Many women experience undesirable symptoms with menopause, but relief is possible through natural solutions.

By midlife, finally being free of our recurring menstrual cycle and its associated hormonal changes is a welcome relief for most women. While many women experience a gentle transition to this new phase of life, others find the transition isn’t so smooth.

Common occurrence— different experience

Many women experience minimal discomfort during the transition to menopause; however, many more suffer undesirable symptoms such as fatigue, mood swings, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, depression, and low libido. Osteoporosis and an increased risk of breast cancer or heart disease are additional concerns for women beyond menopause.

What is menopause?

Menopause is a natural midlife process occurring for most women between the ages of 42 and 56, with the average age being 51. Also known as the climacteric, this period signifies the end of a woman’s reproductive years with the cessation of menstruation.

The term menopause originates from the Greek words mens (monthly) and pausis (to end). A woman’s menopause is considered “natural” when there is an absence of the menstrual period for 12 months. In medical terms, an “unnatural” menopause is one that follows a hysterectomy (removal of uterus) or oophorectomy (removal of ovaries).

Menopause involves some intense changes. Understanding the biochemistry of this transition period will help to manage symptoms effectively.

First comes perimenopause

Perimenopause is the transitional period leading up to menopause—which is the complete cessation of menstrual periods—and is otherwise known as the menopausal transition. During this period, which typically begins in the early to mid-40s, menstrual cycles become irregular as hormone levels fluctuate. As estrogen levels rise and fall, menstrual cycles can lengthen or shorten, and women can experience menopause-related symptoms.

The estrogen effect

The rising and falling of estrogen levels during perimenopause can create a number of symptoms, though not all women experience all of these symptoms.

Hot flashes and night sweats

Vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats are the most common and disruptive complaints during menopause. Estrogen is related to temperature regulation in the body, and as hormone levels decline, peripheral and core body temperatures increase, resulting in a visible flush on the chest, neck, and face. This can be experienced as moderate or intense feelings of heat resulting in sweating, and episodes can last from 30 seconds to 5 minutes.

Sleep quality

Estrogen also influences neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which regulate mood and sleep quality. Arousals and disruptions of sleep can also be caused by hot flashes. Over time, inadequate and unrefreshing sleep can also lead to chronic sleep deficits, significantly impaired alertness and mental acuity, carelessness, and decreased work productivity.

Memory loss and mood

There is a widespread distribution of estrogen receptors throughout the brain, hence a continual loss of estrogen may contribute to neurological complaints such as memory loss and decreased mental clarity. Sleep disturbance caused by hot flashes can lead to fatigue, irritability, and cognitive impairment.

Several studies show an estrogenic link to anxiety and depression during menopause, through its modulation on neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. In particular, estrogen is involved in the synthesis of serotonin and facilitates its release in the brain, thereby enhancing mood and regulating emotions. This unique interplay between serotonin and estrogen can explain the disturbances in mood as estrogen levels drop.

The dry spells

With the decrease in levels of estrogen, women may suffer symptoms such as vulvar and vaginal dryness, burning, and irritation. Estradiol (the primary form of estrogen) is vital in maintaining the elasticity and health of genital tissues. Low libido is also common, as sexual responsiveness diminishes due to estrogen insufficiency.

Dry eyes, dry mouth, and reduced skin elasticity are other symptoms associated with menopause.

Dangerous treatment?

Until recently, women who were experiencing symptoms of menopause were often prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT), consisting of estrogen with or without progestin. But with the results of the HRT arm of the long-term and wide-ranging Women’s Health Initiative study, and the subsequent conclusion that there were more risks than benefits among the women using HRT, the number of women taking HRT has dropped dramatically.

These potential risks have prompted women to seek natural alternatives and complementary therapies to alleviate symptoms.

A safer, natural approach

A woman’s perception of her well-being comprises physical, emotional, mental, sexual, and social aspects related to good health. It is upsetting and unsettling to feel “out of sorts” and anxious, or to experience sudden memory lapses and embarrassing hot flashes around colleagues or loved ones. More than ever before, women are seeking explanations and safer, effective solutions to address these concerns.

