Women, Stress, and Nutrients

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Women's Stress and Nutrients

Women's physiological response to stress can manifest in a wide range of symptoms. Women experience an inhibited libido, irregular menstrual cycles, increased risk of depression and heart disease, among other symptoms. Women in the age group 35-44 are especially sensitive to stress. This may be due to work-related stresses and family obligations. Vitamin C and Vitamin B6 are often used to combat stress in women. Apatogenic herbs, particularly Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Holy Basil, Shatavari, Eleuthero, and the Reishi Mushroom, have been used to alleviate stress in women.

Types of Stress

Contributing factors of stress are divided into four main categories: physical, psychological, psycho-social, and psycho-spiritual. Stress is one of the leading health concerns for women. The American Psychological Association recently researched stress and women; They concluded that 51 percent of women experience manifest symptoms due to chronic stress.
According to Women's Health Magazine, There are 10 symptoms of stress that affect women’s health:
1. Inhibited libido: Chronic exposure to stress can interfere with the production of estrogen. Estrogen is integral in keeping the female reproductive system operating. A dip in estrogen can result in a lowered sex drive.
2. Irregular menstrual cycles: Both acute and chronic stress have an effect on the body's hormone balance. Dysregulated hormones can result in missed, late or irregular periods. Laura Foster et al. conducted a study researching stress for women in the workplace. They found that women with a stressful job are at a 50 percent higher risk for short-cycle length, a cycle less than 24 days, than those who do not have a high-stress position.
3. Skin conditions: When the body feels stress, androgen(a sex hormone) levels increase. An increase in androgen often leads to appearance of acne. Stress also impacts the immune system which can result in the formation of rashes or conditions such as eczema.
4 Hair Loss: An increase in androgen can also lead to hair loss. Abnormal hair loss due to stress typically occurs three to six months after a stressful life event. Hair loss due to stress is typically temporary and can be combated with good nutrition.
5. Digestion issues: Chronic stress can greatly affect the operation of the digestive system. Stress increases stomach acid, causing indigestion and discomfort. An increase in stomach acid can sometimes lead to the development of Irritable Bowel Syndrome or ulcers.
6. Depression: Depression is two times more common in women than men. Gender has an effect of the body's stress responses and stress reactivity. Elevated levels of cortisol due to stress can contribute to depression.
7. Insomnia: Stress is a contributor to insomnia, which in turn can result in secondary symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating, irritability, and depression.
8. Weight Gain: Higher levels of cortisol due to stress correlate with a lower waist-to-hip ratio or more weight in women's mid-section. Increased cortisol also is linked with a decreased metabolism.
9. Fertility issues: Increased levels of alpha-amylase, an enzyme associated with stress, can result in increased difficulty getting pregnant.
10. Heart Disease: Women, who experience high amounts of stress are more likely to suffer a heart attack than men.

Women experience considerably higher levels of stress related to work than men; workplace sexism and perceived familial responsibilities add to these career stresses. Women, aged 25-54, show higher levels of stress than their male colleagues. Those, aged 35-44, show the highest relative stress disparity. This may in part be due to the balance of familial responsibilities, for example caring for children and elderly parents.

Vitamins and Adaptogenic herbs
Many vitamins and minerals have been used to reduce stress. These include vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc. Women ages 18 to 70 years were given a high-dose of vitamin C; they found it to be effective in treating women with stress-related anxiety as well as high blood pressure. Women older than 70 benefited from a reduction in anxiety when given vitamin B6, however, they particularly did not respond to supplementation with vitamin B9 or B12. The supplementation of the combination of vitamin B6 and magnesium was shown to aid in the reduction of premenstrual stress.
Many adaptogenic herbs are also used to combat stress. We have compiled a list with a brief explanation of each:
1. Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha's roots and fruit are used for food and medicine. The plant has been used many benefits, such as improving memory and energy, increasing libido, reducing anxiety and inflammation, and lowering oxidative stress.
2.Rhodiola: Rhodiola extract is used in order to promote calm and to aid in immune function and hormone production

3. Holy Basil: Holy basil is a herb used to promote calm. It has been used historically in Ayurvedic medicine under the name Tulsi.
4.Shatavari: Shatavari is a member of the asparagus family. It is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine because it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
5. Eleuthero: Eleuthero is used as both an adaptogen and as a stimulant to promote nervous system function. It is known to help reduce stress and fatigue.
6. Reishi Mushroom: Reishi Mushroom is used to calm the nervous system and reduce the body's response to stress.

Stress is a common component of everyday life. The body's response to stress is an important biological firewall and does not always lead to physiological distress. For example, the body's fight-or-flight mechanism has helped with human survival. There are two types of stress; acute stress lasts for a short amount of time and chronic stress is ongoing. Stress manifests in numerous psychological and physiological ways. Women are more affected by stress than men. Women ages 35-44 are particularly more affected. Vitamin C and Vitamin B are the most commonly used supplements to combat stress. High dose supplementation has been used in clinical studies to reverse the side effects of stress. Adaptogenic herbs such as Reishi mushroom and eleuthero have been used historically in Ayurveda medicine to alleviate stress symptoms.