Stress, Cortisol and How to Cope

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Most of us know stress can be bad for us but we’re actually designed to function with some level of stress. The tricky part is getting the balance right, which is why we’ve asked nutritionist, yoga instructor and health enthusiast, Ninni Kjær to share her favourite, simple, lifestyle choices that you can make today to help better support your body to cope with stress.


Stress, is such a buzz word, I feel like I am using it all the time!  I hear myself saying; “It’s been such a stressful day”, “You are stressing me”, “I am just a bit stressed at the moment”, “are you stressed?” etc.

Now, that said, what is actually happening in our body when we are stressed? When can we call ourselves stressed? Is stress dangerous? What can we do about stress?

Continue reading to find the answers to these questions!


When I say stress, you say cortisol? Maybe not, but that is the relationship. Cortisol is the main stress hormone in our body. Cortisol is a steroid hormone (one of the glucocorticoids) that is produced in the cortex of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are endocrine glands that are located on top of the kidneys. They produce a variety of hormones, such as adrenaline, aldosterone and cortisol.

The level of cortisol in the blood is different during the day, normally highest in the morning and dropping throughout the day. This said, if you work nightshifts you can then manipulate the production to be highest in the evening/night and also in response to stress, extra cortisol is released.

Besides the adrenal glands, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland are involved in regulating the cortisol levels. These two parts, located in the brain, sense/monitor the level of cortisol within your blood stream and adjust the hormone production as required. The hormone signals then inform the adrenal glands in order to increase or decrease the amount of cortisol released.


Have you heard of ‘fight or flight’? Cortisol is best known as the fuel for this human instinct. It is the alarm system that is activated in a crisis, or when we think we are in a crisis, like anxiety. But there is more to it than that!

Almost every cell in the body contains a cortisol receptor. This means that there are many different effects of cortisol on the body, and the effects vary depending on which cells the cortisol acts upon.

These effects include: Regulation of the metabolism by managing how your body uses the different macronutrients (carbs, fats and proteins); regulation of the blood pressure; influencing the memory formation; controlling the salt/water balance and the sleeping rhythms; keeping the inflammation down etc. But, during short and/or long-term stress, cortisol often works as a shut-down effect on all processes that get in the way, such as the digestive system, the immune systemor even growth.


Okay, so we know that stress increases the production of cortisol, but too much cortisol over a prolonged period of time is not a good idea! Symptoms of prolonged stress include: mood swings (becoming irritable, depressed or anxious), decreased sex-drive, irregular menstruation (women), weight gain (mainly face, chest and abdomen), high blood pressure, poor skin health, muscle weakness, osteoporosis and much more…



What a fancy word! Adaptogens is actually a term for non-toxic plants that help the body to adapt, adjust and recalibrate itself depending on our emotional and physical surroundings. They can be a great place to start if you are looking to support your body when it’s under stress.

But which ones to go for? My favourite one when it comes to releasing stress, is Ashwagandha root. Ashwagandha is a small woody plant with yellow flowers native to India and north Africa. It has been used for more than 3000 years in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world’s oldest healing systems originating in India. The root of the plant is especially well known for its stress-lowering benefits, by reducing cortisol levels in the body. Other adaptogens that can help the body to resist stressors are Astragalus root, Panax Ginseng, Rhodiola Rosea root, Liquorice root and Turmeric. All of these help in some way in coping with stress, with the added benefit of reducing anxiety, fatigue and/or depression.

All of these adaptogens are available in Good Green Stuff along with a bunch of other essential nutrients. 


Let’s face it, supplements on their own are not enough. But it’s a start! Stress is all around us. We need to take care of ourselves if we want to live an (almost) “stress-free-life”. There are so many suggestions on how to become the best version of you, here is a list of four of my top priorities:

Eat healthy
Minimise the intake of processed foods (fast foods, deep fried stuff, baked goods), eat more veggies and cut down on the refined sugars!

