What is stress?

Stress is the body’s response to a change that requires a physical, mental or emotional adjustment. It is also the body’s method of reacting to or preparing for a new challenge. Stress can originate from any situation or thought that makes you feel concerned, nervous, frustrated or angry. Its effects on the body are not only psychological, but physiological as well.

The physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived threat happens via activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This results in a typical ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Besides the nervous system, various stress hormones are also released into the body. The immediate response is activated by the hormones such as adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine), whilst cortisol controls the more long-term stress response.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol plays an important role in how the body uses food substrates such as carbohydrate, fat, or protein, in order to meet additional physiological demands. Cortisol is normally released in response to events such as waking up in the morning, during physical exercise and stressful events.

When chronically elevated, cortisol has a negative impact on many systems, including weight control and immune function. With a high stress, fast-paced lifestyle, the body ends up producing cortisol almost continuously. Whilst cortisol is essential to the body, too much cortisol can have a significantly detrimental effect on our health.

What effect does stress have on blood sugar levels and the development of diabetes?

Under stressful conditions, cortisol helps to provide the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores and helping to release the glucose that is stored in the liver. This energy is required in a typical fight-or-flight situation. However, elevated cortisol over the long term constantly stimulates the release of glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels. Since a principal function of cortisol is to counteract the effects of insulin, it causes bodily cells to become insulin resistant. Over time, the pancreas struggles to keep up with the increased demand for insulin. The result is that glucose levels become elevated. Chronic stress therefore increases the risk for diabetes.

What effect does stress have on weight gain and obesity?

Chronic elevated cortisol levels can lead to weight gain. One mechanism is to stimulate the storage of fatty acids in fatty tissue contained inside the abdominal cavity (visceral fat stores). Another way goes back to the blood-sugar insulin problem. Consistently high blood glucose levels, in the presence of insulin resistance, leads to cells that are starved of glucose. Since these cells are in need of energy, they send hunger signals to the brain via a biochemical signalling mechanism. This leads to increased eating and the intake of excess glucose that is eventually stored in the body as fat. Cortisol has also been linked to cravings for high-calorie foods.

What effect does stress have on the immune system?

Cortisol, being a steroid hormone, is similar to the drug cortisone, often used by doctors to suppress inflammation in virtually all tissue types. In the body, cortisol’s ability to suppress inflammation is mostly beneficial. However, this may also lead to the suppression of the immune system, causing an increased susceptibility to colds, flu and other infections, as well as an increased risk to develop certain forms of cancer. Cortisol is also associated with a tendency to develop food allergies and an increased risk of various gastrointestinal disorders, since a healthy intestine is dependent on a functional immune system. The risk of developing an autoimmune disease is also higher.

What effects does stress have on the gastrointestinal system?

The ‘autonomic nervous system’ is the part of the body’s ‘automatic’ control mechanism that regulates various involuntary bodily functions, such as breathing, digestion and circulation.  It consists of two divisions, namely the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems that, to a large degree, work in opposition to each other. When the sympathetic nervous system is ‘switched on’, the parasympathetic nervous system should ideally be ‘switched off’.

Whilst the sympathetic nervous system accelerates the heart rate, constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure under stressful conditions, the parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite and helps to slow the heart rate, increase intestinal and glandular activity, and relax sphincter muscles.

The parasympathetic nervous system becomes more active during relaxed activities, such as eating. This is important because for the body to best use food energy, enzymes and hormones controlling digestion and the absorption of nutrients must be working at peak performance. Activation of the sympathetic nervous system by cortisol, however, results in the suppression of the parasympathetic nervous system. This compromises digestion and impairs the absorption of nutrients. As a result, indigestion and heartburn may develop and the mucosal lining of the gastro-intestinal tract may become inflamed. In response, mucosal inflammation of the stomach also leads to the increased production of cortisol, causing a vicious cycle. This is a reason why stomach ulcers are more common during stressful times. Those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disorders like ulcerative colitis also report an improvement in their symptoms when they master better stress management.

What effect does stress have on the cardiovascular system?

Through the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, cortisol constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure in order to enhance the delivery of oxygenated blood during the fight-or-flight reaction. Over time, chronic arterial constriction also leads to high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries, which may cause heart attacks and stroke. This is one of the reasons why stressed-out personality types are at a greater risk for developing cardio-vascular disease.

