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Sleep & Stress

  • Reduce your stress & cortisol levels with these 10 foods

    Foods to help with stressHave you heard of cortisol? Don’t stress as you might raise it! Cortisol is the main stress hormone that is produced when we are in the ‘fight-or-flight’ mode of stress. Stress is a natural and automatic short term response that occurs when the body feels threatened by a situation. Stress causes the release of cortisol, which causes a physical response such as a raising of blood sugar levels so you’re body has the energy to take ‘flight’. In this busy modern day life, stress however, can be prolonged, which can turn into chronic stress, and increase detrimental amounts of cortisol in the body over the longer term.

    This long term impact of cortisol can be the cause of many issues, including:

    1. Sugar & carbohydrate cravings

    2. Abdominal fat deposition & difficulty losing weight

    3. Low mood & poor cognition

    4. Lower testosterone levels

    5. Decreased immune response

    6. Poor thyroid function

    7. Adrenal fatigue

    But it’s not only stress that perpetuates this cortisol production. Our diet plays a huge part in dictating the amount of cortisol we will find circulating in our body. Stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol provide us with pseudo-energy, and this increases the stress response and stimulates the production of cortisol. Inflammatory and oxidative foods such as highly processed foods, trans-fats, refined carbohydrates and sugars will also trigger the release of cortisol. However it’s not all bad news! By incorporating the right foods into our diet, we can reduce our stress levels, maintain a steady energy flow and reduce the amount of cortisol that our body has to deal with.

    Top 10 foods for reducing Cortisol

    Nuts provide us with a decent hit of protein and good fats, which can help us to maintain a steady energy level and reduce our blood sugar levels. They are also an important source of minerals such as zinc and magnesium which help us to maintain balanced blood sugar levels and promote good mood. Tip - soak your nuts to release the nutrients, which are bound to phytates otherwise and not as well absorbed.

    Salmon and other oily fish are an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation, oxidative stress and cortisol. Salmon is also a great source of dietary protein, to level out those energy levels and provide us with important amino acids to produce our neurotransmitters, important for reducing stress and lifting our mood.

    Grass fed Beef is also higher in omega-3 fatty acids than regular grain fed beef, and lower in pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. This means less inflammation in your body, and a good quality protein hit to maintain energy.

    Berries are a rich source of Vitamin C, which may reduce stress and cortisol levels, and aid in the production of our neurotransmitters to assist improve our mood. The anthocyanins found in darker berries, such as blueberries, and other antioxidants may also reduce oxidative stress in the body and cortisol.

    Chocolate as well all know, is delicious, but it’s also jammed packed full of cortisol lowering antioxidants, particularly dark chocolate which contains more antioxidant polyphenol and flavonols, and less sugar. The polyphenols and flavonols in chocolate may also be beneficial for maintaining a healthy mood.

    Garlic is filled with antioxidants as well, and can also boost our immunity that is often lowered when we are stressed and have higher cortisol levels present.

    Avocados contain many plant based antioxidants, fibre and poly/monounsaturated fatty acids, and has been found to improve satiety and maintain energy levels. They also contain B vitamins which are important for energy production and mood.

    Bananas give us our B vitamins for boosting our energy levels, and potassium and tryptophan, which are important for keeping us happy and helping our mood.

    Oats are a great way to start the day, with the complex carbohydrates and beta-glucan keeping you fuller for longer, and balancing out your energy levels. Oats like bananas contain tryptophan, which is a precursor for producing our happy brain chemical, serotonin.

    Olive oil has a plant chemical called oleuropein which has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, and is also anti-inflammatory and cardio-protective. Olive oil can also help to increase testosterone levels, which are often lowered with an increased cortisol level.


    1. Randall M. The Physiology of Stress: Cortisol and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis. 2012. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. Available from:
    2. Mark L. Dreher and Adrienne J. Davenport. Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013 May; 53(7): 738–750.
    3. Oi-Kano Y1, Kawada T, Watanabe T, Koyama F, Watanabe K, Senbongi R, Iwai K. Oleuropein supplementation increases urinary noradrenaline and testicular testosterone levels and decreases plasma corticosterone level in rats fed high-protein diet. J Nutr Biochem. 2013 May;24(5):887-93.
    4. Ali Kuopolla. 9 Foods that Lower Cortisol Levels Naturally. Available from:
    5. Keri Glassman. 13 Foods That Fight Stress. Available from:
  • Yoga for Reducing Stress

    Yoga for Reducing StressYoga

    Cat, Cow, Pidgeon. Yes, these sound like animals you might find on your local farm, but they are also the names of Super Stress-busting Yoga poses! We all know that a regular practice of yoga has many health benefits, but did you know that it has also been proven to reduce your stress levels?

