Stress and Hormones

Stress is a growing problem in the world, and as a result chronic illness is on the rise as well. The connection between stress and illness has been well documented. One area that needs to be addressed is the connection between stress and hormones.

Treating Symptoms vs. Treating the Cause

When a person develops a physical or mental symptom that becomes concerning, often the first step is to visit their physician.  In many cases, the given solution will be some type of medication which is designed to alleviate the symptom. But medication can create annoying or dangerous side effects as well.  If the symptomatic person is more holistically minded, they may opt to visit their local natural market or vitamin store. Or they may possibly seek out a holistic practitioner or nutritionist instead.

In more cases than not, the solution presented to them through these avenues is not much different than that of a physician.  They may be offered a product that is designed to deal with the given symptom, albeit with less chance of dangerous side effects.  In all cases, what the physician, nutritionist, holistic practitioner, or store clerk fail to do is to ask the most important question:  Why?  Why is this symptom present?

True and complete healthcare goes far beyond treating symptoms.  If the goal is to simply treat the symptoms, although there may be temporary relief, the symptoms will eventually return.  And often once they return, the treatment to again alleviate them becomes more intense.  In far too many cases, the ultimate in symptom relief care is the end result:  surgery.

The Brain-Body Connection

Spare the body parts and get to the real underlying issue.  That is my philosophy.  Consider this model of health assessment.

The body is designed to have perfect function which is considered “normal” function. When the body is experiencing normal function it is also said to be in a state of ease, or homeostasis (perfect balance).  A perfectly functioning, homeostatic body will never experience any type of symptom.  And a symptom is never “normal.”

However, if symptoms are present, this in turn means that there is a disruption in the state of ease, and is known as dis-ease.  Dis-ease can only come about due to some type of disruption in normal body function, known as malfunction, or dysfunction. If treatment of these symptoms remains only at the level of relief (i.e. meds, surgery), though the symptoms may diminish temporarily, the issues of dis-ease and malfunction remain unaddressed.

Seeking the underlying cause of symptoms always leads us back to body function.  In the case of present symptoms, the body is not functioning properly.  Why?  Stress.

The definition of stress is “anything that can interfere with the function of the body.”  Stress comes in the forms of mental/emotional, physical, and chemical.  The most commonly overlooked source of stress is that of chemical, which can also be described as hidden, internal stress.

How Stress Affects Hormones

When searching for the hidden stressors, and digging deeper to uncover the source of the symptom, one of the systems that should be assessed is the hormonal system, particularly the adrenal glands.

Hormonal System (Adrenal glands)

The adrenal glands are also known as the “stress” glands because they produce the stress related hormone cortisol, among others.  When the body is under any type of stress, a higher level cortisol is produced in response.  Healthy adrenal glands can produce enough cortisol to exceed what is considered “normal” output, and can do so over a long period of time.  In the case of chronic stress, the adrenals can function overtime and because this is a “feel good” hormone, the person can actually feel well, and be symptom free.

With chronic stress, however, the adrenals will eventually tire. And although the stress remains constant, the production of cortisol will decline.  Additionally, when cortisol output remains high for an extended period of time, in order to continue to produce it, the adrenal glands will begin “stealing” substances which act as precursors to steroidal hormones, contributing to hormonal imbalances.  At this point, symptoms will likely develop even though the cortisol production may still show up in the “normal” range.

Visiting the Doctor

This is often the stage at which a person might pay a visit to the physician.  If the physician looks at the cortisol output at all, a blood test will likely reveal a “normal” level and therefore they miss the clue.  If no real issue is discovered, usually they will offer symptom relief or the person will seek ways to self-medicate.

Because of this, a blood test to look at cortisol levels may not be the best option.  A saliva test that measures cortisol output at four different times of the day often can give a clearer picture of what is really going on.  While morning output may still be within expected range, mid-day, afternoon and/or evening readings may show relative drops or rises.  By looking at a full day’s breakdown of cortisol production, clues to the underlying issue can be revealed.

The adrenal glands are linked to many other bodily functions including: 

  • Control ovarian hormones
  • Have a direct relationship with the thyroid
  • Pancreas
  • Neuronal conductivity (sleep, memory, learning)
  • Bone turnover
  • Carbohydrate metabolism (blood sugar)
  • Mucosal barrier (immune system)
  • Protein and fat metabolism


All symptoms have a cause and in order to focus on building real health rather than just chase these symptoms, it is important to search for clues that lead to the underlying cause.  Because “stress” in all its forms, disrupts normal function, a closer look at the adrenal glands and hormone system should be the first assessment.  Once hidden internal stressors are found, the healing process can begin.

The clues found here may point to different issues, and each of these issues will also need to be looked at more closely.  The goal is to find the base issue and beginning working with that so as to correct the malfunction, which will return the body to a state of ease, and symptoms will be resolved.

Restoration to health comes through this formula:  D.R.E.S.S. 

D – Diet.  As a Certified Metabolic Typing Advisor, I advocate each of my clients prescribe to the diet that is right for them.

R – Rest.

E – Exercise.

S – Stress reduction.  Particularly I focus on eliminating hidden stress as well.

S – Supplements.  This would include bio-identical hormones, and supplements that compliment a client’s metabolic type.

You can begin to restore your health with help of a functional health coach. All FDN practitioners are trained to help guide clients to find the protocol that works best for them. Then you can begin to restore balance in your body and reclaim optimal health.


Photo credit: © 9nongphoto | – Sick woman with headache, migraine, stress