Words by Pip Reed
Australians are reporting higher anxiety levels than ever according to a 2015 report by the APS.
In fact, anxiety is the most common mental health problem in Australia, affecting around one in four people, with the leading causes of anxiety being finance and family issues.
While a little bit of stress is normal, having heightened levels for an extended period of time can be very detrimental to our health. Our body naturally produces the hormone cortisol, which enables us to function for day to day activities, as well as react to pressure as in the ‘fight or flight’ response, when we require a surge of adrenalin to get through a pressing task such as a presentation, or when we are running late for the bus.
But continuously high levels of stress, such as constant work pressure in a high stress job, can do serious damage to our health, throwing the delicate hormone balance out in our bodies and causing everything from weight gain to sleep problems, or even painful periods.
Common symptoms include:
Our bodies ability to metabolise the stress hormone cortisol, and insulin (glucose from sugars and carbs) at the same time becomes compromised during continuous high stress. This leads to that all so common weight gain around the waist, which is difficult to lose no matter how much exercise and dieting you inflict on yourself.
Finding it difficult to switch off and fall asleep, or waking through the night, even to go to the loo, and/or waking at the dreaded 3am are all indicators of high stress. Of course with poor sleep comes low energy, waking up tired, reaching for yet another coffee, 3pm slumps and sugar cravings for a little ‘pick me up’, and eventually poor sleep again as your body becomes ‘wired but tired’.
It may seem inevitable that low energy and poor sleep equates to a poor sex drive, but it’s actually deeper than that. Heightened stress levels start to affect our sex hormones, often increasing oestrogen or decreasing testosterone, leaving you feeling far less than sexy or in the mood for sex. Imbalanced hormones disrupt our brain function, inhibiting serotonin production, often making us more susceptible to low moods, feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as decreasing our sex drive.
All of these female illnesses are directly related to a hormone imbalance. For example, in endometriosis sufferers the body struggles to detoxify oestrogen, often indicated in painful periods, heavy bleeding, PMS symptoms such as anxiety and depression, tender breasts, painful sex and/or weight gain predominantly on the hips and thighs. PCOS symptoms include jawline acne and excess hair growth from increased testosterone, irregular periods, often with weight gain around the midsection (insulin resistance) and a tendency towards more aggressive, irritable moods.
Hyper and hypothyroidism are a result of your thyroid not producing hormones in the correct amounts due to high stress/cortisol, an imbalance in sex hormones, a gluten sensitivity and gut issues, parasite or even heavy metal toxicity. Symptoms range from inability to lose weight or steady weight gain, fatigue, loss of hair, thinning of the outer half of the eyebrows to weight loss and inability to put on weight, irritability and sleep issues.
Any of the above issues can lead to fertility problems, often going undiagnosed in the Doctor’s office as the standard testing is done and comes back negative and the above issues overlooked or misdiagnosed. Fertility issues are caused by a host of issues, and a highly stressful job can be the start of them.
When your hormones are unbalanced and you become stressed and fatigued, your immune system becomes compromised as your delicate gut lining is used by your stress glands to produce more cortisol. This leaves you vulnerable to nutrient malabsorption and therefore becoming more susceptible to infection, colds and flus. Not great in the colder months!
First, you need to recognise the symptoms that something might not quite be right in your body. Then you need to consult with an experienced qualified healthcare practitioner.
As an example, if you have an excess of oestrogen, you may require a predominantly vegetarian diet, and a nutritionist will help you create an eating plan that ensures all of your nutritional dietary needs are met in order to help fix the imbalance. There are also particular exercise regimes for specific imbalances, with some exercises designed to boost testosterone production, while others limit it.
Supplementation that specifically targets hormone imbalances may also be necessary. Practitioner-only recommended supplementation can be used to assist with oestrogen detoxification, increasing progesterone, decreasing or increasing testosterone and assisting thyroid hormone production, often reducing the need for medication, and allowing the body to perform optimally.
Pip Reed is a qualified, certified and registered Nutritionist, Personal Trainer and Yoga-Fit instructor, with over ten years experience in the health and fitness industry.
Pip specialises in women’s health, weight loss, hormone imbalances, and healthy aging. Her fresh insights into achieving beauty both inside and out using nutrition as the basis of health and well-being are always realistic and designed to work with people’s lives. Her advice is always relevant and do-able.
Pip is the Director and Co-Founder of Australia’s first online nutrition clinic, TheHealthClinic.com.au.
TheHealthClinic.com.au is the first online live Nutrition Clinic to be launched in Australia. All consults take place live online, so you can book in a time whenever you like, wherever you like – no more sitting in traffic, struggling to find a park or waiting around in waiting rooms for your appointment.
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