The impact of stress on Women's Health part 1

Stress can have a profound effect on women's health, from sleep and anxiety to digestion and hair-loss


Marianna Kilburn
@MariannaKilburn


06 October 2014

Stress and women's health

One of the most frequent questions I receive via my blog pages concerns the impact of stress on our health. Most of the questions come from women.

Stress is becoming an increasing concern for many people and recent news coverage confirms this. In the last week alone I have read articles indicating:

  • A 24% increase in stress-related sick days since 2009
  • A link established between post traumatic stress and food addiction in women
  • That stress can increase hair loss in women
  • That work related stress can increase the risk of asthma

Not only do men and women tend to deal with stress differently from an emotional perspective but research also suggests that women tend to pay a greater price in the long term on both their physical and mental health.

Whilst I do not wish to cause more stress – stressing about stress – awareness is key to accepting where we are and taking better action.

The nervous system, when faced with a stressor (real or imagined, minor or major), releases hormones to prepare the body to cope and get ready for action. The problem is that this call to action happens all too frequently and often without any let-up.

Without time to rest and recover, ‘tired and wired’ insidiously becomes the new normal! Initially, stress can trigger a surge of energy but this is often at the expense of other bodily processes such as the digestion and immune system.

We then wonder why we struggle with digestive issues, as well as viruses which we just cannot shake, and why our energy levels, sleep patterns, and strange bodily symptoms are constantly fluctuating.

Obviously the most important step to take is to minimise stress holistically in our lives. My blog pages are intended to cover a wide variety of ways to do this, so please refer to previous articles for tips, inspiration and support.

I welcome your comments, questions, stories and feedback as part of this process. Please be aware that the suggestions below should only be used in conjunction with your preferred stress relieving techniques.

Hair loss and ageing skin

Whilst factors such as low iron levels, overuse of chemicals and heat, and poor dietary choices are all potential contributors to hair loss and poor skin condition, stress cannot be underestimated either.

The nervous system as well as hair, skin and nails are nourished by a variety of nutrients, vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, good quality proteins and oils from food sources.

A body under stress will consider the hair, skin and nails to be luxury items, using the limited supplies of these important nutrients instead to sustain more essential bodily processes. Whilst stress may not have an immediate impact, it can disrupt the life cycle of the hair, causing changes to strength and growth within a three to six month period.

Suggestion: As well as taking steps to reduce stress, do consider dietary choices. Foods that help nourish the hair, skin and nails include: oily fish, chicken, eggs, legumes, nuts, pumpkin seeds, millet, oats, spinach, broccoli, avocado, green leafy vegetables, blueberries, kiwi fruits, oranges. Check out how to get healthy hair to discover more about how stress impacts the condition of your hair, as well as poor diet and digestion.

Try to reduce chemicals in hair products and the overuse of heat from hair dryers and straighteners. Health shops stock a wide variety of natural hair products these days and those that contain essential oils such as rosemary can be stimulating to the scalp.

Many women are low in iron due to heavy monthly menstruation. If in doubt, take at look at symptoms of low iron and ask your GP to test your ferritin (stored iron) levels. In addition to these actions you may benefit from taking a hair, skin and nails supplement such as Hair Complex, which helps maintain hair quality and strength, as well as hair growth.

Disrupted digestion

As mentioned above, a body under stress considers digestion a not-immediately-essential process.

This can be extremely disruptive to gastrointestinal health, disrupting stomach acid, digestive enzyme production and healthy bacteria levels and leaving us open to food intolerances. The result? Indigestion, wind, bloating and discomfort, and in some cases the development of IBS and ulcers.

Suggestion: Simple tips include NOT eating on the run but sitting down to eat and chewing food properly (food that is not chewed properly will not be broken down adequately, giving rise to wind and bloating). Avoid drinking with a meal (which can dilute digestive enzymes) and instead leave a 30 minute gap before or after you eat.

Digestive herbs and bitters such as Centaurium and Yarrow help to encourage balanced stomach acid levels and increase the natural production of digestive enzymes which contribute to improved digestive health. It is also important to encourage good levels of healthy bacteria, which prevent symptoms such as wind and bloating. Try Molkosan Fruit Digestion as a daily tonic, to help promote digestive well-being.

Low mood, anxiety and sleep

According to studies, women are twice as likely to suffer with low mood and depression as men and the causes, symptoms and responses also differ.

Fluctuating hormones, social pressures, relationship issues and multiple responsibilities can all be triggers for low mood, worry and sleep problems, which, left unchecked, can lead to more serious mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Suggestion: If symptoms have been troubling you for some time it is important not to ignore them or they may get worse, and there is a great deal of help available. Do consult your GP or a health care practitioner for advice and support. The NHS often offers services such as counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to tackle underlying causes. If you prefer to follow a natural route, a medical herbalist, a qualified nutritionist or a life coach/NLP practitioner may be able to offer valuable support.

There is a wide range of herbs which can help support low mood, anxiety and sleep, such as St John’s Wort, as well as Valerian and Hops and Oats. However, always check with your GP or healthcare practitioner if you are on any medication.

Tried of not sleeping? Do also take a look at our Sleep advisor Amy’s Sleep Blog for tips and advice on how to improve sleep problems.

Look out for the second part of this blog post, where I explore the impact of stress on women’s health further, looking at how it contributes to weight gain and the effect it has on the heart.

Is stress affecting your health? Tell me what symptoms you have been experiencing or how it affects you, just add your comment below…

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