Hormones function as messengers between body systems to regulate your physiology and behavior, such as digestion, metabolism, stress, sleep, movement, reproduction and mood. When your hormones are imbalanced, they can often trigger weight gain, PMS, acne, migraines, loss of libido, menopausal issues and much more.

There are many ways that your hormonal system can become unbalanced. Did you know that physical and mental stress can easily disrupt your hormones? There is an increasing number of things that demand our time and attention each and every day causing mental and emotional stress. At the same time, many of us aren’t taking necessary actions to regularly combat the negative effects of the stress that we encounter. Instead of stress management, many opt to relax or decompress by sitting on the couch and binge watching TV with our noses buried in our iPhones and snacking on comfort food filled with chemical additives, preservatives and sugar that often leave us feeling even more stressed and fatigued.

Stress is a natural response to the things that we encounter in life, and our bodies are designed to endure short term periods of stress well. But for many, stress has become a chronic, long-term problem that can take a serious toll on health.


When you face a stressful situation, the hypothalamus releases the CRH (Corticotropin Releasing Hormone) and in response the pituitary gland releases ACTH (Adrenocorticotropic Hormone) into the bloodstream. Once ACTH is released in the bloodstream and reaches the adrenal glands, Cortisol (also known as the stress hormone) is released. Cortisol prepares your fight or flight response to either fight the stressor or run away from it. Additionally, your heart and breathing rates will accelerate, your liver will release glucose for extra fuel and energy is diverted from other systems like the digestive or reproductive system.

Once the stress has passed and cortisol levels decrease, the hypothalamus signals to the pituitary and adrenals to stop hormone production. However, when chronic stress is involved it becomes a continual release of all of the stress hormones which causes dysfunction in the HPA axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal). When Cortisol remains elevated in the body, specific symptoms will begin to occur.

  1. Poor Digestion – when cortisol is released in the body, digestion slows down so that energy can be conserved and diverted to where it’s needed. The production of hydrochloric acid also slows along with the digestion process which can often lead to GERD or acid reflux (usually caused by low stomach acid levels).<

  2. High Blood Pressure – when you are under stress, your heart rate increases. Additionally, your body causes the blood vessels to constrict so that more oxygen can be diverted to muscles so they can easily take action. In return, this causes a rise in blood pressure. If your stress becomes chronic, high blood pressure issues can also become chronic, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke.

  3. Lowered Immune System – when dealing with a stressor, the body stimulates your immune system as a defense mechanism designed to protect you against infection. However, the longer the chronic stress remains a problem, the weaker the immune system becomes because it can’t continue to operate in overdrive. Your immune system will then become weak, leaving you susceptible to viruses, bacteria and more.

  4. Loss of Libido – when cortisol levels are elevated, other systems of the body – like the reproductive system – function minimally and suppress the release of other hormones. When stress and Cortisol are high, sex hormone production is kept at a minimum which will cause a loss of reproductive function and libido.

  5. Weight Gain – when your body is undergoing a continual stress response, your appetite will increase along with the release of insulin. After the release of Cortisol during stress, your body believes that it needs carbs or fatty foods that can easily be stored as an energy reserve in the form of fat. So with chronic stress, your appetite for carbs and fatty foods increases along with your waistline. Cortisol induced weight gain commonly happens around the abdomen because the fat cells are more sensitive to the effects of Cortisol.

  6. Anxiety & Depression – when you are chronically stressed, high Cortisol levels reduce the level of important neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine. Low levels of either of these chemicals can leave you feeling depressed and anxious!
Managing your stress so that you do not face these health issues should be a top priority, especially as we age. April is Stress Awareness Month, so it is the perfect time to make changes to actively manage your daily stress. Activities like meditating, walking, deep breathing and yoga are great to help lower stress levels and turn off the stress response so that you can lower Cortisol levels.

If you are experiencing any symptoms of hormone imbalance due to stress, let Pensacola Wellness help you get back on track to a happier and healthier life. Dr. Mitchell will help you find the root of any issues you are experiencing and can create a hormone health plan just for you! Schedule your appointment today or call us for more information at 850-791-6010!


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