understanding the relationship between stress and health

Understanding the relationship between stress and it’s far reaching effects on your health

Amanda aged 41 came to see me as she had been struggling with weight around the middle, headaches, unexplained fatigue and PMS symptoms. She had been following a strict healthy eating and exercise plan for 18 months but her weight was increasing as well as the number and severity of her symptoms.

Health Questionnaire Findings

Analysis of her 5 page questionnaire showed the following:

  1. Severely broken sleep for over 18 months due to young family
  2. Diet lacking in essential nutrients to support energy and weight loss
  3. Absence of restorative activities ( me time!)

Further analysis of Amanda’s lifestyle and symptoms which included mood swings, constipation and bloating, aching and stiff joints led me to suspect compromised Hypothalamic – Pituitary – Adrenal axis (HPA axis) commonly referred to as our HPA axis. The HPA axis is our central stress response system – it controls our reactions to stress, is inextricably linked to our endocrine (hormone) function and as a result affects our:

  • Digestion
  • Sexuality
  • Energy Storage, Expenditure & Weight
  • Immune System
  • Mood and Emotions

Long tern overactivation of our HPA axis can have a profound effect on our health and recovery from life’s stressors needs to addressed if the body is to return to homeostasis. In Amanda’s case the primary cause of her HPA dysfunction was long term sleep deprivation but other underlying causes include Blood Sugar Dysregulation, Chronic Inflammation and Emotional Disturbances / Emotional Stress.

Initial Recommendations

At her initial consultation I recommended some dietary changes to support energy, boost metabolism, balance blood sugar levels which included eating more protein, essential fats especially monounsaturated fats, hormone balancing vegetables, as well as supporting an increase in stomach acid (which decreases with stress compromising digestion and absorption of nutrients).

I also recommended a Functional Medicine Comprehensive Adrenal Stress Test. This is a saliva test that can be done at home and provides invaluable insight into levels of 3 key hormones Cortisol, DHEA and SIgA, and would indicate what stage of HPA axis dysfunction Amanda was experiencing, namely Early (Alarm), Mid (Resistance) or Late (Exhaustion) which would then help determine the protocol I used for her recovery.

Results and Further Recommendations

Test Results showed that Amanda was in the Resistance Stage of compromised HPA axis where her cortisol levels over the course of a day looked like a roller coaster (instead of a nice gradual slope from highest in the morning, gradually decreasing during the day until it is lowest in the evening).

At this stage of HPA activation, fat deposits around the middle, and all our body systems will be impacted, namely endocrine ( hormone), neurological, musculoskeletal, gut and immune systems which will manifest in different symptoms according to the stage of dysfunction. Having identified the underlying cause of Amanda’s symptoms using a Functional Medicine approach it was now possible to develop a more focused detailed Health Optimisation Programme which included:

Focusing on foods for adrenal health like turkey & other lean meat, wild caught fish like salmon or sardines, leafy greens like spinach, kale, broccoli and pumpkin seeds, ensuring regular time outdoors as well as time for gentle exercise and recovery, relaxation and stillness which is sometimes the hardest of all as it needs to be timetabled into our ever increasing frenetic lives.

Short term supplementation to help rebalance cortisol levels andoptimise the HPA axis included all important B Vitamins together with 3 key adaptogenic herbs Rhodiola, Ashwagandha and Ginseng as well as Maca to support energy, mood, decrease anxiety and improve sexual desire.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with Amanda on restoring her adrenal health which then allowed her to focus on her primary goal of weight loss. Following a restrictive diet plan and an intense exercise regime without first assessing health status, lifestyle and an understanding of hormone status can lead to a lot of hard work without the deserved results.

If you would like additional support or to learn more about how I can help, please book in for a FREE discovery call using the form below.

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