    A study published last year on healthy volunteers showed that 40 minutes of yoga per day could do the following:

    • Decrease stress levels - by reducing adrenaline, the hormone which contributes to increased stress levels and our ‘fight and flight’ stress response.
    • Elevate mood – by increasing serotonin, the happy and mood lifting brain chemical.
    • Increase antioxidant action – by decreasing the components of blood that contribute to oxidative stress, and increasing levels and activity of glutathione, which can increase the antioxidant status in the body
    • Increase immunity – by increasing levels of immune related cytokines, which can assist with healthy immune function.

    The beneficial and stress busting effects of yoga in this study were evaluated after 12 weeks. The daily yoga program included yoga body poses, breathing exercises, meditation and awareness practices.

    There are many different types of yoga, but all focus on the practice of being mindful and present whilst performing the yoga poses. You will often find most classes include a small amount of meditation time. Here’s a summary of the main yoga types and benefits:

    1. Hatha Yoga – yoga poses are slow and gentle which is great if you’re just starting out or are wanting to wind down at night.
    2. Vinyasa Yoga – yoga poses are performed to flow into one another, almost like a moving meditation.
    3. Ashtanga Yoga – strong poses are held for long periods of time, this is a more physically demanding type of yoga.
    4. Restorative Yoga – this is a more relaxing type of yoga to quiet the mind.
    5. Prenatal Yoga – designed for mum’s to be, this type of yoga focuses on breathing and core work.

    There are also many other types of Yoga out there to try. So what are you waiting for!? Grab your yoga mat and head out to your local yoga class and experience for yourself the amazing health benefits this form of exercise can offer you.


    1. Lim SA, Cheong KJ. Regular Yoga Practice Improves Antioxidant Status, Immune Function, and Stress Hormone Releases in Young Healthy People: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Pilot Study. J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Jul 16. [Epub ahead of print]
  • 6 Herbs for Nerves and Mild Anxiety

    Herbal medicines have been used for centuries to improve mild anxiety and to soothe frazzled nerves. The following are six of the most popular herbs to consider if you’re dealing with a stressful situation. PV-nerves-and-anxiety


    For most people, porridge often comes to mind whenever oats are mentioned, but many Western herbalists rely on the oat "straw" or the green portion of the oat plant. This can be used as a nutrient-dense tonic for improving energy and for restoring emotional reserves whenever the nervous system has become overwhelmed.

    Lemon Balm

    Lemon balm has been used for hundreds of years to create mental clarity and to help alleviate tension and mild anxiety.

    These traditional uses of lemon balm are supported by preliminary clinical studies. For instance, in a placebo-controlled study held in a laboratory setting, 18 volunteers were placed in stressful conditions. This study found that taking one dose of lemon balm at 600 mg was sufficient for reducing the negative impacts of stress and for calming the study subjects and creating a sense of alertness.*


    Once stress becomes an issue, getting a good night's sleep can seem next to impossible. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation will only exacerbate a person's stress.

    In clinical studies performed on insomnia sufferers, valerian, a relaxing herb, has been shown to improve overall sleep quality while limiting the amount of time that it takes for people to fall asleep. For optimal results, valerian should be used consistently for a minimum of two weeks, rather than taking sporadic doses on nights when dozing off proves difficult to do.#


    Often used in aromatherapy, the essential oil of lavender boasts a number of relaxing properties that make it a wonderful addition to any oil burner, bathtub and massage oil.

    When used as a herbal medicine, lavender is believed to have similar properties and may be indicated for insomnia and restlessness.

    St. John's Wort

    A number of placebo-controlled, double-blind studies have confirmed the longstanding reputation of St. John's Wort as being an effective way to alleviate mild to moderate anxiety.

    It is important to note, however, that St. John's Wort may interfere with a number of prescription drugs, so ensure you talk with your doctor before starting a St. John's wort regimen.

    Passion Flower

    Passion Flower is a sedative herb that has traditionally been used in Western herbal medicine to promote deep and restful sleep, alleviate insomnia and relieve anxiety, restlessness and nervousness. For these and other uses, passion flower is often taken along with valerian.