What effect does stress have on fertility?

Elevated cortisol levels relating to prolonged stress can cause the disruption of menstrual cycles and ovulation, resulting in female infertility. Furthermore, the androgenic sex hormones are produced in the same glands as cortisol and epinephrine, so excess cortisol production may impair the optimal production of these hormones. Elevated cortisol levels are also known to cause erectile dysfunction.

What effects does stress have on fatigue?

Long-term stress and elevated cortisol levels are linked to insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disorders, dementia and depression.

Which lifestyle changes can help to reduce stress?

Seeing that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the best way to manage stress is by using a combination of techniques. Start by eating a balanced, nutritious diet. Exercise regularly and avoid poisoning your brain and body with cigarettes, ‘recreational’ drugs and excessive alcohol intake.

Depending on your source of stress, there are various cognitive techniques that can be used to strategically plan, communicate and think better. These include techniques on how to manage conflict more effectively and how to put better boundaries in place between you and the people that cause you to become stressed.

In addition, we recommend the use of a regular supplement to assist you during times of excess work load or emotional fatigue. Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea) is a perennial plant that grows at high altitudes in the Arctic regions of Europe and Asia. Extracts of the roots have been used in Scandinavian and European countries to combat fatigue, reduce the effects of stress and to aid convalescence during illness. Several psychometric tests conducted on subjects under pressure demonstrated a substantial reduction in fatigue-related symptoms and an improvement of various cognitive indicators that are medically associated with increased psychological stress. These include a recorded reduction in cortisol levels. Roseroot has a low side effect profile and is generally considered a safe and effective supplement.


  • DSM IV Diagnostic criteria for acute stress disorder
  • World Health Organisation Guidelines on conditions specifically related to stress, 2013
  • American Institute for Preventative Medicine, General Stress Management, 4th edition 2012

Sleep Patterns

The link between sleep, concentration, and mood.

Disrupted sleep may involve difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or an alteration in the quality of sleep. This leaves the individual feeling unrefreshed, emotionally depleted, and vulnerable to the development of various mental and physical disorders.

What is the purpose of sleep?

Metabolism is a complex biological chain reaction that fluctuates all day. Anabolism is the set of metabolic pathways that construct new molecules from smaller units mostly derived from food. While anabolism takes care of the building-up and creational aspects of metabolism, catabolism is responsible for the breaking-down and ultimate degradation of cellular components.

At night, during the sleep-cycle, many of the body’s systems go into ‘anabolic state’, a renewal process that is essential for the restoration of the immune, skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems. These are also required to optimally maintain the function of neurons which ultimately regulate mood, memory, and cognitive function.

Of the most pronounced physiological changes that happens in the body during sleep occurs in the brain. This is because sleep allows the brain to use significantly less energy for ‘thinking’, thereby allowing it to replenish its energy supply in the form of the molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate) required for nerve transmission, neurotransmitter production and nerve growth.

What are the consequences of poor sleep?

Sleep deprivation, also known as sleep insufficiency or sleeplessness, is the condition of not having adequate sleep duration and/or quality of sleep to support your normal level of alertness and mental performance to get your hardworking brain through the next day. Sleep insufficiency can be either chronic or acute and may vary widely in severity.

Research has demonstrated that individuals with sleep deprivation problems are more likely to display decreased levels of concentration, battle to keep their mood upbeat and have an increased risk of developing a mood disorder or chronic pain syndrome.

Why should sleep deprivation not be ignored?

Over the last thirty years the concept that sleep serves a restorative function has gained strong scientific support from several research studies. More of these are emphasizing the key role of deep and proper sleep.

Two common symptoms of not getting enough sleep or poor sleep are fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness. But having poor or insufficient sleep also increases one’s risk of developing a mood disorder such as depression and/or anxiety. This becomes a vicious cycle as sleep becomes more disturbed in a mood disorder, the mood disorder is more resistant to treatment unless the sleep disorder is concurrently treated, and lastly, any residual untreated sleep disorder increases the risk of relapse even after successful management of the mood disorder.

What does SleepVance contain?

