Does Stress Impact Your Hormone Health? (Hint: It Does!) April 04, 2017
“Adrenaline” and “cortisol” are the two hormones that regulate the sympathetic nervous system in response to stress, and they directly influence mood, energy, sleep, and mental functioning. The amount of each hormone your adrenal glands produce is related to the amount of stress you experience. Common stressors include juggling work and family issues; being laid off or looking for work; financial troubles; loss of a parent or child; divorce or separation; difficulty with teenagers, or caring for children with physical or mental challenges; caregiving for aging parents; and many more. Chronic stress is defined as "stress that lasts for more than three months," and it can upset your hormone balance at any age.
When your brain perceives a threat -- seeing your toddler reach for a hot pan, or sensing the car in front of you swerve suddenly -- your adrenal glands pump out adrenaline. Adrenaline, the "fight-or-flight" hormone, quickly signals your stored fat cells to release energy for dealing with the short-term threat. This energy rush is supposed to recede when the stressful or threatening event is over. However, when the body experiences chronic stress, this healthy process does not work as intended. Instead of pumping out more adrenaline, chronic stress causes the adrenal glands to secrete more cortisol, often called the “stress hormone.” Cortisol’s job is to regulate your body’s functions in response to stress. Cortisol levels initially rise in response to a stressful event — but if stress is ongoing, the adrenal glands become exhausted trying to produce elevated amounts, and eventually they are unable to produce even normal amounts. When cortisol levels remain too high or too low for an extended period of time, the disequilibrium wreaks havoc on the body. Out-of-normal-range cortisol levels destroy healthy muscle and bone, slow down healing and normal cell regeneration, impair digestion, cause abdominal weight gain, lead to insulin resistance, dull mental processes, interfere with healthy endocrine function, and weaken your immune system.
When the adrenal glands malfunction, it can trigger a serious syndrome known as "adrenal fatigue." Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, although a single stressful event, or even severe medical illness can also be the cause. People with adrenal fatigue experience a range of symptoms in addition to fatigue, including body aches, trouble concentrating, racing thoughts, irritability, moodiness, feeling overwhelmed, and cravings for sweet and salty foods. Adrenal fatigue can also trigger sex hormone imbalances, bringing more uncomfortable symptoms into play, such as low libido, weight gain, difficulty sleeping, and even depression. People with early-stage adrenal fatigue may look and act relatively normal to those around them, but if symptoms are not addressed, adrenal fatigue can worsen. In late-stage cases, people may become so fatigued they can only get out of bed for a few hours a day. As soon as you recognize the symptoms you are experiencing are related to stress and reduced adrenal function, it is time to start healing your adrenals. We know that "stress kills," therefore, making stress management medicine and self-care a priority is vital: it can literally protect you from illness and help you live a longer and healthier life. So what can you do?
(1) You can reverse stress-related hormone imbalance and adrenal fatigue. With the targeted use of pharmaceutical-grade supplements and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), you can turn back the clock on the physical damages of stress. At the Ageless & Wellness Medical Center, we check your hormone levels to verify the physical effects of stress on your body. We recommend natural bioidentical formulations and adaptogenic herbal supplements to heal adrenal damage.
(2) Lifestyle changes can help heal your body too. Getting at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep; making time to laugh and do things that make you feel good; spending time with people who lift your spirits; seeing a therapist to discuss difficult issues; getting regular exercise; reducing your intake of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol -- all these self-care strategies can help reduce your stress and thereby heal your system.
(3) You can prevent future stress from wreaking havoc on your health. By consistently caring for your body with healthy whole foods, regular exercise, steady hormone health, and an attitude of gratitude, you will be able to manage stress more easily. Nothing can prevent stress; however, you have the power to weaken or eliminate the impact of stress on your body and your life.
(4) Not all stress is bad. A certain amount of stress in life is inevitable. Recent research shows that our perception of stress plays a role in exacerbating its impacts. If we think stress is bad, we resist, and sometimes make it worse! Therefore, one of your stress management techniques might be to change your outlook when stress inevitably arises in your life. It can be helpful to see your body's stress response as a "partner" in helping you meet your challenges. Your natural stress response is nature's "early alert" system to help you get back in balance — so pay close attention!
Remember that healing your adrenals takes time and requires healthy choices and consistency. If you need hormone healing help, give us a call. We help people manage stress and hormone imbalance every day — and we can help you too!