The body creates over 100 hormones. Each of them play an important role in achieving harmony in the body, just like the instruments in an orchestra. When one is out of tune, the entire song will sound off. Start tuning up those squeaky strings and you’ve got yourself a beautiful symphony.
The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA-Axis) is the center of control for our body’s stress response. It involves signaling from the brain’s HQ, the hypothalamus, to the pituitary gland, which then triggers a release of hormones by the adrenal glands.
Flash back to paleolithic times. You are confronted with a giant hungry tiger who is ready to eat dinner. You’re pretty smart so you realize you will probably become said dinner if you don’t get up from your campfire and run. Like now.
In this situation, your hypothalamus in your brain triggers a stress response, which moves through the HPA-Axis to the adrenal glands. The adrenals are responsible for producing cortisol and other stress hormones that make it possible to make your getaway in such short notice.
Your stress response is made for situations like this. To keep you alive. The problem is that our bodies cannot tell the difference between being chased by a tiger and constant spikes and crashes in our blood sugar. The Standard American Diet and processed food industry have made this rollercoaster effect far too common. With a high spike in blood glucose comes a high spike in insulin, and when insulin overshoots its mark, blood sugar levels plummet. Say hello to stress.
Add this stress to the stress you’ve already accumulated through sleep deprivation, over-exercising, the job you hate and restrictive eating, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for hormonal disaster.
As we keep adding to our stress bucket, the adrenal glands’ main goal becomes pumping out more and more cortisol to balance that stress. Cortisol is necessary for balancing blood pressure and blood sugar, regulating sleep and managing inflammation to you know, keep us alive. Since we can’t burn fat, reproduce or have vibrant energy without being alive, adrenal function takes precedent over thyroid and sex hormone production.
The adrenals will actually steal nutrients and hormonal precursors aways from other parts of the endocrine system to maintain a constant output of cortisol during times of chronic stress. You can go round and round trying to get your cycle back, get pregnant, boost thyroid function or lose weight, but you can’t build a sturdy house on a wobbly foundation, and trying to achieve any of this without addressing your blood sugar and stress would be doing just that.
When the adrenals are on the hunt for extra fuel, they will suck minerals from just about every tissue in the body, depriving other organs and glands of the fuel they need to carry out their own functions, leading to a downward spiral of hormonal chaos.
Progesterone is a precursor for cortisol, so in times of chronic stress, the adrenals will utilize every bit of progesterone in the body, including what is made in the ovaries. With little to no progesterone, you will be left in a state of relative estrogen dominance. This might show up as symptoms like heavy and painful periods, bloating, mood swings, headaches, brain fog and weight gain around the hips and thighs. And to make matters worse, elevated cortisol essentially clogs the liver and prevents it from detoxing any excess hormones, aka furthering the estrogen dominance.
The elevated cortisol monster doesn’t stop there. The high amounts of circulating cortisol will desensitize the cells to insulin, causing insulin resistance. Now we’ve got high blood sugar and high insulin, which can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes or PCOS. PCOS is a perfect example of how a metabolic issue can turn into an imbalance in sex hormones. In this case, high insulin leads to high androgens like testosterone which can cause irregular or missing periods, hair loss, weight gain, acne and infertility. Because who wants to be pregnant while running from a hungry tiger?
The thyroid gland is especially sensitive to stressors like heavy metals, food allergies and hormonal imbalances. In response to estrogen and/or androgen dominance, the thyroid will take a hit, leading to decreased metabolism and eventually hypothyroidism. Estrogen dominance blocks the uptake of thyroid hormone in the cells and prevents the conversion of T4 into its active form, T3, in the liver.
Elevated cortisol will shift the body into survival mode and once again, shuttle all resources to the adrenals, shifting the thyroid into a more inactive state. Common symptoms of thyroid imbalance are feeling cold all the time, fatigue, hair loss, weight gain, mood symptoms, depression, brain fog, anxiety and many more. There are thyroid receptors all over the body, so when they are not receiving the proper amount of hormone, many different organs are not able to properly function.
When your body feels safe, it will begin to function properly.
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