Stress is a response from the brain can create a cascade of side effects both mental and physical. The brain can change chemically and structurally in response to chronic or acute stressors. As well as various mediators, glucocorticoids and catecholamines are two hormones that play a significant role in these changes. They create the fight or flight response found during periods of stress.
Stress affects both men and women, and the differences in how both chronic and acute stress are processed physiologically can differ between the sexes.
What are the main stress hormones?
There are several mental and physical reactions that can occur during times of stress. There are also a number of hormones that can be produced during times of stress.
This is the fight or flight hormone. If a stressful situation presents itself, adrenaline is released from the adrenal glands. It’s the primary hormone that occurs at the onset of stress. This can cause the muscles in the body to tense, the heart to begin to pound, and the person to sweat. Although these symptoms may seem negative they also give the body a sudden boost of energy to escape a potentially dangerous event.
This is similar to adrenaline and is also released from the adrenal glands. Like adrenaline, norepinephrine generates arousal. The stressed individual will become more awake, aware and focused. This hormone moves blood away from the skin and into the muscles so the person can be ready to quickly leave a stressful environment.
Although the presence of norepinephrine may seem redundant to adrenaline, it acts as a backup system. If the person’s adrenal glands have somehow been compromised the norepinephrine generates an added boost to rescue the person from the stressful situation.
This is a steroid hormone which is normally referred to as a stress hormone and is also produced in the adrenal glands. Cortisol kicks in a bit slower than the other two. Instead of seconds, it is activated in a few minutes. It’s a multi-step process for this hormone to be produced because it involves two other minor hormones.
In a life-threatening situation, the proper amounts of cortisol are crucial. It’ll maintain blood pressure and balance and also regulate body functions that aren’t critical in the situation like immunity, growth, and digestion. But if a person is stuck in a continuously stressful environment, elevated levels of cortisol can lead to health issues. Too much can increase blood pressure, weaken the immune system, decrease libido, and contribute to obesity.
People in chronic stress situations may have long-term health problems due to chronically elevated levels of cortisol. Testosterone and oestrogen are also hormones that can contribute to how the body reacts to stress. But the fight or flight reactions are primarily caused by the three hormones listed above.
Can stress cause weight gain?
When a person is under a great deal of stress the body alters the way in which it processes food. Cortisol and adrenaline will draw energy from stored fats and carbohydrates. During this process, the body will become less sensitive to the hormone that makes us feel full, so the person may consume larger portions of food than they normally do.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary with this process, it’s just part of the body’s fight or flight response. This evolved long ago in humans to escape from danger or fight to survive. The stress triggers of the modern world are different from those our ancestors faced, but the physical response remains unchanged. So unless a person needs to run away from a wild animal they don’t need all of those extra calories for energy. They end up being stored as fat.
Problems with weight gain occur in women that are in a constant state of high stress. Especially if they are operating under high levels of cortisol for long periods.
During periods of long-term adrenal stress imbalance, the level of cortisol is elevated in the blood and generates too much glucose. If the glucose isn’t being spent on energy production it ends up being stored as fat. This primarily occurs in the abdominal fat cells. Fat cells have receptors for cortisol and there are more cortisol receptors in abdominal fat cells than anywhere else in the body.
Can stress affect women’s hormones?
The body creates stress hormones that are produced in the endocrine system. These hormones help you react to certain situations that require attention and energy. If you’re rushing to catch a train to the airport or having to speak to a room full of colleagues you may occasionally feel these surges of adrenaline and other hormones.
But if stress hormones are released on a regular basis they may remain in the bloodstream for longer periods creating an imbalance. Without proper stress management, these symptoms can wreak havoc on your health.
Stress hormones are only supposed to be released occasionally, but in modern life, feeling stressed out can become a daily state of mind. If a person is chronically stressed all the time it can cause high blood pressure, weight gain, thyroid issues, immune deficiencies, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and gastronomical disorders.
An overabundance of stress can cause irregular infertility, irregular menstrual cycles and decreased libido. Because stress can trigger changes in the mood it can lead to problems in one’s social interactions. Too much stress in one’s life creates a hormonal imbalance that can have long-term negative effects on your overall life.
What are the biggest health risks for women who are chronically stressed?
- Heart disease. Stress can cause high blood pressure and heart problems. Stress causes the release of triglycerides and cholesterol into the bloodstream. Stress can be linked to other problems like obesity and smoking which both affect heart health. Sudden and acute stress can trigger heart attacks in some people. Anyone with heart problems should avoid stressful situations and take stress-management precautions during unavoidable stressful periods.
- Obesity. Having excess abdominal fat poses a greater health risk than fat in the legs or hips. But the belly is where those with high-stress store it. Stress creates high levels of cortisol and that can increase the amount of fat in the abdomen.
- Diabetes. Stress raises glucose levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. It can also increase the possibility that people may engage in unhealthy eating habits and excessive consumption of alcohol. Both of these can worsen the symptoms of diabetes.
- Gastronomical issues. Stress doesn’t cause ulcers but it can make them worse. Stress is also common in other chronic GI disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, and acid reflux disease.
Strategies for Stress Reduction
It’s important to develop an awareness of why and when you’re feeling stressed. Finding the source of your stress is the first step to addressing and fixing a stress-induced imbalance in your hormones. By becoming aware and remaining calm during stressful situations you’ll be more in control of your overall reactions to external stressors.
Here are some ideas to help eliminate hormone imbalance and reduce the effects of stress in your life.
- Seek emotional support from friends and family
- Evaluate and adjust your work/life balance
- Establish and maintain a healthy diet
- Minimise consumption of alcohol and caffeine
- Improve regular sleep habits
- Practice deep breathing, mindfulness or meditation
- Explore supplements than can help support healthy moods
- Establish a realistic exercise routine
Also, if you’re chronically stressed, the help of a therapist may help you to manage your stress a bit better and improve your health. Paying attention to your reactions and how you feel during times of stress may help you to identify and help treat a hormonal imbalance in your body.
Key Takeaways about Stress and Hormone Health
Stress is something we all have to deal with in our daily lives. But chronic stress is linked to serious health problems. Managing stress is possible by adding in some positive life changes such as exercise, a healthy diet, socialising with friends and family, and getting enough sleep.
If you’ve been looking for a little extra help on your stress-free journey, reach out to the health professionals at HERCs. We can provide you with any supplements you may need for your health and wellness goals. We offer same-day delivery in Calgary and the Greater Toronto Area.
Suggestions for Stress Management and Stress Relief
There are several supplement solutions available to help manage stress in the body. Here are a few that may offer support to your stress management plan.
This is a natural cortisol management supplement that’s designed to manage levels of stress and improve mental clarity and enhance mood. It can help reduce anxiety and increase peaceful productivity during stressful times.
This is a herbal supplement that will increase your energy while lowering your stress levels. It will create a peaceful mind without making you feel sleepy. While preserving healthy adrenal function, it will support your central nervous system and maintain healthy cortisol levels.
PEScience TruMulti Women's Formula
This supplement contains 13 vitamins and 11 minerals, plus Ashwagandha (KSM-66) which helps manage stress and maintain the mood. This will help with the daily support of any cortisol spikes that are triggered by stress.