SleepVance contains a unique blend of plant-derived (phytochemical) ingredients, vitamins and minerals known to promote healthy sleep patterns, increase sleep quality, and alleviate the daytime consequences of sleep deprivation. These are Valerian root (Valeriana officianalis), American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), Inositol, Glycine, Folate (as L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate), Magnesium, Vitamin B6, Vitamin D3, Vitamin C and Zinc.

What can SleepVance do for you?

  • SleepVance:
    • Aids with the promotion of healthy sleep patterns
    • Increases sleep quality
    • Alleviates the daytime consequences of sleep deprivation
    • It can be combined with any insomnia medication to improve sleep patterns

What are the side-effects and contra-indications of SleepVance?

  • SleepVance elicits natural sedative properties and should therefore not be taken before driving or operating heavy machinery.
  • Safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation has not been established and the administration of SleepVance during pregnancy and breastfeeding is therefore contraindicated.
  • Mild gastric irritation may occur if taken on an empty stomach, but generally, the natural ingredients in SleepVance have a low side effect profile.
  • Anyone with a known hypersensitivity or allergy to Valerian root, American skullcap, Passionflower, 5-HTP, Inositol or any other active or inactive ingredient in SleepVance should avoid taking SleepVance.

How should SleepVance be used?


Take two tablets on a daily basis 1-2 hours before bedtime with supper or a later pre-bedtime snack/drink (preferably not on an empty stomach).

Tablets may be crushed or chewed to facilitate swallowing.


SleepVance is not recommended for children under the age of 18 years.


SleepVance contains the amino acid 5-HTP pharmaceutically registered in some countries for adult use only. SleepVance kids, a specialised teenage formulation, is better suited for children between 8 and 18 years.


SleepVance is not recommended for children under the age of eight.

Immune Support
For Children

How Does A Child’s Immune System Develop?

Development of a child’s immune system begins in the womb. Here, although the organs and structures associated with the immune system are present, the activity of the immune system itself is low. In the womb, the mother transfers numerous antibodies to the foetus via the umbilical cord. These are trained to recognise organisms which the mother herself has been infected with during her lifetime, and so confer a level of protection to the infant once it is born.

Once a baby is born, it is suddenly exposed to a huge variety of antigens (molecules that the immune system can recognise) and foreign organisms. This is thought to be one reason why an infant’s immune system is suppressed during the first few months of life, as it could easily become overwhelmed and cause serious health issues. This also allows good bacteria transferred from the mother during birth to begin to colonise the baby’s intestines.

After birth, a child’s immune system begins to develop rapidly. This process is complex and not fully understood, with certain cells becoming active and transforming into new types of cells at specific stages.  During this stage, maternal antibodies are still active, protecting the baby while its immune system learns and develops. Breastfeeding also transfers protective antibodies to the infant, and can thus extend the protection offered by the mother. Maternal immunity generally does not last longer than about 6 months.

As the infant’s adaptive immune system becomes active, so does the extremely important and long process of training their immune system. From this point on, their body will be constantly learning to recognise what is dangerous, and how to defend against it. It is generally thought that a child’s immune system becomes mature at about 3 months. All this means, however, is that it is able to begin defending against and recognising invaders. It will still take a number of years before it is adequately able to recognise the numerous germs that can infect us.

How Can I Help Prevent My Child From Getting Sick?

Children will naturally get sick and it is impossible to completely protect them from invading organisms. It is possible, however, to prevent them from getting sick as often, and to speed up recovery. Most advice is centred upon encouraging a healthy lifestyle, ensuring the complex process that is the development and function of their immune system is optimal. The next best way to help prevent disease is to ensure your children are up to date with their vaccinations. To read more about vaccines, scroll to the bottom of this link.

Make sure that your children understand and practice good hygiene, regularly washing their hands, avoiding others who are sick, and being able to recognise something that potentially harbours infectious organisms. It is also good to teach them how to lower the risk of infecting others when they are sick, like by covering their mouths when they cough and washing their hands before touching anything that might be touched by others. Most common pathogens are either spread through the air or through touching infected surfaces.

Do I Need To Keep My Child Away From Germs Or Make Their Environment Sterile?

