Chronic stress is something that affects so many people. Between work hassles, lack of sleep, relationship pressures and other curveballs that life throws us, it’s no wonder that so many of us are tired and emotional.
Our bodies might respond to this state of constant stress with a lowered immune response to common colds and infections, increased blood pressure, digestive issues or skin problems such as dermatitis or acne. One of the other unwanted effects of stress is the havoc it can play with our hormones.
Your adrenal glands are tiny little powerhouses which sit above the kidneys. When your brain sends down the message that you’re stressed, they release cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream.
It’s a lifesaving system which goes back to our ancestors who had to either fight or run from predators. The problem is that in our modern world, predators are more likely to be work and relationships, neither of which running or fighting can solve. As a result, we live in a constant cycle of cortisol and adrenaline production, otherwise known as “fight or flight”.
“Running on adrenaline” is great for short spurts (like running from a big, grizzly bear), but long-term it can elevate your blood pressure and heart rate even when you’re not meant to be running. Cortisol increases your blood sugar levels so you have energy to run, but it also suppresses your digestive and reproductive systems - because nobody has time to digest a meal when they’re running from a big, grizzly bear.
When someone has been in “fight or flight” for an extended period of time, they may experience adrenal fatigue; the term applied to a series of breakdowns and malfunctions which result from driving at high speed for too long. Adrenal fatigue is a naturopathic theory that a combination of symptoms such as fatigue, digestive disorders, hormonal imbalances and insomnia are the result of a long-term physical reaction to stress.
Acne and Adrenal Fatigue
Skin contains receptors for stress-hormones, and will often respond to stress with breakouts or conditions such as dermatitis, eczema or psoriasis. Of course, the sudden aggravation of acne can increase stress levels even more, leading to an uncomfortable cycle.
At the same time, every person will respond differently to the hormonal hurricane resulting from the constant production of cortisol. The release of this hormone can have a domino effect on insulin, the thyroid gland, reproductive hormones and mental health.
For those who are prone to blood sugar imbalances, the result might look like diabetes or insulin resistance. Others might experience polycystic ovaries, weight gain, depression, anxiety or simply awful premenstrual syndrome.
Nutrition and Herbs
There are several gentle, effective ways to manage stress and protect the skin and body from adrenal fatigue.
A balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is essential, as it provides vitamins and minerals to support both the skin and stress mechanisms. B vitamins are particularly useful, along with magnesium and vitamin C - all found naturally in our superfood powder.
Vitamin B5 helps with adrenal function, making it especially helpful during times of stress. B5 for adrenal support is best taken internally, but if you have stress-related acne, it can also be used topically. Vitamin B5 can be found in all of our topical skincare range, as well as a potent dose in our Acne Control vitamins.
Adaptogenic herbs can help the body to respond to stress with less of a fight-or-flight scenario and more of a zen approach. Ashwaganda and Siberian Ginseng are renowned for their ability to assist with chronic stress and adrenal fatigue, and are used by many herbalists for that purpose.
It’s important to deal with the mental health aspects of stress as well, and meditation, gentle exercise and counselling are all wonderful ways to support yourself back towards healthy skin and a happier mind.
Mem Davis is a naturopath, writer, and food lover. She loves feeling healthy and strong, and is a proud vegan nutrition advocate. In her spare time she goes hiking, attends live music events and hangs out with her cuddly cat.
Mayo Clinic. (2016). Chronic stress puts your health at risk. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037 .
Et al, K. (2007). Corticotropin-releasing hormone skin signaling is receptor-mediated and is predominant in the sebaceous glands. - PubMed - NCBI. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17326013 .
Mattson Porth, C. (2005). Pathophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States. 7th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
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