Stress is the number 1 factor in a host of health problems and excess weight gain for women over 40.
As I have been conducting research on the effects of stress and how to help women in mid-life, I encountered a highly respected Dr. Angela Griffiths, who specializes in helping women regain control of their health and vitality through the use of functional medicine principles, addressing the root causes of problems, not just the symptoms, which are often grounded in lifestyle choices, environmental exposures, and genetic influences.
This is part of my interview with Dr. Griffiths called Stress for Women Over 40 and What to Do
Q. Dr. Griffiths, can you please talk to us about how stress for women over 40 and how it affects us?
A. Stress is different for each of us. It may have happened "to us" a long time ago through no fault of our own or it may have become a state of being that our brain has adapted to (even yoyo-dieting is a form of repeated and chronic stress). Our Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal-Thyroid-Gonadal Axis may be stuck in an unhealthy loop due to PTSD or other grief or trauma that we have suffered.
The effects of stress heighten in mid-life. As we enter perimenopause, our body is starting to make hormonal shifts, with the eventual end of the ovaries producing estrogen and progesterone. The natural transition at this time is for the adrenals to step up and begin to signal the creation of the sex hormones from that time on.
We still have estrogen until the day we die, it is just not at reproductive levels. BUT, if the adrenals have been “fatigued” and are otherwise not at an optimum level, perimenopause can cause them to be strained even further.
Q. So, we hear a lot about how stress is bad for us but what exactly does it do to our bodies, especially as we get into mid-life?
A. Chronic stress causes a domino effect of damage to the body over time.
Basically, when we experience a stress trigger, adrenaline goes up, causing the body to go into fight-or-flight mode. When feeling chased by a bear, we cannot "rest" our mind or body OR "digest" our food. High adrenaline levels cause a cortisol release. Over time, the adrenal glands can get "tired" of constantly being called on and fail to respond.
Chronically high adrenaline can leave testosterone, estrogen and/or progesterone way out of balance.
Reduced secretory IgA can compromise gastro-intestinal immune response.
Glucose is released which then causes blood sugar instability often resulting in diabetes.
Then, we see fat storage increased, especially at the waist and belly area.
Essential minerals and vitamins (especially B Vitamins) are burned up, which can cause problems with methylation and gene expression, leading to problems with serotonin, dopamine, melatonin and more of the “feel good and rest well” hormones.
If we are stuck in a constant state of fight-or-flight, we can't breakdown food, digest nutrients from our food or sometimes we can't even SWALLOW our food. Eventually our methylation does not work...and we feel SICK.
Q. What is methylation? That sounds important!
A. Yes, it is very important! Methylation is the vital metabolic process that happens in every cell and every organ of our body. We aren’t alive without this process. We can’t think, process food appropriately, have a healthy immune system or normal heart beat or detoxify our body without proper methylation.
Q. So what are some of the things that we may be doing, eating, drinking that are contributing to this domino effect?
A. When women find themselves in this state I’ve described, they often turn to certain foods and substances to cope such as coffee, sugar, chocolate, cigarettes and other addictive substances. All of these may bring short term relief but they are actually making us even sicker.
Q. Okay so what can we do about this domino effect of stress on the body Dr.?
I will tell you that popping a few nutrient pills (prescription or vitamin) is not going to fix this. Healing the adrenals and the whole system requires a host of actions and I recommend the following:
1) determining and removing source of the stress
2) retraining your brain to recognize stress triggers and tension and take action to find way to relax
3) assessing stage of adrenal dysfunction (Adrenal Stress Test)
4) eating high quality nutrients, maintaining steady blood sugar
5) removing stimulants (caffeine, sugar, nicotine, etc.)
6) supplementing specific to stage of adrenal dysfunction which is determined by your doctor’s assessment
7) THEN and only then can you attempt to "heal" your gut lining and reverse any symptoms caused by affected gene expression
Dr. Griffiths is an author, international speaker, licensed chiropractor and functional medicine practitioner, certified health counselor and fitness coach (personal, rehabilitative, triathlon and TRX-team). She specializes in helping women regain control of their health and vitality through the use of functional medicine principles, addressing the root causes of problems, not just the symptoms, which are often grounded in lifestyle choices, environmental exposures, and genetic influences. Her approach is that of a team, doctor and patient working together to review and address a patient’s health. She presently conducts virtual coaching, one-on-one patient management, group coaching, public speaking, retreats and e-teaching modules. You can schedule an appointment with Dr. Griffiths or just read more about her work at http://angelagriffithsdc.com/.