Unmanaged stress is alarmingly prevalent in 21st century living. We are all motivated by an amount of ‘good’ stress referred to as Eu Stress. But when stress is chronic or prolonged, it has a negative impact on our health, especially our hormone balance. It has been reported that nowadays, it is more often psychological stress (work, divorce, ageing parents, financial stress) rather than physiological stress that has the capacity to elevate and maintain a chronic stress response, causing symptoms as well as illness and disease consequences.
Eckhart Tolle says stress is caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there’. Anything that threatens our safety, produces a stress response. The opposite of love is not hate, but fear. In a LOVE state, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is active whilst in a FEAR state, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) (fight/flight/freeze/fright response) is dominant. Sympathetic overdrive or sympathetic dominance is all too common and has a negative impact on our health.
Too many people are consuming pharmaceutical drugs to manage thyroid or sex hormone irregularities, without their STRESS (adrenal gland function and cortisol) response having been thoroughly investigated and addressed. The adrenal, thyroid and sex hormones all intricately interplay and ‘dance’ with each other to keep the body in a state of balance.
Poor quality or insufficient sleep
Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenal Axis produces a ‘soup’ of hormone responses that interplay with each other, and also affect different organs.
All hormones are communicators and are synthesized from common pre-cursors or building materials including cholesterol and pregnenolone. The ‘cortisol steal’ occurs when the building materials for other hormones (thyroid and sex hormones) are ‘used up’ for the production of cortisol (stress response). This ‘cortisol steal’ therefore results in low sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen and progesterone) and/or low thyroid hormones. The order of hormone production from the common building blocks or pre-cursors is always:
Adrenal hormones first, then thyroid hormones, then sex hormones.
This explains why chronic unmanaged stress leads to thyroid and/or sex hormone dysfunction. The building blocks or pre-requisite compounds for the formation of cortisol (stress hormone) and the sex hormones are the same. When the body is under stress, what is known as ‘cortisol steal’ occurs. This means that the building blocks always give preference to the formation of cortisol over the formation of the sex and thyroid hormones. ‘Cortisol steal’ explains how and why chronic stress results in low thyroid and low sex hormone production.
Converting amino acids to glucose in the liver
Increasing glycogen in the liver
Increasing Fatty Acids into the blood
Decreasing the inflammatory response
Preventing the loss of sodium through urine
2.) Adaptation is the second stage of stress where cortisol levels are chronically elevated, while DHEA levels decrease. in this phase, we experience feeling ‘stressed’ along with anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, PMS and even depression. Prolonged elevated cortisol levels result in one or many of the following:
Increased inflammation and cell damage
Stimulates fat deposits, especially around the abdomen
Increases blood pressure
Increases protein breakdown and the demineralisation of bone
Suppresses the immune system
Increases blood sugar
Suppresses emotions (depression)
Causes memory loss
3.) Exhaustion or burn out is the third phase of prolonged exposure to stress. Low cortisol levels result from the associated adrenal fatigue or insufficiency and DHEA levels remain low. We experience extreme fatigue and depression is common with this stage of exhaustion or burn-out. Other health conditions associated with exhaustion may include:
Gastro-intestinal dysfunction and malnutrition
Thyroid dysfunction especially Hypo-thyroidism
Type 2 diabetes
Memory impairment and cognitive decline
OCD or a need for excessive exercise (ironically)
Panic attacks and melancholic depression
Physical and/or psychological stress
Toxin exposure (endogenous or exogenous including chemicals in grooming & household products)
Infections (bacteria, viruses, parasites, yeast)
Allergens/sensitivities (mold, dust, pollen, food etc)
Food – both insufficiency and excess as well as inflammatory foods
Poor sleep (disrupted or insufficient)
Increased evening cortisol (cortisol should be high in the morning)
Increased insulin and blood glucose (insulin resistance)
Increased appetite (weight gain)
Increased pro-inflammatory cytokines
Increased blood pressure
Increased SNS, with decreased PNS
Book an appointment with a Functional Medicine Health and Lifestyle coach to more effectively manage chronic stress and its negative impacts on health.
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BIO: Chantal is a B.Sc.Hons Allied Health with an international diploma in Nutrition and Sports Nutrition. Chantal is a passionate Gut Health advocate & Functional Medicine Health & Lifestyle Coach, specialising in the improvement and management of the chronic diseases of lifestyle, the illnesses and diseases associated with dietary excess and their relationship to leaky gut and dysbiosis (imbalance) of the gut microbiome. These conditions include IBS, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, overweight, obesity, acne, eczema, depression, anxiety, auto-immune, hormone imbalance, cancer, cognitive decline etc.
Over her 25 year career, Chantal has held various positions within the health and wellness industry – including 10 years as the Executive Head of Vodacom’s corporate wellness & mobile health programs. Chantal is the owner/ founder of the DripBar which offers vitamin and mineral drip therapy in improving micronutrient deficiencies. She is also the founder/owner of a Kombucha brewery which produces the brand of organic green tea ‘booch’ called theFarmacy.
Chantal is a competitive cyclist, a plant strong vegan and mom to two grown up girls.
To book a health coaching session: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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This blog post contains information that is not designed to take the place of,
substitute, or replace any form and method of professional or medical advice
and treatment or medicine. All content is the author’s opinion and is not
intended to diagnose and remedy. The facts and figures contained in this
document are presented solely for informational and educational purposes