    *Kennedy DO, et al. Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm). Psychosomatic Medicine 2004;66:607-13

    # Braun L, Cohen M. Herbs and natural supplements:  an evidence-based guide, 2nd ed. Sydney:  Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2007. CD version, page:  1183-6

  • Is Stress Making You Sick?

    I’m under a fair bit of pressure right now, and frustratingly, I also feel as though I could come down with a cold at any moment.

    Stress Pure Vitamins Is stress making you sick?

    Initially, I put it down to bad luck that these two issues were occurring simultaneously, but I’ve now realised that it’s no coincidence. Being stressed out can have a significant effect on your immune system!

    Stress makes you more susceptible to colds

    In a scientific study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1991, researchers measured the stress levels of 394 healthy people, and then exposed them to either cold viruses or a control preparation that wasn’t infectious. Over the subsequent week, the quarantined participants were checked daily for symptoms such as sneezing, runny eyes, sore throat, and nasal congestion.

    The results of this study confirmed what many of us have always intuitively believed: that when you’re under stress, you’re much more likely to catch colds. On the other hand, when your stress levels are low, you’re less likely to succumb – even when people around you have been infected.

    This phenomenon occurs because the various physiological changes that occur in your body during times of stress have an impact on the immune system, reducing your ability to fight off infectious organisms.

    What can you do?

    As well as maintaining my regular exercise routine and finding time for a few meditation sessions each week, this winter I’ve decided to support my immune system and stress levels by taking a two-pronged approach with herbs and nutrients.

    Firstly I’ll be topping up my levels of B-group vitamins, as they may be needed in increased quantities during stressful periods.

    I’m also taking a multivitamin to help support my immune function and help maintain and improve my general wellbeing . The multivitamin I use has been specially formulated for women, and contains Siberian ginseng, which helps the body cope with the effects of stress.

    Additionally, I’ve decided to take echinacea and andrographis – as they support the body’s natural immune responses and may help relieve symptoms of colds and other mild upper respiratory tract infections. I also take additional vitamin C because it may help reduce the severity and duration of colds, and extra zinc because it’s essential for healthy immune system function.

  • 5 Tips For Better Sleep

    Do you ever lie awake at night tossing and turning? That was me last night – and very frustrating it was too. I don’t want it to become a habit, so I’ve done some research, and it turns out that there are a few things I could do differently to help improve my sleep. Perhaps these tips will help you too. Continue reading

  • The Benefits of Valerian

    If you’re having trouble dozing off in the evening, you may want  to consider taking a herbal sedative. Valerian is probably the most popular of them – but does it really work, and how should you use it?


    Valerian was one of the first herbal medicines I ever tried. I was working two jobs, studying in the evening, and then lying in bed all night in that wired state where you know you need to sleep but you just can’t get your mind to switch off.

    So when a friend suggested I try Valerian, I was more than willing to give it a go – and I became an instant convert. Not only did I drop off to sleep relatively quickly the first time I took it, but as I continued using it over the next few weeks, my sleeping pattern returned to normal. In a nutshell, it helped me to become much more rested and much less frazzled.

    In Western herbal medicine, valerian has traditionally been used to relieve insomnia and sleeplessness, help improve the efficiency and quality of sleep, and reduce the number of times per night that you wake up or your sleep is disturbed. Its ability to induce sleep has been recognized for thousands of years, and today it continues to be one of the most popular herbal sedatives available.

    Numerous studies have investigated the benefits of valerian for sleeping problems. Unfortunately many of those studies have been poorly designed or haven’t involved adequate numbers of people, making the research results difficult to interpret.

    However, some studies suggest that valerian may be particularly beneficial for people who struggle to fall asleep  (as opposed to falling asleep easily, but then waking up through the night), so if you’re prone to lying in bed bright eyed and bushy tailed for quite some time before you drift off, it’s certainly worth a try.

    Valerian often taken along with other herbs that support healthy, restorative sleep, such as hops, lavender, passionflower and lemon balm. Taken together, these herbs may also be beneficial during times of stress to reduce the effects of nervous tension, mild anxiety and irritability .

    If you only experience insomnia occasionally, valerian can be taken on an as-needed basis, however, those whose sleeping problems are more persistent may benefit from taking it consistently over at least two weeks . Ideally it should be taken an hour or two before bed.

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