It is not your imagination. Yes, you are gaining weight despite eating what works for you and yes, you can blame stress for your expanding waistline. But the effects of stress don’t end there. Feel like you’re running on fumes? That’s stress. Depressed, raging hormones, snapping at co-workers and your kids? That’s stress too. Worse–premature aging and chronic illness, are all by-products of the S word. A never ending list of to-do’s, job pressures, family stressors, exercising too intensely and constant exposure to technology are some of the reasons why we feel like there’s never enough time and are 10 steps behind.
Why does stress affect us so much? And more importantly, what can you do about it? Stress, in and of itself is not necessarily bad. In fact, we need the stress response to fight infections and keep us safe. A stress response can also mean excitement too– think of a first date, or the thrill of a job promotion. The issue with stress is when it doesn’t go away and becomes chronic. When the periods of stress are too high and you don’t have enough of a relaxation response your body goes haywire.
In my practice, I always look at thyroid hormones and two hormones that I like to call your “base hormones” Dhea and Pregnenolone . Low levels of Dhea and Pregnenolone are signs that your adrenal system is under great stress. Pregnenolone is produced in our adrenals and is the base hormone from which nearly all other steroid hormones are made, including Cortisol, Dhea, Progesterone, Testosterone, and Estrogen. When someone deals with chronic stress on a regular basis more of the Pregnenolone is used to feed production of Cortisol. As Cortisol levels rise it reduces the production of Dhea, which is known as the fountain of youth. Ok, now this is starting to sound bad, right? Dhea is used to make all of your sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone and it is critical for fat burning and lean muscle mass as well as immune system balance.
Ideally when the stress is gone, Pregnenolone, Cortisol and Dhea levels should go back to normal. However, when the stress is prolonged, and occurs for too long a period the body sometimes does not recover and bring these hormones back to normal levels even when stress levels are lower. Instead your body remains in crisis mode with high cortisol and low DHEA output. If this continues for long enough your body will get to the point where even cortisol levels will drop because your other hormones have become so depleted. This is known as adrenal burnout.
Adrenal dysfunction can also cause autoimmune issues to flare because stress weakens and dysregulates digestion. The most common side effect of chronic stress is the development of a leaky gut type syndrome where large proteins and antigens pass through the intestinal barrier. These proteins and antigens trigger an immune response and is strongly implicated in triggering auto-immune disorders as a result. This also means that the food sensitivities you have will heighten and you will start to put on more weight in reaction to these reactive foods. More and more foods become inflammatory over time which results in an inability to lose weight. This syndrome also causes digestive disorders like IBS, chronic constipation and Crohn’s disease. These affects on digestion all heighten the levels of chronic inflammation which also means premature aging and heightened risk for diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.
Adrenal stress and the inflammation it causes can also lead to thyroid hormone resistance by making your cells less able to “accept” the thyroid hormones stimulation. This means that even if your thyroid numbers read in a “normal range” and even if you’re taking thyroid medications, your body may be resistant to the thyroid stimulation which is essential for optimal metabolism, mood sex drive and energy levels. Since the thyroid is essential for every metabolic and cellular function this will further worsen weight gain.
How do you know if you are having adrenal issues? Simple bloodwork can help you determine your stress levels and we can put you on a regimen to restore you back to optimal weight, health and mood. To book a consultation you can email [email protected].