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Stress: The Most Misjudged Threat To Your Health

Why It’s Causing Havoc On Your Body & What To Do About It

Posted by NutritionMax - July 4th, 2016

Are you having massive difficulties losing fat, gaining muscle, improving energy or sleeping again? Then, you might want to listen up.

We’re All Stressed Out

Yes, stress surrounds us daily – you can’t avoid it. But way too many of us are fighting an uphill battle with protecting our health, and chronic stress is sabotaging our lives.

Every time you do something your body perceives as a challenge, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, which manifests as an accelerated heart rate, sweating, increases of adrenaline, cortisol, etc. In the short term, this is all great and important, but the issue in today’s society is, it’s TOO prevalent. Not by choice, of course. But as a product of the difficult situations and stresses we’re increasingly facing today.    

What Stress Looks Or Feels Like
 No doubt you’ve experienced a few of these:

  • Toxic relationships
  • Overtraining
  • Chronic dieting
  • Malnourishment
  • Adverse food reactions
  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much caffeine or sugar
  • Emotional trauma (e.g. unhappiness, fear, anxiety)
  • Infections and illnesses
  • Occupational troubles

The Ins & Outs Of Stress

Here’s what’s going on.

Resultant of the stress response, your brain signals your adrenal glands to secrete the neurotransmitters cortisol and adrenaline. The issue of adrenal “overuse” comes from numerous daily stressors that accumulate over time and burden the glands.

This is a phenomenon commonly referred to as adrenal fatigue: under too much demand – especially chronic demand – the adrenals crank out too much cortisol and then “burn out.”

This cyclical pattern of challenges and adrenal responses of high cortisol output can lead you down a path to multiple health issues. I’ve seen this among clients many times.

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Stress-Related Health Issues

Here are 11 examples…

  1. Fat Gain – High cortisol increases blood glucose from muscle protein, which increases insulin. It also interferes with the glucose transporter, GLUT 4, making you more insulin resistant. This results in more fat gain, and a greater difficulty burning it (Tip: Test fasting insulin and glucose levels).

  2. Decreased Sex Hormone Production – Cortisol and sex hormones share the same substrates needed to form them. As cortisol rises, all of the precursors are diverted to cortisol synthesis, because the stress is the priority. Bye-bye estrogen and testosterone. To the average person, this may not become entirely overt, but it will be enough to make a physiological impact (Tip: Test cortisol to DHEA ratio).

  3. Missed Menstrual Cycles (for the ladies) – As mentioned above, the body sees cortisol > sex hormones. If you don’t know by now, missing periods is NOT something to blow off. Many health complications can arise from several missed or irregular cycles (For a more in-depth look on how to correct hormonal imbalances, read more HERE).

  4. Low Thyroid Hormones – Too little cortisol is no good for thyroid health, but neither is too much because it decreases thyroid receptor sensitivity, and overall dysregulation of the thyroid hormone pathway, leading to hypothyroidism. Many times, I have seen clients display this condition from high cortisol levels (Tip: Check reverse T3 levels).

  5. Depression – This is contingent upon the duration of high stress, but it’s known that high cortisol has the ability to desensitize serotonin receptors, which is the neurotransmitter for dictating mood, and feelings of well-being. Even worse, chronic cortisol exposure has been shown in literature to damage neurons in the brain (Tip: How are you feeling these days?).

  6. Poor Liver Detoxification – This is tied directly to high reverse T3 levels. The liver usually clears this hormone out, but stress impairs its ability to do so.

  7. Reduced Immunity – Cortisol is normallyvery helpful for dampening inflammation (hence cortisone shots), but overproduction actually dampens proliferation and production of your immune cells, namely, your T-cells. Considering that 70-80% of your immunity resides in the gut, known as the gut-associated lymphoid tissue, this is a big deal. Hence, this increases the risk for infection and delays healing throughout the body.  

  8. Imbalanced Gut Bacteria – Too much stress also kills off your beneficial gut bugs, lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. And since the microbiota have a significant influence on many bodily systems, like regulating your immune system, they both take a hit. It’s all connected, folks.

  9. Impaired Digestion – The autonomic nervous system (aka stress response) opposes the parasympathetic response which involves food digestion. If the GI tract can’t do its job, food lingers around and creates digestive disturbances, food sensitivities, and inflammation.

  10. Increased “Leaky Gut” – Since stress dampens immune cells too, it also decreases antibodies like the one in your gut called IgA, whose role is to fight microbes and infection. Without this antibody, inflammation at the gut lining rises, therefore increasing gut permeability and allowing unwanted molecules to pass through into the blood stream, which is the backbone of many chronic diseases (Tip: Test for IgA).