Diet plays a big role

A healthy hormone-balancing diet that incorporates whole grains, good fats, plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meat and fish, and plenty of water is not only the best way to maintain overall health, but also a good strategy for relieving menopausal symptoms.

Limit your intake

Some foods and beverages can be triggers for the frequency and severity of hot flashes. Try limiting your intake of the following foods:

  1. sugar
  2. alcohol
  3. caffeine
  4. very spicy foods

Get omega-3s

Not only are omega-3 essential fatty acids good for our hearts, but they have also been shown to reduce the frequency of hot flashes, depression, and mood disturbances. They may also protect against breast cancer.

The following foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids:

  1. oily fish, including salmon, sardines, tuna, lake trout, and herring
  2. flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
  3. soybeans and soybean oil
  4. walnuts and walnut oil
  5. hemp hearts and hemp oil


Of particular interest to women affected by the symptoms of menopause are foods high in phytoestrogens, which are mainly derived from plant sources and mimic the biological effects of estrogen. Also known as isoflavones, these compounds have been shown to alleviate hot flashes.

Epidemiological data comparing Asian and Western diets suggest decreased menopausal symptoms among Asian women given the higher intake of soy in these countries. The following foods are rich in phytoestrogens:

  1. soy
  2. tofu
  3. tempeh
  4. miso
  5. flaxseeds
  6. beans
  7. cranberries

Isoflavone supplements also exert protective effects on bone density, minimizing osteoporosis as well as improving cholesterol balance.


In the herbal arena, black cohosh, St. John’s wort, chaste tree berry, red clover, and ginseng have also demonstrated efficacy in alleviating certain menopausal symptoms.

Black cohosh

Women have used black cohosh for treating hot flashes and mood disturbances for centuries. Current research seems to support this traditional use. A randomized, double-blind, controlled three-month study in five centres in China, which enrolled 244 menopausal women, showed a clear benefit in relieving hot flashes.

The effect of black cohosh appears to work through serotonin and inflammatory pathways. The phytoestrogens in black cohosh may also have a protective effect against bone loss. It is important to note, however, that prolonged use of this herb in high dosages may be linked to liver toxicity.

St. John’s wort

St. John’s wort has been evaluated in randomized control trials highlighting this herb as an effective antidepressant and mood stabilizer. Combining this herb with black cohosh has yielded superior efficacy for menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and vaginal atrophy (a condition caused by lower estrogen levels in which the vaginal walls become thinner, drier, and often inflamed). Chaste tree berry is another herb often combined with black cohosh to improve mood and hot flashes.

Red clover

Another phytoestrogenic herb, red clover has demonstrated improvement of menopausal complaints, including reduced hot flashes. It also has been associated with increases in HDL (good) cholesterol; stronger, more flexible arteries; and a slowing of bone loss in pre- and postmenopausal women.


Ginseng is a well-known modulator of stress levels and has been described by the German Commission E as “a tonic for invigoration and fortification in times of fatigue, debility, declining work capacity, and concentration.” As such, studies have shown favourable effects on fatigue, insomnia, and well-being in menopausal women.


Regular physical activity has many positive benefits for women before, during, and after menopause:

  1. weight management
  2. heart health
  3. mood control
  4. energy enhancement
  5. sleep improvement
  6. bone health

Although exercise has benefits for some specific symptoms of menopause, including insomnia and depression, a 2013 study found no benefit for the relief of hot flashes.

Mind/body exercises

Studies have suggested that perceived control over symptoms such as hot flashes can affect their severity. Mind/body exercises and therapies such as yoga and tai chi, as well as biofeedback and paced respiration, also lessen the intensity of hot flashes and anxiety by inducing relaxation. Similar effects have been noted with massage therapy, which also decreases raised cortisol levels from stress or pain, while increasing serotonin levels to enhance mood.

