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The Stress-Salt-Sugar-Sex Connection

We have discussed so far about how the body handles stress and the strong connection between stress, adrenal hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine, and cortisol) and insulin interaction as we manage stress. Today, I am going a step further as we look at adrenal hormones interactions with DHEA and our sex hormones.

We have discussed so far about how the body handles stress and the strong connection between stress, adrenal hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine, and cortisol) and insulin interaction as we manage stress. Today, I am going a step further as we look at adrenal hormones interactions with DHEA and our sex hormones.

Dehydioepiandrosterone, in short DHEA, is connected with the adrenal hormones in more ways than one. First, DHEA is a natural form of steroid produced in the adrenal gland itself (as well as in gonads, ovaries and brain). Secondly, cortisol and all male and female hormones are related to DHEA and cholesterol as shown in the following metabolic pathway chart.

 

The simplest way to understand the above chart is to start looking at the outcome (bottom item) of the 3 columns presented. The left-hand column ultimately regulates our body’s salt content (mineralocorticoid), the center column regulates sugar (glucocorticoid) and the right hand column manages our sex functions (androgen and estrogens). As one can see, these 3 major areas of our bodily function are closely related and highly interdependent on one another and to our adrenal gland.

A case in point, adrenal fatigue can affect the amount of DHEA secreted in the adrenals, reducing the body’s ability to metabolize sex hormones and produce normal sex hormone levels. Conversely, reduced progesterone production in the ovaries can diminish the amount of cortisol and adrenaline manufactured in the adrenal glands. As shown below, the male testosterone has a inverse relationship with stress hormone cortisol.

Image result for stress hormone connectionsIs it still surprising to you that we may experience a wide-range of possible ill-effects related to stress? For example, diabetes (sugar), hypoglycemia (sugar), hyperglycemia (sugar), kidney dis-functions (salt/mineral process), heart diseases (salt/mineral imbalance), joint inflammation and muscle atrophy (cortisol triggered gluconeogenesis effect), brain and mental illnesses (neurotransmitter deficiencies), male and female reproductive functions (controlled by several hormones produced at the adrenal glands), and many other areas are all inter-related to one another in our body’s complex metabolism system.

Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not saying that these serious health concerns are all and only caused by stress. That would be wrong! Quite contrary, each and every one of these health challenges may very well have their own dominant factors that have not been described here. However, what I am saying is that the stress factor should not be easily set aside. You and I should examine our bio-physical and non-bio-physical aspects of who we are into account as we endeavor on this holistic wellness journey of our lives. Stress is one of those we should not ignore!

As described in our earlier blogs on this subject, high level of cortisol production is secreted from the adrenal glands into our blood stream to prepare our body for an on-going stressful event. This triggers a myriad of sequences of action to better prepare us for the fight or flee emergency mode. When the crisis is over, by means of para-sympathetic autonomic nervous system’s actions, it returns our body back to the normal restful and relaxed mode of operation. However, in modern day living, we experience too frequently low- to mid-level of stress in a on-going basis, our adrenal gland never quite reaches a “fully restful” state. As a result, these glands can be easily exhausted. When that happens, the adrenal glands can no longer sustain the appropriate response required for a given stress. The adrenal fatigue sets in and all of the hormone levels become  sub-optimal at best.

Some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue may include pronounced and constant fatigueness, flagging motivation, depressed mood, change in appetite, and overall weakness.

From the charts shown here, the natural progesterone and pregnenolone may be explored as one of the methods of helping your body to balancing the cortisol and sex hormones. In short, natural and bio-identical progesterone, for example, may indirectly aid in regulating our body’s salt, sugar, and both male and female sex functions.

I am not going to make this any more complicated than it can be. I believe we have established a high level understanding about the connection between stress, adrenaline, cortisol, insulin, and hormones. If one suffers any of the symptoms related to any of the above areas, it would be prudent to visit a medical professional who is anand ask for evaluation in all of these inter-dependent area for a better understanding of the root cause and hopefully help us to find appropriate holistic solutions.

Speaking of solutions, that’s what we are going to dedicate the next few blogs on. Stay tuned….

 

Resources:

“The Miracle of Bio-Identical Hormones,” by Michael E. Platt, M.D.