With meditation, we practice turning off the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and triggering the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming response) regularly. In this way we train our body to recover quickly from stress

When you are active you increase the feel good hormones, endorphins, and you’ll get a break from your daily routine. Also, doesn’t it always feel great after a workout? I can’t think of a situation where I have regretted being active! You know that it’s good for you. Find something that interests you, it could be yoga, running, fitness, karate, or something else. Studies show that whatever shape you are in, you’ll still get the benefits of reducing your stress level, and improving your well-being as well as your overall health. 

If you are already stressed it can be very difficult to sleep. This is because your body feels it is in danger and that there is no time to sleep. That means you often have trouble falling asleep, and if you do, it can be hard to stay asleep. The above examples to reduce stress are very important for you to get a better sleep. Yoga (yin yoga/yoga nidra), meditation and the use of essential oils with calming properties such as Lavender can be used as remedies to calm your body and then hopefully you’ll have a better night sleep.

No matter which stress state you are in, sleep is one of the most important things to prioritise in order to have a healthy life.

Just a few of the processes that are happening while you are sleeping: Your body is restored (Tissues damaged via normal daily work, workout and so on, are being healed.); hormones are released (Anti-aging hormones, growth hormones and melatonin, the sleeping hormone); your immune system gets rebooted; inflammation is reduced and last but not least; you are giving your gut a break! – so it can heal and recover from the work of food digestion.

When you sleep well you will  feel better, have a more youthful hormonal profile, your immune function will be optimised and inflammation minimised.

Be good to yourself
The longest relationship you will ever have in your life is with yourself! You have heard it before, I know. But it’s so important to emphasize. Talk nicely to yourself. When you catch yourself thinking up some ugly self-talk, stop and ask; “Would I talk like this to my best friend?” And that answer is often no. Be good to yourself! It’s okay not to be able to manage everything. We are just humans and remember we are here to learn.

These are just a few of my recommendations for reducing stress. In the end it’s up to you to prioritise your health. Remember to walk before you run, start with small steps, things you know you can manage. Slowly it will become a habit, a habit to put your wellbeing first.

Ninni Kjær is a food and health enthusiast, nutritionist and yoga instructor, who graduated (cand.scient) in Food Innovation and Health from Copenhagen University in 2017. Visit www.

12 Body Systems – Part 1: The Immune System

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Transform your stress with lifestyle choices

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Recognising and acknowledging that you are stressed is the first step in the transformation process. What you don’t know, you can’t change. In most instances, the mere fact that you have taken stock and accepted that you’re stressed also allows you to see reasons why. You may not have that magic wand to sprinkle fairy dust and make it all go away, but you can certainly use a range of lifestyle choices to ease some pressure and give yourself some breathing space. Here is a selection of powerful stress-busting techniques to choose from:

Getting your beauty sleep

Whether you’re a lark or a night owl, sleep is not a luxury, nor is it something to be caught up at weekends, or saved for holidays. Sleep is probably the most powerful, but natural, stress transformer we have – and it’s free!

Without banking sufficient sleep hours into your ‘account’, not only is your body unable to regenerate but, more importantly, your brain winds down, hindering your ability to think clearly and keep your emotions balanced. We are meant to spend around one third of our lives asleep and yet it’s the first activity we sacrifice when the pressure is on. Why? Healthy sleep is one of the sure-fire ways of maintaining youthful, resilient, vitality of both body and mind and allowing us to cope better with stress.

But how much sleep is enough? If you’ve been scrimping on your sleep for whatever reason, it’s time for a re-think. Adults, regardless of gender, typically need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night for optimal brain and body function. Under-sleeping by even one hour every weeknight amounts to a monumental 5 hours of sleep debt by the time the weekend arrives – impossible to recoup. But, just like your bank overdraft, sleep debt has to be repaid. All too often the price is your health and spiralling stress levels as you increasingly lack the resilience to adapt to the pressures of life.

