Today we’re exploring some of the most important hormones for your health and fat loss that not nearly enough people are talking about; stress hormones.
Before we dive into optimizing stress hormones, let’s examine how stress works in the body, and how these stress hormones are designed to work.
How Stress Works In The Body
The response begins in the brain with a perceived environmental or psychological stressor, activating the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight).
Your adrenal glands are triggered to release a class of stress hormones named catecholamines that include adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol
Epinephrine and norepinephrine cause the physical arousal due to stress: increased heart rate,vasoconstriction, heightens alertness and sweating.
Cortisol is released last and triggers the mobilization of stored glucose and fat cells to supply energy, and shuts down digestion, immune and reproductive function .
Your brain can perceive and set off this stress response before you realize it’s happening.
This is why people can catch a falling baby or avoid a speeding car even though they’re barely paying attention to the situation.
If the brain perceives there as being a continued threat such as with chronic stress, the body will keep producing and releasing stress hormones.
When the threat passes the parasympathetic system (rest and digest) is activated to bring us back to baseline, and allow us to recover from the stressful event.
Both nutrition and the human body are so intricate that if you make something good or bad without applying context you can end up very misguided.
The hormone cortisol is no different. In the right amounts and at the right times cortisol is downright necessary for alertness and energy.
On the other side too much cortisol can create a host of problems in the body including muscle breakdown and excess body fat.
Cortisol is a stress hormone made from cholesterol that is produced in the adrenal glands.
Unlike the other stress hormones cortisol is secreted in a natural rhythm all day long, this is known as the cortisol curve.
Levels of cortisol should be highest in the morning allowing us to wake up feeling alert, and ready for the day.
Cortisol levels should decrease over the course of the day and into the night. As it decreases we feel less alert, and our body starts to wind down for sleep.
This natural rhythm can get disrupted when someone is constantly encountering stressors, consuming too much caffeine or eating inflammatory foods.
Unfortunately when cortisol is around in the body too frequently it can start to have some negative side effects such as:
Slower metabolic rate
Gaining fat in the abdomen
Like I mentioned above cortisol is what allows us to wake up feeling alert and motivated. It also allows us to respond to our environments more appropriately because of our alertness.
Without cortisol we would not be able to manage any kind of stressful situation, and our energy levels would be constantly low.
We need hormones to be balanced, they are not good or bad. Learn how to optimize your cortisol levels with the cheat sheet below!
Cortisol Cheat Sheet:
Exercise regularly, but don’t overtrain (prioritize your recovery)
Sleep More (7-9 hours in a pitch black room)
Avoid excessive consumption of processed carbohydrates and sugar
Stress management ( meditation, hikes, reading, yoga - pick something you enjoy)
Adaptogenic herbs (Ashwagandha and rhodiola are two proven well known herbs that help with the adrenals and balancing cortisol)
Engage in some form of play (physical activity that is done without any expectations of the outcome)
Have carbs around training to blunt excessive cortisol release
Laugh more often ( it really is medicine and we can all use more laughter in our lives)
Don’t undereat for long periods of time
Avoid foods that are inflammatory
Do something creative ( sing, play music, write, paint)
Have sex (no explanation needed here)
Spend time with loved ones
Adrenaline and Norepinephrine
Adrenaline, and norepinephrine are the most common stress hormones that are released from the adrenal glands during a potential fight or flight situation.
Along with norepinephrine, adrenaline is largely responsible for the physical feelings and reactions that take place during a stress response.
Adrenaline and norepinephrine increases heart rate, blood pressure and cardiac output as well.
Adrenaline increases the mobilization of body fat to provide energy, while norepinephrine increase the use, and release of glucose (blood sugar).
Adrenaline is what causes your muscles to tense up during stress and provides a sense of extreme focus.
Norepinephrine also helps to shuttle blood away from the skin and to the heart, brain, muscles and kidneys.
Aside from fight or flight situations intense workouts, consumption of stimulants and other life stressors can trigger the release of these stress hormones.
The main purpose of adrenaline, and norepinephrine are to help the body meet the physical and mental demands of stressful situations, and everyday life.
When someone is in a constant state of stress whether is be from not getting enough sleep, overtraining, abusing stimulants or basic life stresses they will become desensitized to adrenaline.
Over time for the body to accomplish the same jobs it will require more and more adrenaline because the cells are less responsive to the hormone.
This can lead you down a path of feeling constantly tired and worn out, along with severely lacking in motivation and many other nasty side effects.
But you can also avoid these problems by using the cheat sheet below to optimize the stress hormones.
Adrenaline and Norepinephrine Cheat Sheet:
Avoid over consumption of stimulants and caffeine
Get At Least 7-9 hours of sleep (see a theme here yet ?)
Eat foods rich in the amino acid tyrosine
Laugh more (local stand up comedy is great for this!)
Practice deep breathing for 5-10 minutes per day
Take a daily walk outside (minimum of 20 minutes)
Be aware of what you can, and can’t control in a situation and remember you’re stressing about something you can’t control doesn’t solve the problem.
Write down three things you’re grateful for in the morning
Remove inflammatory foods from your diet
Schedule social events with loved ones
Don’t overtrain and under recover
Don’t over consume caffeine