While maintaining hygiene is an important part of keeping healthy and avoiding infection, a developing immune system needs to learn to recognise what is dangerous and what is not, as well as develop immunity to as many organisms as possible. To keep your child safe, you should encourage regular hand washing, keep their environment clean and make sure they know what is safe to touch. To ensure their immune system develops properly and learns to control its response to every day challenges, however, it is necessary that they are exposed to environmental bacteria, viruses and allergens like pet fur. Children learn by holding, playing and chewing on new objects and things they find. Keeping them away from germs is therefore almost impossible. Instead of letting this stress you out, consider it a learning experience – not just for their minds, but for their immune systems too.

Most of the germs children come into contact with will stimulate the immune system and be removed and remembered for future. This prevents infection later in life, as well as allergic reactions to the environment once the immune system is fully developed. Allowing them to come into contact with low doses of viruses and bacteria can also help protect them at a later stage if they are infected by a larger dose of the same organism. Every day we inhale or ingest numerous harmful microorganisms, but because it is only one or a few the immune system can overcome them easily. When we ingest a large amount, like if eating infected food, the immune system struggles to dispose of all the pathogens before they establish an infection. For example, your child placing a small amount of E. coli present in the soil in their mouth is unlikely to cause disease, but does allow the immune system to learn to recognise it. Severe disease at a later stage if they ingest food or water contaminated with E. coli is therefore less likely.

How Can I Help Strengthen My Child’s Growing Immune System?

A child’s immune system is constantly changing and growing. In order to ensure that they have a strong and optimally functioning immune system, it is essential to ensure you do all you can to give it what it needs during this essential stage of development.

In order to strengthen your child’s immune system:

  • Ensure they receive a diet high in plant-based sources of nutrition. This should contain good sources of magnesium, selenium, zinc, iron and the vitamins A, C, D and E. If you are worried that your children are not receiving enough of these from their diet, you can give them a supplement designed to enhance immune function. Contact the MNI dietician at for healthy diet tips for you and your children.
  • Avoid processed foods and sugar. These have been linked to many health problems, including reducing the effectivity of the immune system and promoting inflammation.
  • Make sure they receive adequate amounts of good quality sleep. Sleep is important to a wide range of functions, and many developmental processes occur or are enhanced during sleep. This includes immune system development and function. Children should receive between 10 – 14 hours of sleep, depending on their age.
  • Reduce stress. This not only includes helping them to deal with issues at school and extramural activities, but promoting a family routine through ensuring meals, playtime and bed time (amongst others) occur at set times each day. Routine can be one of the best ways to reduce stress.
  • Ensure the environment is free from harmful substances. This is especially true for second hand smoke.
  • Encourage them to exercise and go outside regularly. This will not only help strengthen their immune system but also has a wide range of other benefits, including helping them establish a lifelong fitness routine.
  • Focus on healthy bacteria. The microbiome, or the normal suite of bacteria which live on and in us, serve many helpful roles in maintaining optimal health. Not only can they provide us with nutrients which may otherwise be inaccessible, but they also help prevent infection. Beneficial bacteria crowd out invaders and prevent their attachment, regulate our immune system and even produce their own antibiotics. The best way to help your children develop a healthy microbiome is to provide them with substances called pre and probiotics. Probiotics are small amounts of living healthy bacteria, and can be found in supplements and fermented foods such as certain types of yogurt. Prebiotics are the food which these bacteria eat, helping them to stay healthy and maintain adequate numbers to stave off potential infections. An important component of prebiotics is fibre, and while it can be supplemented, it is best sourced from unprocessed, plant-based food sources such as fruits and vegetables.

When Should I Take My Child To The Doctor (Colds & Flu)?

If you are in doubt at all about whether to visit the doctor, it is always best to take your child for a consultation or call your paediatrician to make sure. The younger your child, the more important this is.

Colds and flu will usually clear up on their own and generally require only over the counter treatment. In some cases, however, they can cause greater health issues, either by themselves, or because they can open the door to secondary, more dangerous infections. It is best to ensure you can recognise the signs that a cold or flu is developing into something more dangerous.

You should seek medical care or advice if your child is experiencing:

  • Persistent low grade fever
  • If the illness is getting worse, new symptoms develop, or the symptoms or illness are not getting better
  • Pain that is not reduced by over the counter medicines
  • Frequent vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Your child is under the age of three months
  • Refusal to eat or drink

You should seek immediate medical attention if your child is experiencing:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • A high and persistent fever
  • Skin colour changes
  • Dizziness, confusion or seizures
  • Dehydration
  • Severe rash


What Is A Fever And Is It Dangerous?

