Most of us have some familiarity with cortisol
(the primary "stress hormone"). It is important to realize that its function is wide ranging and intimately related to whether you are in a state of good health or not.
When cortisol production and breakdown are appropriate and normal, well - all is usually good. However, when we find ourselves in a situation where the cortisol levels or pattern are not normal (hyper-cortisolism, hypo-cortisolism, or some form of diurnal dysrhythmia), the HPA axis (Hypothalamus/Pituitary/Adrenal Axis)
is not functioning normally and needs to be corrected.
With HPA dysfunction, maladaptive changes occur (i.e. adrenal fatigue) and a variety of illness and symptoms develop (i.e. hypoglycemia, chronic fatigue, osteoporosis, renal calculi, depression, chronic inflammation, poor learning, hypothyroidism, PMS, severe menopause, truncal obesity) to name a few.Stress
is a part of all of our lives. While we all know stress when we see it, it is amazing that biologists have not agreed on the definition of stress for more then 75 years! Stress can be emotional, physical, or as a result of metabolic dysfunction.
How much stress is “normal”? Is stress defined by the changes made in adapting to stress or the dysfunctions associated with the failure to adapt to the stress?
Although we primarily think of stress as “negative stress” - ie “distress”, positive events can also elicit similar physiologic responses! What is clear is that stress can have a major impact on our health and well being, as well as the progression in many cases to chronic disease.
Hans Selye (and his book “The Stress of Life”) provided a framework for researchers to try to understand the nuances of how stress interacts with human physiology. From his work a 3 stage model emerged which is still the basis of much of the stress-related research to this day.
The human stress-response system has, as key components the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis
, and the sympathetic nervous system
(SNS). Suffice it to say that there are complex interactions that occur, affecting such key hormones as cortisol
, thyroid, Leptin, Insulin
, and from there many other body systems and other hormones.
The normally functioning HPA-axis has 3 attributes:
1. A circadian rhythm
of activity in the system
2. Various feedback loops
3. Various stressors
that can affect the HPA axis, and can override circadian & feedback controls