Positive self-talk

You are what you think. The orientation of your self-talk can mean the difference between super hero or super zero. Our thoughts underpin our beliefs and beliefs quickly become self-fulfilling prophecies. What we believe determines what we do, so if we believe we can’t do something, or clog up our mind with negative thoughts, we will remain stuck in our unhappy stressed-out state. Negative thoughts can seriously limit our experiences and quality of life.

Conversely, if our self-talk is positive, even if that means consciously reframing a negative thought, our behaviour and life experience follows suit. As part of the re-framing process, ask yourself these 3 questions:

  • What else could ‘this’ mean?
  • Is there a positive flip side I can reach for?
  • How else can I think about this?

Use a notebook if you need to in the beginning, but note your negative self-talk and change it. Negative thinking is a luxury we can ill afford.

Grounding in green spaces

Do you feel better when you’re outside in nature, barefoot on the green grass, under a sunny blue sky? Doesn’t everyone? Well it’s not all about the sunshine. It’s a lot to do with electrons. The Earth maintains a negative electrical potential on its surface. So when you’re in direct contact with the ground (walking, sitting, or laying down on the earth’s surface) the earth’s electrons are conducted to your body, which synchronises us to the same electrical potential. Living in direct contact with the Earth grounds your body, inducing favourable physiological and electrophysiological changes that promote optimum health eg. proper functioning of the immune system, circulation and synchronisation of biorhythms to name just a few. This electron exchange during grounding is also deeply relaxing and stress-relieving.

These positive effects from ‘grounding’ aren’t surprising because throughout our evolutionary history humans have been in constant contact with the Earth. It’s so simple — next time you’re on the grass, a beach or the earth, take your shoes off and synchronise a little.

Releasing your inner recreational ‘drug’

Cannabis isn’t the only source of ‘feel-good’ cannabinoids out there. Your brain can make them too! Cannabinoids may be responsible for cannabis’ classification as an illicit drug in many countries, but you can become your own legal dealer just by working out a bit more. For many years endorphins were thought to be behind the post work-out euphoria or ‘runner’s high’, but actually we now know it’s down to cannabinoids – endocannabinoids, because we make them in our bodies. It’s fascinating to find that there are more cannabinoid receptors in the brain than there are receptors for other well-known brain neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, and ten times more than the opioid receptors. We also have cannabinoid receptors in our digestive systems and reproductive organs. Getting physically active on a regular basis not only brings you a lean, fit, healthy body, but also a serene antidote to stress. Not only that, endocannabinoids also protect your brain’s neurons from early death, which is hugely important in maintaining cognitive function as we age.

Committing to the present moment

Easier said than done. When we’re stressed, part of the reason for the stress is not knowing what to do to get out of where we find ourselves. It seems like a mountain of steps have to be taken all at once if we are to stop ourselves from drowning. Life feels out of control and it’s a natural impulse to keep looking outwards at all those steps in front of us that feel so overwhelming. But it’s actually the step right in front of us, in the here and now, that holds the key to release. All we need to do is stop looking into the stressful future, take a breath and connect fully to the present moment.

Change always begins with one step. Only one. So, try doing what our ancestors did: look to the sky and find your guiding star. Go out into the night sky. Sit in peace. Look up at the stars. Relax a little and take a moment to get away from the stress of your life and all those overwhelming steps in front of you. In the space and the quiet, in the relief and the stillness, you will regain focus. And you will feel the one step that’s in front of you. Have the courage to take that first step and commit to a daily practice of immersing yourself in the present moment – even if it’s just a fleeting 30 secs in your busy day.

You have time now to practice some of these lifestyle transformers before the next blog in this ‘Quit Stressing’ series. Next time, Rob will outline what a stress-busting nutritional toolbox should look like and why you definitely want Nuzest’s Good Green Stuff and Clean Lean Protein in it.

Quit stressing! But why?

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Most of us know stress is bad for us. But turning it off isn’t always easy – it’s not just a simple switch you can turn on and off at will. What’s more, stress isn’t always bad for us – in fact, some of you will be pleased to learn (if you didn’t know it already) that we’re actually designed to function with some level of stress. Importantly, there is good stress and bad stress, or positive and negative stress. If we’re interested in being the best, most vital and healthy beings we possibly can be, we need to ensure we’ve got the right amount of positive stress, combined with as little negative stress as we can muster.