“Beyond Fight or Flight,” by Robert M. Sargis, MD, PhD

http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do/cortisol

“Adrenaline Dominance – A Revolutional Approach to Wellness,” by Michael E. Platt, MD

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The Stress-Cortisol-Insulin Connection

In summary, we learned that our body is well-equipped to handle stress through different channels as described here but it is designed to deal with it on a short and rare unexpected conditions. Not as the way modern day urban living dictates, a continuous cyclical set of low- to mid-range stresses one after another 24X7. The long term stressful lifestyle can and will lead to strenuous adrenaline-insulin-hormone imbalances with very undesirable health consequences.

To help us handle stress, adrenaline affects a variety of different parts of our body function. For example, it functions as a hormone (a well known fact) as described in our last blog, and as a neurotransmitter in the brain (not so well known). Our body produces adrenaline in large quantity in possible two scenarios – under physical stress or mental/emotional stress. That is why stress can be real or perceived (not real). But in effect, both of them causes the same effect of adrenaline release in our body.

Besides adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones, there is yet another hormone secreted by the adrenal gland (albeit by its external cortex section) that is also designed for helping us to deal with stress. Its name is cortisol. Unlike adrenaline which is activated directly by the instant electrical communication through the neurons, cortisol is activated biochemically by the pituitary gland which in turn is activated biochemically by the hypothalamus gland. Our body have cortisol receptors in just about every cell. As a result, cortisol has a wide range of impact when we go under stress.

The mechanism responsible for triggering cortisol release when our body determines there is insufficient amount of glucose in our blood to sustain brain functions (glucose is our brain’s main source of energy). The brain under the duress of lack of glucose, will call on the body to produce sugar from stored protein in our muscles through a metabolic process called gluconeogenesis, a process mediated by cortisol. It’s been stipulated that cortisol is also involved in the glycogenolysis process, which converts glycogen stored in the liver into sugar.

Our brain uses more sugar than any other tissue in our body. When sugar level falls, our brain “falls to sleep”. We get shaky, fainty, and bitchy – pardon my French (just trying to get the sentiment across. Besides they rhyme). Medically this is called hypoglycemia. Clearly it is a stressful situation for our body. From survival point, our body is designed to do everything and anything to supply the brain with proper amount of fuel. Cortisol and adrenaline hormones are its agent to initiate the fastest action to tap into the reserves to accomplishing that goal.

The most likely thing we do when we reach a low glycemic level in our blood is to reach for the high-sugar high-calorie foods. When that becomes our every mid-afternoon habit, we have created a craving event that will stimulate the production of insulin to send the glucose from our blood stream into muscle and fat cells on a regular basis. If we do not immediately utilized that energy surge by means of exercise or a burn off event, we build up fatty tissues in the belly area as our new energy storage units. And gain weight!

The excess amount of insulin needed to handle the excess sugar can cause a periodic low sugar level in the blood as well. Which triggers our stress hormones to start it up again to convert more sugar from the protein and other sources. Rounds and rounds of this can go on throughout the day causing a health condition dubbed syndrome X or metabolic syndrome. The interplay between the adrenaline/cortisol and sugar/insulin is a key factor in diabetes, syndrome X, hypertension, unexplained weight gain, hyperglycemia, and a whole array of other modern day illnesses.

But now, we have more than one hormone acting in parallel of each other to bring about the stress-adrenaline/cortisol-sugar-insulin-adrenaline/cortisol cascade cycles. This can obviously not be good for us on a daily and on-going basis. Despite of its desirable anti-inflammatory effects, excessive amount of cortisol over a long time can cause calcification of coronary arteries, plaques in carotid arteries, thyroid dysfunction, weight gain, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, mood swings, increased thirst and frequent urination to name a few.

In summary, we learned that our body is well-equipped to handle stress through different channels as described here but it is designed to deal with it on a short and rare unexpected conditions. Not as the way modern day urban living dictates, a continuous cyclical set of mid-range stresses one after another 24X7. The long term stressful lifestyle can and will lead to strenuous adrenaline-insulin-hormone imbalances with very undesirable health consequences.

We will dig into the hormone connection to stress and sugar imbalances specifically in our next blog.

Don’t mean to end this blog on such a negative note, but I ran out of space. In the next few blogs, let’s take a look at what actions can we take to mitigate our body and mind to handling the inevitable stress (however big or small) that bombards us every day.

 

Resources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11724664

“Beyond Fight or Flight,” by Robert M. Sargis, MD, PhD

http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do/cortisol

“Adrenaline Dominance – A Revolutional Approach to Wellness,” by Michael E. Platt, MD

 

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