How many times do we hear we shouldn’t be so stressed out? We should be in the constant namaste state of chill. Easier said than done, right? But unfortunately, we live in a fast-paced world where everything we do stresses us out. Even the morning alarm puts us in a stressful state.
What does all this stress do to our bodies? Where should I start? Let’s start with the hormone cortisol. In our primitive ancestor’s time, if we were face to face with a saber tooth tiger, the adrenal glands fired adrenaline to give us the burst of energy to our muscles to run. Noradrenaline mobilizes the brain and body to act and cortisol, which increases blood sugar for fuel or power. When the threat has passed, the adrenal glands stop firing, and these hormones return to normal levels.
Why would having chronically elevated cortisol levels disrupt the endocrine system balance? When constantly stressed, the high cortisol can lead to adrenal exhaustion, leading to even more dysregulation like insulin resistance, low DHEA, low T3, depression, increased cancer risk, obesity, intestinal dysbiosis, and the list continues.
In addition to the abovementioned issues, your liver takes a huge hit. The liver removes hormones that are in excess or no longer needed. The hormones must be broken down, conjugated, and removed from the body. Elevated cortisol levels decrease the effectiveness of the liver pathways that perform the conjugation.
The pancreas also takes a hit from high cortisol levels. As a result, the insulin receptors on cells do not respond adequately to insulin. This puts a significant strain on the pancreas to secrete more insulin to move glucose into the cells (chronic high insulin levels can result in diabetes and can lead to obesity).
And what about sleep? Chronic lack of sleep has been associated with several possible health consequences. These include lowered immunity, increased vulnerability to infections, lowered glucose tolerance, low morning cortisol levels, and increased carbohydrate cravings. Lack of sleep can also elevate the circulation of estrogen levels, upset hormonal balance, slow healing, and prolong the recovery period. Our physiology is delicate, and a cascade of dysfunction in any of our systems will lead to additional dysfunction. It’s a catch-22. When we’re not sleeping well, there’s decreased alertness and concentration that so many people experience.
Do you find yourself waking between 1 am and 4 am? If so, low nighttime blood sugar can also result from inadequate glycogen reserves in the liver. Cortisol causes these reserves to be broken down into glucose, which is then available to the cells. When low cortisol and glycogen reserves coincide, blood glucose will most likely drop, disrupting sleep. This is going back to possible adrenal dysfunction, and your practitioner should seek further evaluation.
In the end, the endocrine system takes a significant hit. When the body goes into fight or flight mode, more adrenal function is favored over reproduction, metabolic rate, and other endocrine functions. This is because the adrenal glands can “steal” nutrients and hormonal precursors from the rest of the endocrine system.
No,, it isn’t easy, but it’s essential for us to learn how things in our body work to understand and take better care of ourselves.
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