It is important to remember that menopause is a natural process of life, which can be managed well with appropriate physical, mental, and emotional support. During this phase, a woman’s life can be complex as she resides within a changing body—physically, hormonally, and emotionally. A multitude of factors are at play, making it important to seek out knowledgeable health practitioners to address menopausal symptoms safely and effectively.

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Hormonal Imbalances

High stress lifestyles are common for many women who juggle personal and professional obligations in today’s fast-paced, modern day world.  Coupled with suboptimal nutrition and inadequate sleep or time for leisure, a woman’s delicate hormonal balance can become disrupted resulting in several health issues ranging from weight gain or insulin resistance, menstrual irregularities, fatigue, chronic headaches, altered sex drive, hair loss and skin changes, and even anxiety and depression.

Dr. Luhar, ND offers women the opportunity to transform their lives by taking charge of their health to balance hormones naturally, banish fatigue and improve energy levels, enhance immunity and vitality, and optimize mental and emotional wellbeing. 

Treatments for conditions ranging from urinary tract infections and polycystic ovarian syndrome, to osteoporosis and cancer prevention are available. Medically trained and naturally focused, Dr. Luhar empowers women by addressing diet, stress management and emotional/physical health with the use of natural therapies and medicines.

Cortisol and Weight Gain

Most of us know that cortisol is a stress hormone, but cortisol also plays a role in weight gain. Learn about the cortisol/weight connection.

Billions of dollars are spent annually to combat the trend toward obesity and its detrimental health consequences. Fast food, lack of exercise, and even fad diets have topped the list of usual suspects leading to an overweight Canadian population. However, despite the best efforts to lose weight, many of us still struggle. So what could be causing this?

Some researchers hypothesize that another component may play an important role in the battle of the bulge: a critical hormone working in our bodies daily, called cortisol.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol, a stress hormone, is the primary actor during the stress response. This hormone primes the body by activating the fight-or-flight response, a vital survival mechanism designed to prepare us to deal with a stressor by either fighting it or escaping it.

Cortisol stimulates the release of glucose into the blood, along with amino acids and fatty acids for energy, in order to effectively mobilize the body for action. It is secreted by the adrenal glands daily, with levels highest in the early morning and gradually declining into the night.

What, exactly, is stress?

Hans Selye, a Hungarian endocrinologist who pioneered the study of the effects of stress on the human body, defined stress as “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it.” Although not all stress is bad, a negative perceived stress can be described as a state of threatened homeostasis, or disharmony.

The stress response is critical to survival, as it helps us adapt to challenges and maintain equilibrium. However, it is meant to be short-lived so that once the perceived threat has passed, the body then self-regulates, and cortisol levels typically return to normal. Stress that is constant or chronic, however, leads to unhealthy states, such as compromised immune function, developmental impairment, and weight gain.

What is the cortisol/weight connection?

Elements of modern living, Western diets, environmental stressors, and sleep deprivation leave many of us feeling stressed out on a regular basis. Adding lack of physical activity to this regular stress means that excess cortisol is produced, which remains in our blood for longer periods, eventually disrupting various metabolic functions.

This in turn can cause glucose intolerance, hypertension, loss of muscle mass, and high insulin levels. Several studies have shown that these disturbances are linked to weight gain, particularly abdominal fat or central obesity. Consequently, the development of a cluster of metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and cerebrovascular disease, have been associated with obesity.

How does this work?

Persistent, long-standing stress gives rise to chronic, elevated cortisol levels, causing cellular and tissue alterations. Fat cells (adipocytes), in particular, contain a specific enzyme (11ß-HSD1) that converts cortisol into its active form, and studies show that human visceral fat cells (fat surrounding organs deeper in the abdominal cavity) contain more of this enzyme than subcutaneous fat cells (fat under the skin).

Thus, higher levels of these enzymes are found in the deep fat cells, resulting in more production of cortisol and greater blood flow, which may contribute to the enlargement of fat cells and further accumulation of fat. Research also points to impaired blood sugar control and insulin resistance in these cells where the enzyme activity is highest, indicating the development of diabetes.

