"In most cases stress is the root cause of death; illnesses are just the wrap up." - Yordan Yordanov
Our hormones are the chemical messengers that send signals between organs and often direct their role in performing various functions. Besides the commonly known sex hormones testosterone and estrogen, our bodies also produce hormones that influence and regulate metabolism and stress response; these hormones include insulin, leptin, cortisol and DHEA, among others.
When our bodies are in a state of homeostasis, then our various hormones are properly balanced and function normally. When we lose homeostasis, the glands that produce our hormones become dysregulated and hormones can become unbalanced, leading to dysfunction and illness.
Ever gotten "run down" from an overwhelming, stressful schedule? Experienced weight gain during times of stress? Do you have trouble sleeping, thinking clearly or remembering things when you've been under some form of stress? Do you suffer from IBS that gets worse when you're stressed? Ever wonder why you're more likely to get sick when you're stressed out? The reason behind these physical phenomena lies in the cortisol to DHEA ratio.
Cortisol to DHEA Ratio
The hormone cortisol is a natural anti-inflammatory and pain killer which prepares us for "fight or flight" and enables us to respond to stress. As a hormone, cortisol has an anti-inflammatory effect and increases heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure for activity. Cortisol also dilates the blood vessels of skeletal muscle and increases glucose formation in the bloodstream. The overall effect of cortisol is to conserve energy away from non-survival activities for use by the central nervous system and skeletal system for intense activity and the ability to handle a stressful situation. Unfortunately, prolonged, elevated levels of cortisol also have some negative effects on the body:
- Increases glucose formation and protein breakdown
- Increases glucose utilization by the CNS
- Suppresses gastric emptying, slows digestion
- Inhibits sex hormone effects and alters reproduction
- Increases sodium retention = High Blood Pressure
- Suppresses immune function, lowers SIgA
- Alters thyroid function, production and effectiveness
- Depletes the body of precious minerals
DHEA is the counter-regulatory agent to cortisol, regulating its effects upon the body. DHEA also is important in the growth and repair of protein, especially muscle tissue.
When our bodies are in an ideal state of health, our cortisol to DHEA ratio is balanced. When chronic stress burdens our bodies the signal goes out for an increase in production of cortisol. While cortisol is an anti-inflammatory agent designed to assist the body, this chronic stress and output of cortisol creates a loss of optimal hormone production and results in imbalances. The steroidal hormone metabolic pathway is shifted out of equilibrium and the ratio of cortisol to DHEA becomes skewed. This loss of homeostasis creates an internal environment that is less capable of handling stress. An improper ratio of these hormones impacts a variety of organs, glands and tissues as shown in the chart below:
The following articles outline the various forms of stress on the body and their negative impact upon our health. In each instance, the goal is to identify all potential stressors that may be fatiguing the adrenal glands and resulting in a loss of viability to the steroidal hormone pathways. Through the use of functional lab testing and lifestyle assessment, corrective action can be taken to help re-balance the hormones and alleviate the health complaints that coincide.
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