FROM BAD SKIN TO TROUBLE SLEEPING; 7 SIGNS STRESS IS GETTING TO YOU by Hannah Braye, Nutritional Therapist at Bio-Kult (www.bio-kult.com).
When we are stressed we are in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Stress hormones flood the body and have a number of physiological effects, evolutionarily developed to keep us safe. Chronic stress however, can lead to long-term alterations in many bodily processes. This can have a number of knock-on effects to our health, which many people don’t realise. From bad skin to trouble sleeping, below are 7 ways stress could be affecting you.
1. Bad skin – Stress has long been associated with many common skin conditions, and can be both the cause of their onset or an aggravator. Stress hormones such as cortisol are thought to trigger the release of inflammatory compounds by skin cells, contributing to conditions such as psoriasis, atopic eczema, alopecia, rosacea and acne, which can effect confidence and be a source of further stress in themselves.
2. Lowered immunity – Cortisol (our stress hormone), suppresses immune cells, meaning our ability to fight off germs, viruses and other foreign invaders is reduced, leaving us more susceptible to infections when we are stressed. The pressures of modern living lead many to experience stress on a chronic basis, and this chronic depression of the immune system can have serious consequences. High stress is a big risk factor for the development of autoimmune conditions, where the immune system becomes confused and incorrectly starts to attack parts of the body.
3. Digestive discomfort
– Our brain and digestive system are connected via the vagus nerve, so when our brain is stressed, symptoms will often manifest in the gut (and vice versa). It’s no surprise that stress is one of the biggest triggers for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Stress can disturb the mixture of bacteria in our guts, reducing the number of beneficial strains, which in turn increases the risk of a pathogenic overgrowth. Taking a good quality live bacteria supplement such as Bio-KultAdvanced Multi-Strain Formula
(RRP £9.48, www.bio-kult.com
), with 14 different strains, can helpreplenish depleted beneficial gut flora keeping the microbiome in balance and potentially helping with a diverse range of stress related gastrointestinal disorders.
4. Food intolerances – Food intolerances can manifest when the cells lining our digestive tract become damaged, allowing larger food proteins to cross into circulation (known as “leaky gut”). This confuses the immune system, triggering an inflammatory responsewhen certain foods are eaten. Stress not only disturbs our protective gut bacteria, but has also been shown to contribute to the development of leaky gut, increasing the risk of food intolerances.
5. Insomnia – Despite often feeling tired throughout the day, many highly stressed people have difficulty getting off to sleep or staying asleep through the night. Getting a second wind of energy just as you should be going to bed is a classic sign that our adrenal glands (which control are stress response) are struggling. Stress hormones can cause hyperarousal, upsetting the balance between sleep and wakefulness. This creates a vicious cycle, as stressful situations are much more difficult to cope with when you are tired, leading to further stress.
6. Anxiety/Depression – Both anxiety and depression are positively correlated with high stress levels and particularly stressful periods are often a trigger for panic attacks and low mood. Stress reduction and being gentle on yourself therefore plays a key part in managing mood disorders. Chronic stress can also affect our memory and concentration, as cortisol reduces activity in the hippocampus part of our brain (responsible for memory) and increases activity in the amygdala, making us feel more panicked.
7. Low Libido and reduced fertility – Stress can be a real passion killer for a number of reasons, but not least because it can interfere with your sex hormones. Thestress hormone cortisol, is made from the same building blocks as oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. If the cortisol pathway is up regulated, our sex hormone pathway will be down-regulated in order to cope with the increased demand. This is also why stress can also have such a negative impact on fertility.