A fever is one of the many natural and normal responses of the body to infection. Most infectious organisms can only live, develop and reproduce efficiently at normal body temperature (37°C). When we become infected, the immune system signals to a structure at the centre of our brain, the hypothalamus, which is responsible for temperature regulation. It responds by increasing our body’s temperature, making it harder for the invading organism to spread and cause disease.

A fever is a body temperature over 38°C. It is very rare for an infection to cause a body temperature that is dangerously high, as the hypothalamus strictly regulates how high it should go. Most fevers don’t go past 40°C, and rarely past 41°C. Even though these fevers are high, they will generally still not cause harm. Dangerously high body temperatures are only really observed during hyperthermia, or when heat exposure, such as from being stuck in a locked car, makes it impossible for our body to adjust through normal mechanisms such as sweating.

It is important to note that depending on how you measure body temperature, normal temperature can be different. For example, a reading of 37.2°C and above using an armpit thermometer is considered a fever, while the threshold for an oral reading is 37.8°C. Be sure to check the threshold for fever according to the specific thermometer type you are using.

While a fever is often thought of as dangerous, it is therefore actually a very normal response to infection, and in most cases is beneficial.

When Should I Be Worried About A Fever?

Fevers may be seen as problematic in the following cases:

  • It lasts longer than 3 days: this is a sign that the infection is not clearing.
  • It is accompanied by worrying behavioural changes that would be considered more severe than what is observed normally during a cold or flu, such as refusal to eat and drink, lethargy or if your child appears seriously sick.
  • Temperature above 39°C.
  • Your child is younger than 3 months.
  • You are pregnant.
  • Your or your child is immunocompromised.
  • Your child’s fever does not respond to over the counter medication.
  • Any of the following symptoms are experienced:
    • Seizure
    • Loss of consciousness or confusion
    • Stiff neck
    • Trouble breathing
    • Severe pain or swelling at any part of the body
  • You are worried. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Rather call your doctor or pay them a visit if you are unsure.

How Should I Treat A Fever?

It is not usually necessary to treat low grade fevers (below 38.9°C) unless a doctor recommends it, and doing so may prolong the infection as lowering body temperature would allow the infection to spread. Treatment is usually symptomatic, and is recommended to make your child more comfortable.

Treatment of fevers can be achieved through using over the counter medicines such as paracetamol. Ask your pharmacist for a recommendation. Keep in mind that most of the normal symptoms of infection are actually your body’s defence against illness and so treating them can reduce the efficacy of your body’s response. Treatment should only take place when your child is feeling uncomfortable. It is important to note that once the medicine wears off the fever will return. This should not be any cause for concern. Once the body has control of the infection, usually after two or three days, the fever will subside.

Furthermore, ensure that your child is receiving enough liquid to prevent dehydration. For higher temperatures, placing the child in a lukewarm bath or a damp cloth on their forehead can provide some relief. Do not place them in cold water as this can cause more discomfort. Wrapping your child in blanket or clothes can also be problematic. Even though they may feel cold and be shivering, remember that their body temperature is actually above average. Doing this can therefore cause further body temperature rise or issues with temperature regulation.

What Are Febrile Seizures?

Febrile seizures are a relatively rare side effect of fever, occurring in only 2-4% of children under the age of 5. Of children who have febrile seizures, 40% will have another one in future, and children who are related to them are more likely to have one. While they may be unnerving and cause you to worry, they are not usually dangerous. Febrile seizures of normal duration, and even those that last over 15 minutes, do not appear to have significant negative effects, and are not linked to epilepsy.

Febrile seizures usually only last a few minutes. The signs that your child is experiencing a febrile seizure include:

  • Passing out
  • Jerking movements
  • Eye rolling
  • Rigid/stiff limbs

If your child experiences a febrile seizure, lower them onto a protected surface such as the floor and place them on their side. Do not place anything in their mouth or try to subdue/hold them down. Following a seizure, immediately contact your doctor. If the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, multiple seizures occur, your child exhibits problems breathing, their skin colour changes or your child does not recover quickly following a seizure, seek immediate medical attention.