What kind of stress are you under?

Dr Hans Selye, the widely acknowledged ‘father’ of stress research, devoted an entire book to the subject of ‘stress without distress’ . What’s clear from more than half a century of research on the subject is that we all have different levels of stress tolerance. Some people are able to cope with much higher levels of negative stress than others, and one person’s positive stress might be another person’s negative stress.

Stress is a reaction caused by a stressor of some sort. It might be excessive hours of work, a series of seemingly unrealistic deadlines, or a tyrant of a boss. It could be exams or a bully at school, a poor diet, or an under-par immune system that’s struggling to ward off infection. It might also be pushing yourself to the limit in a given sport or overdoing it in the gym. As Dr Selye said, “a painful blow or a passionate kiss can be equally stressful” — at different times, or to different people. He also reminded us that “complete freedom from stress is death”.

The nature, duration, severity and, in particular, our response to stress, are what determine whether stress is ultimately going to do us good or harm. And don’t forget, you can suffer negative stress that also does you good. An example of this is being caught in traffic on the way to the airport and then running late for a plane. The psychological and physiological stress response that causes you to run to the check-in juggling all your bags, and then through the terminal feeling as if you want to bowl over any slow-moving passengers or over-zealous security officers isn’t good for you. Your nervous system is on red alert, your heart has nearly punched its way out of your chest, and your adrenals are spent. But, although severe, it’s short-lived. Once you are seated in the aircraft, the relaxation that comes over you allows you to recover quickly. Ultimately it was your stress response that got you on the plane and, as unpleasant as it was, it might well have put you in a better and healthier position than facing the consequences of missing your flight. In evolutionary terms, you’ve successfully escaped a sabre-tooth tiger and that’s why the ‘flight-or-fight’ response remains with us today.

The stress response

Psychologists have come to define the stress response as the biological and psychological response to a threat that we don’t feel we have the resources to cope with adequately. That of course relates specifically to negative stress. Multiple systems in the body come into play, from the endocrine (hormonal) system, the nervous system, the immune system and the digestive system.

When confronted with a threat or potential stressor, the first thing we do is evaluate it with our senses. Our ability to do this very quickly helps us to survive as a species. If we decide the threat is real, and that we need to act quickly to reduce its impact, we trigger a cascade of events affecting multiple systems in our body, including three key endocrine organs – the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in our brain, and the adrenal glands that sit atop our kidneys. This is known as the ‘HPA axis’ and is a key part of what is sometimes called the psychoneuroimmunological (PNI) or—wait for it— psychoendoneuroimmunological system, owing to the multiple systems affected. More recent work suggests the gut and the gonads are also involved in the stress response; as a result, some functional medicine practitioners find themselves referring to the system as the HPAGG axis.

The key ‘stress hormones’ released from our adrenal glands belong to a group of steroid hormones called the glucocorticoids, the most important actor of which is cortisol which is synthesized from cholesterol. Cortisol and the HPA axis operate a complicated negative feedback system to control the stress response with hormones like adrenaline, and also to bring it quickly back into balance once the stress or threat has subsided.

What happens if you over-stress your body?

Typical stress responses include elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, elevated blood sugar levels (caused by cortisol triggering glucose production in the liver), decreased digestive activity, loss of appetite and a suppressed immune system. It’s not hard to see how this system that was designed primarily to help us survive more severe and short-lived threats and stresses, starts to create havoc with our bodies in our modern world where chronic stress, even though less severe, is so common. If our bodies are not given the chance to get back to our unstressed balance point things often go awry.

Gaining weight, developing ‘cortisol tyres’ around the mid-section, suffering gastrointestinal problems or regular infections, a failing memory, and losing our capacity to tolerate ‘normal’ levels of stress, are all examples of symptoms of chronic, inadequately managed stress.

