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More Than Half of All Women Report: 'We're Stressed!'

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WebMD Health News

June 1, 2000 (New York) -- Have you ever caught a cold after a big event? Or craved a candy bar when under deadline pressure at work?

Ruth, 29, senior accountant at an electronic commerce company in New York City certainly has. And she?s hardly alone. These are some of the classic effects of stress, and more than 50% of women say they are personally affected by stress. One in four women are extremely concerned about the level of stress in their lives, according to a survey released at a conference on women?s health in New York Wednesday.

"My job is very demanding because I oversee all the revenue and expenses on a daily basis, plus I manage 57 employees," she says. "I try to exercise to mitigate my stress levels but I don?t always have time because I often work late."

The stressful lifestyle has taken its toll on Ruth's diet. "I try to eat breakfast because I never know when and if I will be able to eat lunch, and dinner is often something small and light because I don?t like to go to bed on a full stomach."

Stress is the most common health problem reported among women, followed by fatigue, and lack of energy, according to the survey conducted by HealthFocus Inc., a consumer research firm based in Des Moines, Iowa. The negative effects of such stress are well documented by studies.

However, eating right can help women beat stress, according to Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, author of five books including Age-Proof Your Body and Nutrition for Women. Somer made her comments at the recent conference.

"Stress affects nutrient needs by reducing absorption, increasing excretion, [and] altering how the body uses -- or increasing the daily requirements for -- certain nutrients," she says.

For example, the body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol, during stressful times, and these stress hormones deplete your body's supply of magnesium -- an element that plays a role the body's use of energy.

It's a catch-22. "The stress-induced magnesium deficiency, in turn, raises stress hormone levels, escalates the stress response," and further contributes to stress-related depression and/or irritability, she says. In a nutshell, "what you eat affects how well you cope with stress."

"You wouldn?t dare think of putting sawdust into your car?s gas tank and expect it to run, but we often put the nutritional equivalent of that into our bodies and wonder why we feel the way we do," she says. "High-octane, quality food will help you manage your stress, because stress is often unavoidable."

Here?s how to go into battle with stress nutritionally well-armed, she says. "Cut back on caffeine and sugar, include two fruits and/or vegetables at every meal or snack, eat mini-meals instead of large meals, and cut back on alcohol," she says.

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