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Hormonal imbalances are increasingly common, especially among women. They affect us in ways both known and unknown, and are directly influenced by our diet and lifestyle choices.

A widespread and dangerous belief is that stress only affects us mentally and emotionally, and reveals itself in commonplace symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety and increased irritability. In reality, stress affects the body in profound ways that do not always manifest as easy to spot symptoms. It can often lead to weight gain, hormone imbalances such as thyroid disease, and even cardiovascular disease.

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3 types of stress

Before digging deeper into how stress affects hormonal balance, first we must understand what exactly stress is. Regardless of the type of stressor, the body reacts with the same physiological response.

Mental and Emotional Stress

The most obvious kind of stress is mental and emotional. This could range from a death or birth in the family, a dysfunctional relationship, or an overly demanding work schedule. Remember, stress is not necessarily bad; it is simply an acute or ongoing factor that elicits a hormonal response.

Physical Stress

These stressors could include a physical trauma, surgery, serious illness or cumulative over-exercise. It could also result from repeated exposure to foods or other compounds to which we are sensitive or allergic.

Toxic Stress

We are exposed to toxins on a daily basis, from the food we eat to the air we breathe. Another major contributor to toxic stress includes personal hygiene and home care products. While it can be difficult to control a lot of these, we can take steps to reduce our exposure to toxins, like by purchasing natural beauty products and grass-fed meats.

Stress and female hormone imbalance

Hormones are chemical messengers that are secreted into the blood stream, and are responsible for many key bodily functions, such as reproduction, stress response and metabolism.

If things are working right, we should feel energized during the day, sleep soundly at night, and (for women) experience no majorly obtrusive PMS or menopausal symptoms. Studies show that if things aren’t working right over a long span of time, this can turn into more serious disorders, such as infertility.

So, what role does stress play? Hormones are interconnected and can be thought of as having a domino effect. Our reproductive hormones play a role in our adrenal and thyroid function, and our stress hormones play a role in our reproductive function. The immune system too will be suppressed if our sex hormones are imbalanced, leaving us more susceptible to infections, illnesses and food sensitivities.

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10 foods to help manage stress

Wild Caught Salmon: Packed full of omega 3 fatty acids, key for balancing mood disorders, fighting anxiety and improving general cognitive performance.

Dark Green Vegetables: High in magnesium and molybdenum, two key minerals for overall relaxation, and breath and heartbeat regulation.

Nutritional Yeast: Sprinkle on salads or popcorn made with coconut oil or organic butter; this superfood is high in B vitamins that are essential to combat nervousness and heart palpitations.

Swiss Chard: Loaded with magnesium, which is an “anti-stress” nutrient that allows our muscles and nerves to relax.

Crimini and Shitake Mushrooms: Rich in pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) which improves the body’s ability to respond to stress by supporting the adrenal glands.

Avocado: Rich in potassium, which works to protect the normal function of muscle and nerve activity.

Grass-Fed Beef: Provides high levels of B vitamins and mood stabilizing nutrients zinc and iron. 

Berries: Impressively high in free radical fighting anti-oxidants, and also an excellent source of immune-supportive vitamin C (also an antioxidant).

Chicken Breast: High in tryptophan, an amino acid that can help with sleep and mood elevation.

Papaya: Also high in vitamin C, which protect cells from free radical damage and helps prevent colds and infections.

Rachel Fiske is a Holistic Nutritionist, Personal Trainer, and activist in the realm of global, public healthcare.