By. Dr. Natasha Klemm ND
As you know, stress has a far-reaching impact on our whole body. Chronic stress leads to increased weight, mood changes, fatigue, recurrent infections and menstrual irregularities. It is the relationship that cortisol, our stress hormone, has with many hormones that leads to whole body dysfunction.
The major symptoms for which patients seek medical care are fatigue and weight gain. Couple this with changes in sleep and constipation and your doctor will rightfully order blood TSH levels, aka Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. TSH is produced by the brain and stimulates your thyroid gland to produce T4, which is converted to active thyroid gland, T3. Since TSH production is controlled by adequate amounts of T4 and T3, increased levels of TSH indicate reduced thyroid hormone output. If this occurs, patients are given synthetic thyroid hormone and may feel great initially, but require increasing doses to feel energetic. The problem is that excess cortisol levels are often at the root of thyroid dysfunction. Under highly stimulated and stressful states, the body wants to conserve nutrients and energy so cortisol turns its attention to the thyroid gland to slow down metabolism. Excess cortisol prevents the conversion of T4 to T3 and often promotes the conversion of T4 to an inactive form, called reverse T3. In addition, thyroid binding globulin protein increases, tying up any free thyroid hormone, making it unavailable for use.
Cortisol has a major impact on blood sugar regulation and insulin output, leading to increased diabetes risk. Increased cortisol output causes high blood sugar levels in an attempt to provide the body with more energy. But this leads to dysregulated release of insulin—the hormone that promotes sugar uptake into cells for energy production. And much of the sugar is not used for energy, but instead turns into fat around the abdomen—the fat that surrounds your vital organs. This leads to a roller coaster of high and low blood sugar levels that characterize a pre-diabetic state.
Estrogen & Progesterone
Women intuitively know that stress affects their menstrual cycle and PMS. Cortisol is produced from progesterone, a major female hormone. With chronic cortisol output, the progesterone steal occurs, leading to progesterone deficiency as all of it is shunted to cortisol production. This decline in progesterone is a major reason for female infertility, acne and PMS. In addition, this creates a relative imbalance whereby estrogen levels are higher than progesterone, causing a state known as estrogen dominance. With estrogen dominance, fibroids, ovarian cysts, irregular periods, and excess weight around the hips occurs, in addition to increased allergies and autoimmune diseases.
As the body continues to output cortisol, the need for other steroid hormones, such as progesterone, estrogen and testosterone declines. With a decline in testosterone levels, libido invariably declines. The testosterone that is produced is converted to a stronger acting make hormone, DHT. High DHT levels contribute to acne, facial hair and hair loss is women.
Lastly, The adrenal glands function to maintain blood pressure through the release of aldosterone. This hormone stimulates sodium retention, allowing water to follow suit, maintaining blood volume and thus blood pressure. When the adrenals are in overdrive they also produce high amounts of aldosterone, leading to sodium and water retention, and creating a feeling of bloatedness. Rings feel tighter, socks leave impressions and pants don’t zip up as easily. But as adrenal gland function declines, the production of aldosterone is reduced, leading to sodium and water loss. With less water, aka dehydration, blood volume is reduced and so is blood pressure. A hallmark of adrenal exhaustion is persistent low blood pressure and dizziness upon standing. Unfortunately at this stage, many of us feel so fatigued that we reach for coffee and tea to perk us up, which as diuretics, further perpetuate the state of dehydration and low blood pressure.
We have been told, time and time again that stress has a major impact on our body and intuitively we see how stress affects our waistlines, mood, energy levels and sexual function. With this knowledge, there is no better time to take action and reduce your stress levels!