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Stress & your hormones

March 2017 Print
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Almost three quarters of Australians say that stress is impacting their physical health, according to a study by the Australian Psychological Society (APS).[i]

Chronic stress can lead to changes in various hormones levels and can result in disorders of the adrenals and thyroid, according to a recent study.[ii]

The joint Green & Saudi study found prolonged stress leads to decreased levels of thyroid hormones and suppressed function of the thyroid gland.[ii]

The importance of thyroid & adrenal health

The thyroid gland secretes hormones to regulate many metabolic processes, including growth and how we expend energy.

Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder, thought to affect around six to 10 per cent of women. The prevalence rises with age - up to a quarter of women over the age of 65 years may be affected. Men are also affected, but less frequently.[iii] The adrenal glands produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and other essential functions.

Both the thyroid and adrenal glands can be  impaired by chronic stress and can lead to low libido, fertility problems, menstrual cycle irregularities, ‘brain fog’, fatigue, muscular weakness, dry skin, hair loss, weight gain, anxiety, sluggish digestive function and cardiovascular irregularities.

The role of diet

Diet and lifestyle are pivotal to your hormonal health, particularly the thyroid and adrenals.

A diet low in nutrient-rich foods, especially iodine and selenium, which are trace minerals important for thyroid function, increases the risk for thyroid disorders.

Your thyroid needs both selenium and iodine to produce adequate levels of thyroid hormones. Selenium is particularly important because it helps to control glutathione – an antioxidant that normally controls inflammation and fights oxidative stress.

Foods that can help support thyroid and adrenal health include:

  • Fish - Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids - Salmon, mackerel and sardines - are important for hormone balance and thyroid function, helping to support a healthy mood and immune system.
  • Seaweeds – Some of the best natural sources of iodine, these help prevent deficiencies which disturb thyroid function and should appear in your weekly hypothyroidism diet. Kelp, nori and dulse are the best choices. Look for dried varieties at health food stores to use in soups, salads, with tuna or in fish cakes.
  • Sprouted Seeds – Flax, hemp and chia seeds provide ALA, a type of omega-3 fat that can help with normal hormonal balance and thyroid function.

Supportive herbs

Stress can be a major factor in how efficiently the thyroid works. During times of stress, the thyroid slows, making it harder to eliminate excess weight, sometimes even prompting weight gain.

Rhodiola and Rehmannia have been traditionally used to help with stress and maintaining hormone function, particularly the adrenal glands.[iv]

  • Rhodiola is an herb that supports the adrenal glands and helps the body deal with stress in a healthy way, supporting thyroid function.
  • Rehmannia has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine to restore energy. Rehmannia helps to protect and support the adrenal glands during times of stress.

Dial down your stress

Stress impacts your hormones and can raise levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which disturbs neurotransmitter function and worsens symptoms of thyroid disease.

Exercise and stress-relieving activities, like yoga and meditation, are important ways to reduce stress and keep your hormones on track. Regular exercise along with good nutritional support can help to reduce the hormonal stress response, according to a study by the University of North Carolina.[v]

Always speak to your doctor about diet, lifestyle, testing and potential supplements that might be helpful for you.

References available on request

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