Let’s face it, stress is an unavoidable part of life, and enduring a high level of stress is almost a badge of honour in today’s fast-paced digital age. When the body encounters stress, it coordinates a series of adaptive responses to deal with it and protect against chronic disease.

So it’s not the classic fight-or-flight response that is the problem; rather it is chronic hyperactivation of these systems and the inability to cope with long-term adverse stressful events throughout the lifespan.

The good news is that certain lifestyle factors can considerably minimize stress to reduce circulating cortisol levels, thereby achieving a slimmer waistline. A healthy diet and plenty of exercise are among the best contenders in this regard, both of which also improve insulin sensitivity and decrease inflammation. (See below for more suggestions.)

The triggers underlying the stress response reveal an elegant balance of stimuli and responses within a complex system. Chronic stress initiates subtle changes, which eventually disrupt this balance and result in detrimental health consequences.

Elevated cortisol impacts many functions and interacts with various hormones that may contribute to the obesity epidemic. Keeping cortisol levels at bay with lifestyle changes yields many wonderful health benefits. Eliminating stress is not an option, so dealing with it effectively is the key.

The other hormonal players in body weight

Body weight is also regulated by other hormones within a complex system allowing for energy balance. Two key players are leptin and ghrelin, both of which regulate food intake by controlling satiety or appetite stimulation, respectively.

Leptin suppresses appetite and follows a circadian rhythm with lower levels during the day, rising at night. Sleep deprivation, therefore, reduces leptin levels, stimulating food intake. In the presence of elevated cortisol, leptin levels also increase, leading to impaired signals for satiety and, therefore, increased eating.

Ghrelin acts to stimulate appetite and has been shown to increase during the stress response mediated by the effects of cortisol. Ghrelin’s actions also include its reward-enhancing and antidepressant properties, which in the human experience typically draw us toward more calorie-dense foods or “comfort foods.”

Studies also show that both of these hormones are intricately involved with the brain-reward system, indicating a preference for foods containing carbohydrates and sweet and salty snacks. It has been suggested that consuming palatable foods appears to dampen some of the physiological effects of stress.

What can you do?

Avoid stimulants

Stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, or cola, which are also dehydrating, may heighten the negative effects of stress, resulting in elevated cortisol.

Eat lean protein

A balanced intake of lean meat, poultry, and fish, as well as grains and nuts, is necessary for the vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids they provide.

Eat plenty of vegetables

Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables containing phytonutrients, such as berries, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, and tomatoes, are encouraged for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Add flavonoid-rich foods

Foods rich in flavonoids, such as apples, onions, and grapefruit, can counteract the activity of the enzyme that converts cortisol into its active form, thus blunting excess cortisol production in visceral fat cells.

Get enough exercise

Exercise leads to the production of dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals produced in the brain responsible for the well-known effect of “runner’s high,” which helps control the stress response.

Supplement with herbs

Botanicals such as magnolia or holy basil are also useful in managing stress effectively.

  • Magnolia bark is well known for its anxiety-reducing effects without causing sedation. Recent research with individuals who identified themselves as typically eating more in response to stressful situations and who reported high cortisol levels, increased weight gain, and sleep disturbances were found to show changes in cortisol levels along with feelings of well-being and reduced anxiety after taking a blend of bark extracts from magnolia and Amur cork trees.
  • Holy basil exerts similar effects through its adaptogenic and antioxidant action, and also stimulates serotonin.

Get plenty of sleep

Good quality sleep is an equally important regulator of cortisol metabolism and plays a crucial role in energy balance. Sleep deprivation is a chronic stressor that may affect the resiliency of the body’s stress-response systems. Furthermore, poor sleep impacts leptin levels. A recent study showed disrupted leptin levels associated with sleep restriction, resulting in an increase in food intake.

Stress reduction strategies undoubtedly include practices such as mindful meditation, yoga, and other relaxation exercises to counteract rising cortisol levels as well as to improve sleep duration, mood disturbances, and fatigue.

