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How stress can affect your health

Updated: Aug 13, 2018

The adrenal glands are located above each of your kidneys. These glands are necessary for the body's endocrine (hormonal) system.

Normal stress response

'Fight or flight' is the best known stress response. When a stressful situation occurs, the body releases various stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) into the bloodstream. During this acute stress response, your heart rate and blood pressure increases, your memory becomes sharper, your ability to react improves as well as your strength (1). Once the stressful situation has passed, your body returns to normal.

Though what if you are under chronic or long term stress on a daily basis. This can affect your health.

Stress and weight gain

When we feel stressed over extended periods, the adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol. The role of cortisol is to release glucose (sugars)and  fats into the blood to be used by our muscles. This was necessary for our ancestors as they had to run away from that saber tooth tiger. But these days, we are more sedentary and therefore less able to clear the excess cortisol, glucose and lipids from our system.

A rise of blood glucose stimulates the release of insulin. When the level of insulin in the blood is high, excess sugars are then converted to visceral fat, that is stored around organs. This is unhealthy fat.

Stress and digestion

Long term stress has an effect on our digestive system. During a stressful situation, the regular contractions of the muscles along the digestive tract are disrupted and secretions necessary for proper digestion is decreased. This in turn can cause spasms, bloating and cramping. As well as increasing the amount of acid present in the stomach causing indigestion or burning sensations in the oesophagus.

Stress and women's health

In women, long term stress can cause menstrual irregularities such as anovulation, (no ovulation) or amenorrhoea (no periods). Stress depletes progesterone, which can worsen your PMS symptoms.

Also prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production can either be increased or decreased.

Reducing stress

Priortise sleep

Having a bad nights sleep can effect your cognition, as well as making you more emotionally vulnerable to stressful situations. Prepare for sleep at least an hour before going to bed. Avoid watching TV, looking at your phone or social media too close to bed. Cut down on alcohol as it disturbs your sleep pattern. Try to go for a walk in the morning to reset your melatonin levels. 


If you find it difficult to mediate then this could be for you. Mindfulness is being present in the present moment.  This could be standing and watching the sunset, listening to the ocean or sitting and focusing on your breathing. 

Herbal medicine

Certain herbs can help support the adrenal glands in times of stress by reducing cortisol levels in the body. 

Adaptogenic herbs help the body to better cope with physical, emotional and mental stress. Two herbs that are very beneficial for supporting the adrenal system are Licorice and Rehmannia. Please always check with a Naturopath before taking any herbal formulas or supplements.


This would be one of my favourite minerals for helping with stress. During a stressful situation, our body uses our magnesium reserves thus causing a loss of magnesium. So long lasting stressful situations, are a major cause of magnesium deficiency.

Good sources include leafy greens, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains and avocados.

If you are taking a magnesium supplement, all forms of magnesium are not the same and have different rates of absorptions. I will delve deeper into magnesium in a future blog.


If you are unable to lose weight even though you are eating well and doing regular high intensity exercise you may have a dominant sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and as a result, a inhibited parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). In this case, high intensity exercise may be exacerbating the nervous system. More restorative exercise may be more effective such as Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi. Very briefly the SNS is our 'fight or flight' system  and the PNS is our 'rest and repair' system.


Lastly eat a whole food diet as close to nature as possible. Avoid sugar and decrease or omit caffeine.

Adrenal testing. Salivary cortisol testing is the most accurate and powerful way of testing  the body's important stress hormones  (cortisol and DHEA). It is a simple non invasive test where 4 saliva samples are taken over a  12 hour period.  The test can be done at home and is available at my clinic.

For further information on anything discussed above, please contact myself at Casuarina Holistic Heath.

Many Thanks

Jules x



  1. Mcewen, B & Sapolsksy, R. (2006). Stress and your health. Stress and your health, 91(2,1), E2. Retrieved 22 February, 2018, from

  2. Ochsenham, P & Vormann, J. (2015). The Magnesium Deficiency Crisis. : Madhouse MEDIA.

  3. Dr Libby weaver. (2016). Dr Libby's Women's Wellness Wisdom : What Every Woman Needs to Know. Auckland: Little Green Frog Publishing Ltd.

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