Stress affects your body in many different ways. Your endocrine system, the system that works with all your hormones, is one system that really takes a hit when you’re stressed. Let’s look at your endocrine system to see how oxidative stress (stress at the cellular level) affects its function.
How Your Hormones WorkWhile you were dozing off in chemistry class, your teacher was explaining how your body produces chemicals and uses them to control certain functions. The system that coordinates everything going on in your body is your endocrine system. It’s made up of hormones and glands that influence nearly every cell, organ and their corresponding functions. These hormones play a role in:
- Regulating mood
- Growing and developing cells, organs, systems, etc.
- Telling tissues how to function
- Monitoring metabolism
- Controlling sexual and reproductive functions
A gland is a group of cells that selects materials from the blood, processes these materials, and uses them to produce hormones (chemical signals). Endocrine glands release more than 20 major hormones directly into the blood stream where they travel to body parts to make things happen. The major glands in the endocrine system include:
- Reproductive (ovaries and testes)
How Stress Affects Your HormonesAs most of us know, the higher our stress levels the more likely our mood suffers which can negatively impact several aspects of our lives including—diet, exercise, sleep and libido. But why?
If you remember from the Stress & Your Health blog post, the cells in your body work best when the environment surrounding them is kept constant. Stress (from either external or internal sources) disrupts the environment around the cells and, if not kept to a minimum, can challenge the body’s ability to correct the disruption. This places cells under stressed conditions (called “oxidative stress”) and interrupts their ability to function normally. Over time, cell malfunction leads to a disruption of entire body systems which impacts your ability to function normally.
When your endocrine system feels stressed from any source, physical or mental, it immediately starts the “fight-or-flight” response by making more adrenaline. These stressors can be any of the following:
- Injury or surgery of any kind
- Illness or infection
- Intense heat or cold
- Allergic response
- Mental stress
- Chronic pain
- Increasing heart rate
- Constricting blood vessels
- Dilating the pupils
- Slowing less important bodily functions and moving those resources to other body functions
- Producing cortisol, the “stress” hormone
Increased cortisol can even lead to weight gain, especially around the mid-section. That’s because leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that affect appetite and food intake, are constantly directed to be in survival mode. Your body doesn’t know that you aren’t going to starve through a difficult winter, so it gets the signal to pack on the pounds to keep you healthy.
Boost Your Hormone FunctionMaking sure your hormones are functioning correctly leads to better overall physical and mental health. Here are some strategies to keep your endocrine system functioning at its best.
- Eat a healthful diet. Whole-food options such as leafy greens, veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts, fish, and plant-based proteins can help keep your body operating optimally. Look for foods rich in antioxidants and fiber, and try to avoid foods that have been artificially altered with hormones.
- Limit sugar, alcohol, and excess caffeine. When consumed in excess, these substances can interrupt normal endocrine system function, especially adrenal gland function.
- Get plenty of rest. You need sleep to combat the stress that starts this whole cascade. Sleeping 7-8 hours per night also helps reset your endocrine system along with all your other body systems.
- Exercise—the right way for YOU. For some people who experience high levels of stress, high intensity training is just not the right thing—it can actually raise cortisol levels in certain people. Try yoga or walking, something a little more relaxing. On the other hand, for some people, running, kickboxing, or other high intensity workouts help them calm down. Pay attention to how you feel after your exercise routine and adjust if necessary.
- Get out in the sun! Vitamin D is good for your endocrine system, especially your thyroid hormones. The best way to get your body synthesizing this important vitamin is to get out in the sun for at least a few minutes every day.
- Take Protandim Nrf2 Synergizer – a dietary supplement that works to reduce the oxidative stress that stems from the stressors we encounter on a day-to-day basis. This unique product contains a blend of phytonutrients that stimulate a protein in your body called Nrf2. When activated, Nrf2 reduces oxidative stress by:
- Removing toxins that cause cell damage
- Cleaning up damaged cells
- Improving cell function
- Activating a protective response that defends against future stress