  11. Brain Damage – Most people are unaware of cortisol’s ability to cause shrinkage of the hippocampus (the memory center of the brain) under chronic levels of cortisol. It’s unlikely to pose a real threat, but it’s something to think about, if you can that is (pun intended).

None of this sounds appealing now, does it?

Stress & Cortisol
 For many people cortisol levels eventually plummet because the demand is too much, therefore, progressing to adrenal fatigue. However, sometimes people can quickly transition to this without experiencing heightened cortisol first. One of the telltale signs of adrenal fatigue that I notice in people is their inability to stay asleep.

Are you one of these people who wakes up between 2-4 AM?

After the adrenal cortex can no longer sustain normal cortisol levels, it resorts to Plan B – adrenaline, which keeps you alert and focused. As you sleep, cortisol levels slowly escalate so they peak in the morning upon arousal. But since the adrenal cortex doesn’t have much oomph, adrenaline from the adrenal medulla takes over, and viola, you’re awake again.

Do you ever feel sluggish upon waking up in the morning with the stubbornness to find coffee?

Again, this happens for the same reason. What once started out as having a healthy secretion of cortisol when you wake up in the morning, turned into cortisol flat lining when it’s supposed to be at its peak for the day. You’ve expended most of your ability to produce cortisol, so naturally you search ravenously for caffeine to squeeze a bit more out of your adrenals to wake you up.

By the way, if this is you…STOP the caffeine. Chances are that’s playing a prominent role in your fatigue and energy levels.

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Stress & Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue or low cortisol is just as bad as too much cortisol, for almost the same reasons. The immune system, thyroid and sex hormone production ALL take a dive into the abyss. But, on top of that, you might experience symptoms of:

  • An inability to lose weight
  • Oligomenorrhea/Amenorrhea
  • Hypoglycemia/dizziness between meals
  • Shakiness
  • Physical fatigue
  • More frequent sickness
  • Sugar cravings
  • Brain fog
  • Sleep problems (i.e. awaking up at night)
  • Gut inflammation/digestion issues
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Depression
  • Irritability

If you are displaying three or more of these, then you MAY be at risk for adrenal fatigue. You would certainly want to explore some of the tests mentioned above, but first, start with a four point Salivary Adrenal Index. This will give you a clear picture ofyour adrenal function and cortisol levels.

What Should I Do If I Notice These Symptoms?
 Unfortunately, this whole adrenal dysfunction, especially adrenal fatigue, is an increasingly prevalent condition that’s afflicting many people. Hey, it’s 2016.

But seriously, it doesn’t surprise me how many people come to me asking for help because they exhibit SO MANY symptoms of adrenal fatigue or high cortisol levels. You can ignore the symptoms for now, but eventually it will mostly likely come back to haunt youin some form of a problem like hypothyroidism, gastrointestinal problems (e.g. IBS), pre-diabetes, weight gain, etc.

You have to look at this adrenal dysfunction through a larger lens. Not only is this an impediment for fat loss, but it’s literally deteriorating your health on multiple levels.

Trust me. DO NOT let it get to that point. Take action…Right Now.

If you feel like you’re creeping up on adrenal issues, or are already suffering from these symptoms, I don’t want to leave you hanging high and dry. As a clinical nutritionist, these symptoms take precedence –not the body composition goals. Once things get in order, then we can focus on the fat loss, because if you don’t, you’re just wasting your time, and you’ll go nowhere.

Reducing the stressors in your life is the obvious approach. However, there’s dietary interventions that help reverse the problem – but it’s individualistic.

If I’m speaking to YOU, I have a place for you in my intimate counseling program. I guarantee you’ll feel re-energized, and gain your life back. Apply right HERE, and let’s get moving today. There’s no time to waste.

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posted by NutritionMax
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NASM CPT, Master's in Human Nutrition
Precision Nutrition Sports & Exercise Nutritionist

Justin Janoska is a professional fitness coach and a clinical nutritionist who specializes in helping people with challenging diseases. He runs an online coaching platform where he helps people like you reach build muscle or lose weight.

For an intimate coaching experience, visit

Twitter: NutritionMax
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well written article Max!


Can dhea supplement restore my adrenal hormones? if i had an adrenal issue

Scott_Herman  Edit  Delete  Close

Hey @abaas, not sure.  I would need to look into this.. are you having trouble?


Another super in-depth and super informative article @nutritionmax!! Nice!