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Natural solutions to banish warts

ALTHOUGH generally not dangerous, warts are embarrassing for many owing to their ugly appearance, and can also be contagious and painful.

These annoying skin irritations are among the most common dermatological conditions, affecting people of all ages.

In fact, warts have plagued mankind for thousands of years and have even been discovered on 3 000-year-old mummies.

The virus that causes warts is known as the human papilloma virus (HPV).

There are different types of warts, each with a distinct appearance and appearing on a different part of the body.

Common warts usually appear on fingers and toes, while plantar warts grow on the soles of the feet.

The virus can also cause flat warts (on thighs or arms), filliform warts (skin tags), and more serious warts around the genitals, which require immediate medical attention.

Plantar warts thrive in warm, moist environments and are typically contracted by walking around barefoot near swimming pools, public showers or locker rooms.

Warts recur

Conventional medical treatment of common and plantar warts typically involves cryotherapy – the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze off the wart at a temperature of -320 F (-196C).

Surgery to cut out the wart, or burning the wart with an electric needle are also common treatments.

Salicylic acid preparations in gels, drops or plasters available over the counter work by dissolving the wart and the hard, outer surface of skin that surrounds it.

Besides being painful and uncomfortable, some of these treatments may cause scarring, burning or stinging.

These methods also only work temporarily to remove warts from the skin, without addressing the virus itself and require repeated visits to the doctor’s office because the warts tend to recur.

Naturopathic approaches to treat warts aim to fortify the immune system – this in turn enables the body’s defence system to fight the virus and consequently, the warts.

Boost immune system

Immune system boosters include vitamin C, zinc, and plant substances such as garlic and mushroom extracts.

A weakened immune system may allow the virus to proliferate.

Individuals with diabetes or other immune deficiencies require extra attention.

Homeopathic remedies such as natrum muriaticum or thuja, are also very effective wart medicines.

Application of natural substances such as vitamin E, vitamin A, and essential oils such as tea tree or lemon have also shown great benefit at combatting warts.

Some traditional medicine even points to the use of banana peels or fresh aloe vera gel to eliminate warts.

For many, the warts resolve on their own without any treatment.

Food Allergy and Intolerance Testing

Suffering from digestive problems, skin rashes, difficulty concentrating, or simply tired of being sick and tired? Perhaps food allergens or intolerances are at play resulting in adverse symptoms that can either surface immediately after ingesting certain foods (IgE-mediated), or may occur several hours or days later and are delayed (IgG-mediated). Reactions to foods can produce unpleasant symptoms that if left untreated, can progress into severe illnesses such as chronic migraines, irritable bowel disease and even weight gain or depression. To learn more about how to get tested on the ImmuPro 300 for 270 different foods and substances, please contact the clinic. 

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Digestive Disorders

The gastrointestinal system is paramount for absorbing and assimilating nutrients and forms the very core of our bodies. Many common complaints that result in disease actually take root in the GI system initially. Several patients suffering from digestive disorders such as indigestion, constipation, bloating, heartburn, acid reflux, abdominal cramping and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) tend to use approaches that only mask the problem and do not resolve the underlying health issues. Certain pharmaceutical agents also have serious side effects.

The GI tract is a complex organ system comprising microflora, friendly bacteria and digestive enzymes which are critical for optimal digestion, nutrient absorption and immune function. The digestive system is also intimately linked to the liver and its detoxification function.

Addressing digestive disorders is paramount to maintain good health. Several diseases such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes, hormonal imbalances and even weight gain are linked to poor digestive health.

Naturopathic doctor Faryal Luhar customizes treatment plans with various naturopathic medicines and dietary approaches aimed at optimizing digestion and resolving chronic complaints.


DIABETES is increasing in South Africa with three and a half million diagnosed cases.

Many more remain undiagnosed and it is estimated that another five million South Africans have ‘prediabetes’ – a condition that leads to diabetes where insulin resistance causes blood sugar levels to rise above normal.

