situations, then feel good after navigating our way through.

Dealing with stressful situations helps develop decision-making capabilities and impulse control – particularly important during teenage years. Navigating stressful scenarios, even if the outcome is not always positive, helps to build resilience so we can respond to future stressful events.

However, when faced with persistent stress, even at low levels, our ability to adapt and respond appropriately can be challenged. Over time, our health can be negatively impacted. For example, constant stress may:

  • Impact your gut lining, reducing your ability to absorb nutrients.
  • Reduce the effectiveness of your immune system, making it harder to fight off viruses.
  • Stimulate the breakdown of tryptophan, which you need to make serotonin, a “feel-good” hormone, and melatonin, which helps you fall asleep.
  • Reduce your body’s ability to respond to insulin, the hormone produced in response to glucose in your bloodstream. If you become resistant to insulin, this increases your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.
  • Reduce production of reproductive hormones as stress hormones such as adrenaline are prioritised.
  • Increase your weight, as your body stores fat during times of stress.

What can you do to reduce the effect of chronic stress? This may seem challenging when stress is caused by factors outside your control. However, your behaviour can help to support your body’s response to stress. It may seem easy to avoid catching up with friends or family due to feeling overwhelmed, yet this is when you need to lean on them, to relieve the pressure and take your mind off your stress. It may seem easy to grab some junk-food or binge on lollies for a quick energy hit, yet this is exactly when you need nourishing food to support your gut health, immune and nervous systems. It may seem easier to stay at work late and stay in bed over the weekend, yet exercise is a great way to relieve stress, especially when you combine it with time in nature – a bush or beach walk will expose you to fresh air, sunshine and help restore your vitality.

You need nutrients to replenish your stores of vitamin C (important for immune health) and magnesium (needed for relaxation), both of which can become depleted during stress. What type of foods should you be eating? Think of nourishing foods that make you feel good. Include a range of these foods to help reduce the impact of chronic stress:

  • Vitamin C, to support your immune system. Found in citrus fruit, red capsicum, Kiwi fruit, kale, strawberries, broccoli, parsley.
  • Magnesium, for relaxation. Found in leafy greens, parsley, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, dark chocolate.
  • B vitamins, for energy and to support your stress response. Found in chicken, turkey, pork, oily fish, brown rice, oats, seeds, lentils, fruit.
  • Tryptophan, to support serotonin and melatonin production. Found in quinoa, flaxseed, lentils, sprouts, peanuts, chicken, almonds, eggs.

And remember, drink plenty of water, essential for all the cells in our body.

For more personalised advice, make an appointment with me to discuss how we can work together to improve your health.

Develop a positive relationship with food