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The biochemistry of stress – House of Hormones part 2


If you’ve read my previous blog, you’ll understand that my approach to addressing hormone imbalance stems from a bottom-up approach. Through supporting the body’s core functions, reducing stress and addressing detoxification and gut concerns first, we often don’t have to directly “fix” sex hormone function per se.

Let’s talk a bit more about the core areas I discuss when approaching hormonal health.

We know that our nervous system, hormonal system, immune system and the rest of the body’s systems are all inherently connected. If we consider then evolutionary biology; our ancestors evolving on the plains, we can easily see what stress needs to be addressed first.

We first need to appreciate one key point. The body does not differentiate forms of stress. Be they from worrying about finances, traumatic events, unresolved anger, planning a wedding, an infection or an injury- the chemistry of stress in the body is the same.

When we are stressed, for any reason the biochemistry of stress results in physiological changes that alter our gut, adrenal, thyroid and hormone balance… and if you think about it this makes sense! Your body knows that if you are stressed, it means we need to slow down and by no means try to reproduce!

Stress in general is not the issue, we evolved to handle stressful events, the issue is chronic unrelenting stress- the stress we experience in traffic, arguments with our partner, eating food that spike then tank our blood sugar, then having to rush home to make dinner and get our kids ready for bed- just to do it all over the next day. 

These low level chronic stressful insults tax our body’s ability to cope.

When we experience chronic stress, our immune system is tipped towards inflammation and ineffective clearing of bacteria and viruses, our gut may become somewhat permeable to food particles and we may experience bloating and more food reaction and our thyroid gland is turned down (so we preserve energy). Our body uses precursors it would use to make sex hormones like progesterone, in order to feed stress hormone (cortisol) production, our periods go wacky and as women we may experience “estrogen dominance” which increases our chance of breast cancer, fibroids and endometriosis.

The inflammation that stress causes makes its way to the brain resulting in what’s known as “neuroinflammation” (brain inflammation) causing anxiety, depression and insomnia. The resulting sleep deprivation, intestinal permeability, and potential to pick up infections further drives the stress and inflammatory response.

If a doctor or health practitioner ever tells you that stress is in your head, now you can inform them that “Yes it is, but the chemistry of stress is deeply integrated into my entire body through my immune, hormonal and neurological systems.”

‘Which is why when I work with hormone imbalances, I start by addressing the stress which is driving the inflammation, gut disturbances, immune dysregulation, thyroid and hormonal imbalance in the first place.

We address the root cause first.

In my next blog we’ll discuss how to deal with stress when our lives are so busy and how this can further upset your hormone imbalances!

By Dr Vanessa Ingraham



Find out more about Vanessa here