A sugar problem or an insulin problem?

In my opinion, diabetes is more a condition of insulin dysfunction, rather than a sugar imbalance.

In normal, healthy individuals, the pancreas releases the powerful hormone Insulin, which converts glucose into the fuel needed by every cell in the body.

The problem arises when insulin either becomes resistant (Type 2 diabetes), or fails entirely to be produced by the pancreatic cells (Type 1 diabetes).

As a result, glucose levels rise in the blood stream and can have detrimental effects if poorly managed or detected very late in the disease process.

Gestational diabetes may also occur in women during pregnancy due to hormonal changes, genetics, and lifestyle factors.

Recognise risk factors and symptoms

The key to prevention lies in identifying the top risk factors which include being overweight or obese, older than age 45, excess fat around the waist, family history of diabetes, low HDL (good) cholesterol, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, impaired glucose tolerance, and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Symptoms to watch out for are persistent fatigue, excessive thirst or hunger, weight fluctuations, blurred vision and frequent urination.

Getting your blood glucose and insulin tested annually is a great first step under these circumstances.

Lifestyle Factors and “Diabesity”

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) predicts that diabetes cases in Africa will double by 2030!

There are currently 14 million diabetics in Africa and the main causes for this increase are urbanisation and obesity.

Adopting a Westernised diet high in sugar, fats and processed foods, along with little to no exercise, are major contributors.

In fact, this link is so strong according to researchers, that a new term ‘diabesity’ has been coined.

An article in the journal Diabetologia highlights the impact of sugary soft drinks, and reports that drinking just one can of soda per day raises diabetes risk by 22%!

Diabetes can be prevented and treated effectively and should not be an obstacle to realising your dreams and ambitions – just ask famous diabetics Halle Barry, Sharon Stone or Olympic medalist, Sir Steven Redgrave!

Stress and Heart Health

Stressors can mean bad news for our cardiovascular systems, but healthy lifestyle choices can help us deal with stress before it wreaks havoc on our hearts.

The idea that too much stress makes you sick is one to take to heart. Stress can pave the way to heart disease, and after a tragedy or shock, stress can even cause a fleeting, frightening heart syndrome.

Stress 101

Stress is a response to the varied demands of daily life, from missing the bus to learning a friend is dying. How we “feel” stress can be very different from the next person. This experience is communicated between the brain and the neurological, endocrine, and immune systems—and the heart.

Broken heart syndrome

In the early ’90s, a novel cardiac syndrome known as “takotsubo cardiomyopathy” was first reported in Japan and eventually provoked great interest from cardiologists worldwide. The hallmark of this condition is the heart assuming a bulging, balloon-like shape similar to an octopus trap, or takotsubo.

You may know this condition by its more common name: broken heart syndrome. Symptoms are typically triggered by profound emotional or physical stress, giving rise to this nickname.

The loss of a loved one, serious financial problems, a car accident, and domestic abuse are examples of triggers. The intense grief or anger experienced by those suffering from a “broken heart” causes a release of stress hormones that stun the heart and impede blood flow to the body, resulting in symptoms similar to a heart attack.

These symptoms include:

  1. chest pain or jaw pain
  2. shortness of breath
  3. fatigue
  4. feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  5. nausea
  6. cold sweat

Seek medical attention if you experience any of the above symptoms. You can’t know for certain what you’re suffering from without tests.

Broken heart syndrome is most prevalent in older, postmenopausal women. It has been suggested that endothelial dysfunction (abnormal behaviour of the inner lining of blood vessels), worsened by lowered estrogen levels, may influence heart spasms or stunning.

Interestingly, broken heart syndrome is temporary with no evidence of blocked coronary arteries (as seen in heart attacks), and a quick and full recovery usually follows.

Stress and heart problems

Broken heart syndrome isn’t the only effect of stress on the heart, nor is it the most serious. Ongoing strife and failure to resolve negative emotions may lead to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) and even accelerate atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of arteries).