The good news is there’s lots we can do to transform negative stress into something more positive, as well as supporting the body nutritionally so it can cope better with stress. And that’s going to be the subject of the next three articles in this series.


How Your Body Needs Additional Nutrition Due to Stress

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Good nutrition is the key to vitality, longevity and defence against illness. Although drugs may help keep us living longer, it is a lifetime habit of good nutrition that will help make it enjoyable. Just because you do not show any symptoms of illness now does not necessarily mean that you are healthy. These things manifest over a period of time – years. They creep up and take you by surprise. By taking care of yourself now, you are insuring yourself for the future.

Today’s lifestyle and environment mean that we need to do a little extra to cover the nutritional gaps caused by missed meals, fast food, soil depletion and modern harvesting methods.Did you know…..???
– Studies have shown that the average loss of Calcium and Iron in some fruits and vegetables due to soil depletion is 30%.
– That for storage and transport reasons, many commercial farms harvest produce green; before the real nutrition can naturally form in the plant?
– A cooked carrot loses nearly all of its vitamin A and vitamin E activity?
– That when cooking spinach you lose nearly all the zinc, vitamin K, vitamin B6 and folate?
– That in processing of many foods there is a significant loss of saccharides and sterols?This does not mean that you cannot get all the nutrition you need from your food; it simply means you need a lot more of it; that in turn means accepting the additional calories ….and financial cost!!

Then there is the problem of stress.

Psychological Stress
We live in a fast paced world with unprecedented levels of social and work-related pressures. Scientific studies have clearly shown that psychological stress lowers immune function. The more stress, the greater the demand for nutrients.

Physical Stress
As the body creates energy to move our muscles we release free radicals which require antioxidants to prevent them doing damage. People who exercise intensely are going to require more antioxidants than average. However, even the exercise from standing and walking generates free radicals. If your diet is deficient you may be accumulating oxidative damage that may adversely affect your immune system and ultimately may contribute significantly to serious disease. At best you may experience fatigue, or lethargy.The more stress, the greater the demand for nutrients.

Dietary Stress
We have already mentioned the nutritional gaps caused by soil depletion, poor eating habits, modern harvesting methods and processed food. Nor was the human body designed to function with white bread, biscuits, french fries and overcooked food; it was designed to eat fresh, raw, natural food. Heated food loses nutritional value and some become nothing but empty calories. However, there are very few of us who will not indulge in the modern way of life but how many of us will compensate for it. And even if we try, do the extra fruits and vegetables we eat really contain the nutrients they should, or that are needed? The more stress, the greater the demand for nutrients.

Environmental Stress
We believe that the most serious threat to human health is the oxidative stress caused by toxins in the environment. In the last 70 years over 75,000 synthetic chemicals have been introduced into our environment and only a fraction of them have been tested for safety in humans. They are in our water supplies, in our soil, in the air we breathe, the products we use and the materials we build, furnish and decorate our homes with. There is no getting away from it. Pesticides have been found in the snow at the North Pole and in the tissue of Penguins at the South Pole. Just because a food is certified organic does not mean that it is toxin free. The more stress, the greater the demand for nutrients.

You can try to compensate for this extra demand by simply eating more and eating extremely well; grazing all day on raw broccoli, freshly juiced raw vegetables, more broccoli and more raw vegetables…….you get the picture! And even then you cannot be sure. That’s why we advocate supplementation and it is also why we advocate that supplementation be largely superfood based like NuZest’s Good Green Stuff; raw, concentrated, nutrient-rich greens, fruits vegetables and berries …..with an added dose of extra vitamins and minerals …. just in case!

