By Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP
In the article Stress – The Silent Killer – Part 1, we began a discussion of what happens to your body when you experience a stressful event or have ongoing, unrelenting stress. Too much stress can wreak havoc with your stress response system called the Hypothalamic/Pituitary/Adrenal (HPA) Axis.
Some people may be familiar with a different erroneous name for this dysfunctional response and call it adrenal fatigue or exhaustion. Actually it is much more complicated than your adrenal glands getting too tired so they can no longer produce the stress hormones called cortisol and DHEA. Low cortisol and DHEA levels may be caused by stress and most likely reflect HPA axis adaptation (down-regulation) to protect the body from excess cortisol and have little to do with the continued ability of the adrenal glands to produce hormones.
We also discussed the symptoms and the stages of adrenal dysfunction caused by too much stress and how to test for imbalances of the adrenal hormones.
In Part 2 we will review the four key stressors of the human body:
Blood Sugar Control
Mental and Emotional Stress
Insomnia/sleep cycle disturbances
When most people think of stress they usually define it as related to an emotional or mental event such as job loss, death in the family, financial difficulties or suffering from marital discord. There are 3 other key drivers of stress in the body as well – blood sugar imbalances, inflammation, and inadequate sleep. Each of these are potent stimulators of the stress hormone called cortisol. For example, you may have very little emotional stress in your life and you may be getting 8 hours of restful sleep each night but if you are eating a poor diet, filled with soda, alcohol and sugary foods then your cortisol and your insulin levels will be going up and down too often and too quickly. Another example is someone who is eating healthy but how has a high level of inflammation in his or her body. That inflammation is communicating to the brain/HPA axis to put out cortisol in order to squelch the inflammatory fire. The specific cause of the HPA axis activation may be different from person to person. The end result is that if the HPA axis is required to continually work hard, then your cortisol and it’s counterbalancing hormone, DHEA, will eventually become unbalanced and so will other systems in your body.
Here are questions to help you get to the root cause of your HPA axis dysfunction:
Blood Sugar Imbalance:
- Do you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia such as dizziness, shakiness, brain fog between or following meals?
- Do you frequently miss or delay meals?
- Do you frequently crave sugar or carbohydrates?
- Do you consume excessive sugar or refined carbohydrates?
- Are you diabetic or pre-diabetic?
- Do you regularly consume alcohol or caffeine?
Mental and Emotional Stress:
- Do you frequently experience anxiety?
- Do you suffer from depression?
- Do you suffer from mood swings?
- Do you have difficulty getting motivated?
- Do you frequently experience feelings of agitation, anger, fear or worry?
Sleep Cycle Disturbances:
- Are you experiencing problems falling asleep?
- Are you experiencing problems staying asleep?
- Are you not sleeping enough hours?
- Are you not able to fall into a deep sleep?
- Do you suffer from light cycle disruption or shift work issues?
- Do you frequently feel drowsy throughout the day”?
- Musculoskeletal: do you suffer from headaches, muscle, back or joint pain?
- Gastrointestinal: do you suffer from IBS, Crohn’s disease or diverticulitis?
- Dermatological: do you suffer from hives, eczema or psoriasis?
- Respiratory: do you suffer from asthma, bronchitis, seasonal allergies or hay-fever?
- Auto-immune” do you suffer from an auto-immune condition such as MS, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis?
- Immunological: do you suffer from food allergies, chronic infections or frequent illness?
Once you have identified your top stressor(s) you can begin to focus on strategies to lessen them. Part 3 of this series of articles will address ways to help you regulate your blood sugar through diet and lifestyle change, support your mental and emotional health, improve your sleep and lessen your body’s inflammatory burden.
With the right information, stress hormone testing, and lifestyle changes you can take control of your stress! Your health depends on it!
Please attend our End Hormone Havoc seminar to learn more about stress and its’ affects on the HPA axis and treatment options.
The Role of Stress and the HPA Axis in Chronic Disease Management by Thomas Guilliams, PhD. (2015).
Patient Stress Recovery Program handbook – published by Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center (2014).
Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP, is a woman’s hormone expert and the owner of Wise Woman Wellness LLC, an innovative wellness and hormone care center at 1480 Swan Road, De Pere. Mann is the author of the eBook: A Guide to Gluten and Going Gluten Free. She is a board certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner, one of a handful in Wisconsin and less than 1600 worldwide to achieve this distinction. She combines the best of conventional, functional and integrative medicine to help women with female, thyroid and adrenal hormone issues to live healthier, more abundant, joy-filled lives using a blend of compassion, cutting edge science, practical guidance and humor. Contact her at 920-339-5252 or via the Internet at www.wisewomanwellness.com. Attend the introductory seminar, “End Hormone Havoc – Crazy Hormones Cause Fatigue, Weight Gain and Brain Fog and How to Fix Them!”, offered monthly, to learn about specialized thyroid, adrenal and female hormone testing and customized, bioidentical hormone treatments to achieve lifelong optimal hormone balance, increased vitality and longevity.
Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP