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Vanessa Fitzgerald on eating your way to a less stressful existence

Nourishing your body sits at the heart of what we believe is Whole Cycle Wellness™. So, we caught up with our very own medical advisor Vanessa Fitzgerald, a guru when it comes to adapting what you eat to suit your body.

8 min read | January 18, 2022

Let’s talk about stress and how to nourish our bodies when we feel it - what is stress and what does it do to our bodies?


Stress is a reaction to life circumstances that can cause an emotional and physical response in the body. It is often said that stress is the biggest killer, but there are healthy levels of stress and unhealthy levels of stress that determine how it affects our health.

For example, low levels of stress produce a chemical called interleukins which can help stimulate the immune system, protect against illness, and accelerate wound healing.

Stress can also give a boost in cognitive function when focus is needed to meet a deadline. Stress is also the signal that helps us react fast in dangerous situations.

Now when stress levels become too high, that’s when we start to see our immune system decline and our hormones get out of balance. High stress levels can cause cortisol to rise, which can cause weight gain and chronic fatigue. Consistently high stress levels can also weaken our immune system, impairing our bodies ability to fight off infection or detox toxins.


Can you tell us more about Cortisol and how it affects your body and menstrual cycle?


Just like stress, we need a certain amount of cortisol in order to fight or flee in a dangerous situation. Cortisol enhances glucose production in the liver and in healthy systems cortisol helps cells become resistant to the action of insulin. However, elevated levels of cortisol overtime cause the body to consistently produce glucose resulting in increased blood sugar levels. High cortisol can also throw off the regularity of our cycle or even cause missed periods altogether. Unhealthy cortisol levels can also decrease sex drive and be a contributor to acne and fatigue around our menstrual cycle.


Are there certain foods or supplements that help lower cortisol levels?


Ashwagandha is an excellent stress reducer and mood booster that can help with healthy cortisol levels. Rhodiola is another great one as well that also helps with focus and memory. Since cortisol raises blood sugar levels, this can lead to an increase in appetite. Chromium is an excellent supplement that can help stabilize blood sugar and reduce cravings.

When it comes to food and elevated cortisol levels, it’s important to stay away from as much sugar as possible — including natural sugars and complex carbohydrates — as even the “healthiest” treats in these two categories can cause an increase in glucose.

Healthy fats and quality protein help signal your body to slow down the production of excess cortisol and reduce inflammation. I personally like salmon, brazil nuts, olives and olive oil, avocado, halibut, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds.


How do you know that your body is producing is high levels of cortisol - what are the signs?


You may have high levels of cortisol if you are experiencing chronic fatigue, restlessness, acne, weight gain, irregular menstrual cycles, thinning skin, anxiety, depression, irritability, or high blood pressure. The best way to find out is by ordering a blood test.


Are there any food lifestyles that pose challenges to menstrual health? Veganism, for example? Or any things to remove from our diets during our cycle to help?


A healthy menstrual cycle is all about maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and staying hydrated. If you typically have a hard time with PMS or experience extreme cramping, then it’s best to cut out sugar, caffeine, and alcohol starting 10-14 days before your cycle begins. During this time it’s best to increase your water intake and to make sure you are getting an adequate amount of healthy fats and protein to help stabilize blood sugar levels and ease mood swings. Adding electrolytes to your water can also be helpful for cramping as staying hydrated is key.


Can you tell us more about amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation for more than one period) and your personal experience?


For about a year, I intermittent fasted every day. Over time this caused my adrenals to become stressed. When the adrenals are taxed, they look to a secondary source to pull from and oftentimes that’s testosterone. While my cortisol levels were normal, my testosterone levels were non-existent. I then realized that by intermittent fasting, my body thought it was starving creating a chronically stressed environment for my hormones, hence the amenorrhea. As soon as I started eating breakfast, my period resumed.


What’s your one takeaway tip when it comes to nourishing your body?


Smile! Laughter and joy are truly the best medicine.

About Author

Vanessa Fitzgerald is a certified health coach and Nutrition Response Testing practitioner. Vanessa specializes in hormonal wellbeing, skin health, detox from medication, digestive health and reproductive health conditions including PCOS and amenorrhea.

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