Emotional triggers such as fear, anxiety, and sadness have also been shown to precipitate cardiac events. The underlying source of stress can vary.


Research shows that the risk of experiencing cardiovascular incidents increases in the months following the death of a spouse.

Trouble at work

Chronic work-related stresses such as high demands or low salary pose a two- to three-fold higher risk for cardiac events, according to some researchers.

Seeing red

Research shows there is a higher rate of cardiovascular events in the two hours following angry outbursts.

Psychosocial stressors

Findings from the UK’s Whitehall II study, which followed several thousand London-based civil servants since 1985, revealed that those who believed stress impacted their health “a lot or extremely” had double the risk of heart attack compared to those who believed it didn’t.

Stress and survival

Of course, stress doesn’t always cause a bulging heart or life-threatening cardiac event. In fact, it can sometimes be a positive force resulting in better performance— at a job interview or music recital, for example.

More often, however, stress is perceived as an unpleasant experience that demands attention, and with good reason: our response to stress can ensure our survival.

Maintaining a constant internal balance in the face of a changing environment is critical to sustaining life— a concept known as homeostasis. The “fight-or-flight” response is a survival mechanism. It is designed to maintain homeostasis by preparing the body to kick into gear when faced with a threat.

During a stressful event, a carefully orchestrated sequence of hormonal, cardiovascular, and other physiological changes occurs. Heart rate increases, blood pressure elevates, and energy stores are made available.

But what happens if those changes go on for too long?

Acute versus chronic stress

Stress is considered acute when it’s brief or transitory. Even short-lived, minor stress can have an impact. For example, your heart may race before giving a speech. More major acute stress, such as that caused by an earthquake, exerts a greater impact.

Acute stress responses in healthy individuals increase resiliency and resistance to short-term stress. But stress that lasts for prolonged periods can become chronic and lead to adverse health outcomes such as diabetes, major depression, low immune function, and heart disease.

When the heart is exposed to elevated stress hormones such as epinephrine for long periods, damage to the arteries and blood vessels can occur, along with increases in blood pressure and heart rate, as well as a higher risk of heart attack or stroke.

Stress-busting tips

The good news is that you can put the brakes on stress by tapping into your body’s relaxation response using a variety of techniques.


Try meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises, or prayer. Mindfulness allows you to experience calmness, focus, clarity, and general mental well-being.


Do some form of daily exercise. This releases mood-elevating endorphins and helps to “work off steam” when you’re feeling agitated or angry.


Eat more fruits and vegetables. The higher levels of vitamin C in citrus fruits and leafy greens provide protection against heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone.


Avoid heart-harming behaviours such as smoking, physical inactivity, and alcohol consumption.


Build a strong network of family and friends. Discussing problems and expressing feelings reduces conflict and the stress associated with it.


Make time for enjoyable activities daily. A lower perceived level of life enjoyment has been linked with higher risks of cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality, particularly in men. a

Men are from Mars …

When it comes to coronary events in relation to stress, men and women may not be created equal.

A 2006 study showed that hardening of the arteries is more frequent in women when they and their husbands express hostility during marital disagreements, but more common in men when they or their wives are controlling.

According to a 2014 study, men showed more changes in blood pressure and heart rate in response to stress, while women exhibited decreased blood flow to the heart and an increase in the beginnings of blood clot formation.

Try adaptogens

Botanical medicines categorized as “adaptogens” have been shown to improve your body’s response to and recovery from stress.

Siberian ginseng is one such adaptogen, with evidence pointing to its ability to help the body accommodate adverse physical conditions and improve mental performance.

Ashwagandha is a favourite from the Ayurvedic tradition. In tests on animals, it has been shown to counteract changes in blood sugar levels and improve depressive behaviour associated with extreme stress.

Rhodiola rosea is an anti-stress superstar with an affinity for protecting the heart from arrhythmias and other damage caused by elevated stress hormones. It has also shown improvements in sleep disturbances, fatigue, and general well-being.

Always consult your health care practitioner before taking supplements to ensure they are right for you. 

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