What Is Your Acid-Alkaline Balance and How Your Diet Affects It

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Your body needs to remain ever so slightly alkaline (the opposite to acidic) to survive. One of the simplest ways to stay in perfect pH balance is through diet and alkaline-forming foods. Naturopath Cliff Harvey explains the importance of acid/alkaline balance in your diet.
Whatever we eat is digested and broken down into much smaller compounds: proteins into their constituent amino acids, long chain carbs into simple sugars such as fructose, glucose and galactose and fats into glycerides and fatty acids. There are also many non-caloric (not energy providing) components of the food we digest and these also exhibit effects on the body.An area that has garnered some interest recently, especially in complementary medicine and holistic nutrition fields is that of the acid-base (or acid-alkaline) balance of the foods that we eat. The various compounds that result from digestion and end up circulating through our bodies for eventual utilisation and/or excretion will be either acidic or alkaline. If we eat a lot of foods that are (net) acid forming in the body and few that are alkaline we will create a level of what has been called ‘low grade metabolic acidosis’.It is not technically correct to say that the blood ‘will become overly acidic’ as many claim, because blood pH, and cellular pH is one of the most tightly controlled mechanisms in the body, however there are significant general health effects from having a diet that is too acidic and many of these stem from our need to ‘buffer’ blood and cells that are potentially too acidic (bring them back to normal range.)Some of the ways the body seeks to maintain normal pH:

    • Breaking down bone tissue to supply calcium (a highly basic compound), potentially weakening bones.
    • Breaking down muscle to free up glutamine a highly basic amino acid and the most abundant amino in muscle tissue. This may result in lower levels of muscle mass, impaired recovery and reduce glutamine stores that may also play a role in immunity and gut health.

When blood pH is elevated, even fractionally, there may be additional effects of greater inflammation and increased insulin resistance, both of which are co-factors in the development of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other metabolic disorders.

Food can be analysed for its net effect on the body’s acid-alkaline balance using a measure known as Potential Renal Acid Load or in short it’s PRAL score.

Food Item PRAL value>
Cheeses (more than 15g protein/100g serving) 23.6
Meat and meat products 9.5
Cheeses (less than 15g protein/100g serving) 8
Fish 7.9
White Flour 7
Pasta 6.7
White Bread 3.5
Milk and other (non-cheese) dairy products 1
Fats and Oils 0
Vegetables -2.8
Fresh fruit and juices -3.1
Potatoes -4

*PRAL values provided in mEq per 100g edible portion

Good Green Stuff is a highly alkaline supplement that can help the body to redress its acid-alkaline imbalance.

Golden pea protein isolate is the world’s ONLY alkaline protein. Clean Lean Protein – the alkaline advantage, has a pH reading of 7.8!

How Good Green Stuff Gives Your Brain the Nutrients it Needs

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Juggling the endless tasks we need to get through each day can often mean that our memory for remembering details is not always great. How often do you forget passwords, phone numbers, even just why on earth you walked into the room? Mental function is impaired when we’re stressed and tired; and declines as a natural part of the aging process that (scarily) begins around the age of forty.

The great news is that our brains are able to be trained. With the right nutrition and environment they can build new brain cells and slow cognitive decline. For centuries, herbs have also been used to boost memory and cognition and now there is strong research to support their use in improving attention, cognitive processing and memory by activating neurotransmitters and protecting damage to neurons that cause mental decline.

The following herbs you can find in NuZest’s Good Green Stuff – scientifically supported, memory-boosting herbs – just one of the plethora of benefits to taking your Good Green Stuff every day!

Panax Ginseng Extract – aids in concentration and enhanced mental function by activating neurotransmitters

Rhodiola Rosea – recognised as one of the best memory-boosting herbs, it enhances physical and mental performance and helps to retain a higher level of mental function by stimulating the central nervous system

Gotu Kola – thought to be able to improve blood flow to the brain, thereby enhancing memory and brain function

Sunflower lecithin – plays a role in nerve function so may be beneficial for neurological performance

Orgranic Chlorella – may help to prevent the progression of mental decline

Rosemary Leaf extract – traditionally used for improved memory, it also acts as an antioxidant, neutralising free radicals.


Good Green Stuff can be used as simply as adding two teaspoons to a glass of water, but if you want to get creative, visit our recipes section for ideas and inspiration.