Many of the patients I see in my clinic in Tempe, Arizona are struggling with endocrine imbalances or hormone dysfunction that is triggered by stress. Of course, when they come into the clinic, they aren’t always aware that stress is triggering a hormone imbalance, so I think the information in this final blog post in my series on stress is really important.
Stress affects every aspect of our wellbeing, and since nothing happens in our bodies independently, it also affects our hormone production.
When you are stressed, your body produces higher amounts of a stress hormone called cortisol.
The elevation of this hormone makes it difficult for your body to regulate the production of other hormones, especially those necessary for optimal thyroid function. In this instance, the increase in cortisol causes an increase in thyroid hormone TSH, which increases your risk of developing hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s.
In addition to affecting the thyroid, prolonged elevation of cortisol can also affect the endocrine glands by triggering an increase in the production of an adrenal hormone called DHEA.
This increase can cause symptoms like:
- hair loss
- trouble focusing
- difficulty concentrating
But as you know, what goes up must come down. If you are under stress for a prolonged period of time, both your cortisol levels and your DHEA levels will decline. This happens when your endocrine system and adrenal glands become fatigued from overuse.
This condition is commonly referred to as adrenal fatigue and can be assessed using a saliva test. If your stress levels are causing adrenal fatigue and hormone imbalance, your test results will show one of the following:
- Minimal production of both cortisol and DHEA
- An increase of cortisol production at night with minimal production in the morning – the opposite of what is ideal and normal.
Unfortunately, the effects of prolonged stress don’t stop there.
In women, prolonged exposure to stress can also trigger an imbalance in the production of female hormones.
When cortisol increases, the production of bad estrogens also increases. This can cause you to become estrogenic, or estrogen dominant, resulting in the following symptoms:
- Increase in abdominal, inner thigh, and arm fat
- Digestive upset
- Heavy, painful menstrual cycles and PMS
- Acne, especially on your chin
- Breast Tenderness
- Decrease in libido
- Fertility challenges
- Increased risk of postpartum depression
In an effort to restore balance, your body will decrease the production of sex hormones progesterone and testosterone when estrogen production is increased.
Progesterone and testosterone help you to cope with stress, so without them, you may feel less relaxed and resilient than you would if they were being produced at optimal levels.
Another hormone imbalance that can be triggered by stress is insulin – the higher your cortisol levels, the more insulin your body produces. This can cause:
- Increase in body fat, especially belly fat
- Greater risk of developing diabetes
In many of the cases that I see in my clinic, chronic stress is the root cause of hormone imbalance, so the treatment plan will inevitably include stress management as a key component.
I may also recommend supplements to help remedy the hormone imbalance. A few that I recommend commonly:
In some instances, hormone therapy – replacement or detoxification – is also necessary to balance the production of testosterone and progesterone.
Stress can cause a host of health concerns, but if you suspect that stress may be triggering a hormone imbalance in your body, be sure to check in with a healthcare practitioner that you trust for testing and treatment.
You can also try to incorporate a few of the relaxing, holistic therapies that I mentioned in the previous blog post to help decrease your stress levels. The recommendations I’ve included in this series are all practices that I have incorporated into my wellness routine and those that my patients have incorporated with positive results.
I hope you find them to be just as helpful.