Saturday, August 4, 2007

Stress and Hormones

We all know that 'stress' affects every cell in our body. It makes us more susceptible to colds and stomach bugs, raises our blood pressure, makes us too fat or too thin, turns hair grey or makes it fall out (need I go on?). So it makes sense to assume that hormonal cycles will also be affected by stress. Recently I've had quite a few inquiries about late periods and PMS. Now although what I'd like to be able to do is remove all stress from your lives, I am (unfortunately) not omniscient just yet and I will have to make do with offering self help advice. Any advice given below will not cure a deeper problem and it is always worth having everything checked out by a doctor before trying any home remedies. You don't have to take their medicine (especially if they offer you the pill and you don't want it) but it's wise to get a good diagnosis so you know what you're dealing with. That way, if there is anything suspicious or needing further investigation it will be flagged up and dealt with. I'm going to start with diet as I consider this the most important aspect of health. If I get time later, I will post info on herbs and remedies.

Diet and Nutrition
Most of us crave carbs and comfort food coming up to a period. The natural reaction to this can be to stuff yourself with cake and chocolate as a short term fix and get back on the diet (or whatever) next week. But what your body really wants is a sustained release of carbohydrate that keeps it going and prevents the blood sugar swings that exacerbate mood swings. So follow these simple rules all month and you will notice that you have less cravings next month.

Six Meals a Day
Have your usual three, but a bit smaller and then add three snacks in between, mid morning, mid afternoon and mid evening.

Wholegrain
With regard to the above statement, those meals and snacks should all be made from whole foods. That means, whole grains, nuts, seeds, pulses, lean free range meat, fish, live yoghurt, cheese, butter, vegetable oils, fruit, berries, vegetables and leaves.

Balanced
Aim to eat a rainbow of foods and you will cover most of the nutrients you need without trying. Purple and blue berries, red peppers, dark green leaves, orange carrots, yellow tomatoes: the brighter or darker coloured the vegetable, the more of the important stuff it contains. Your plate also needs to be balanced; a quarter lean protein, a quarter wholegrain or starchy vegetable and half fruit or vegetable. The foods don't have to be clearly defined, they could be mixed up in a casserole, but the principle should help you balance the meals you cook. Most people overweight their meals with carbohydrate as it's cheap and fills you up, but it's unbalancing you. Stick some veg in there instead!

Cravings
If you get a craving for something sweet, just make sure it isn't too refined. Fruit sugars are among the slower releasing sugars, so it's best to try for them. Fresh or dried fruit with a small handful of nuts - go easy on dates and raisins though as they are packed full of sugar. Cakes made with some ground nuts, wholegrain flours and fruit sugar - and no butter cream icing! Flapjacks made with seeds, dried fruit and fruit sugar (use cactus syrup or barley malt instead of golden syrup). A few squares of really dark chocolate - 70% and up. If you indulge in these more sustaining treats, you will find your cravings reducing and your energy and mood swings reduced.