ENDOCRINE HEALTH: THE STRESS/ BLOOD SUGAR/ INFLAMMATION RELATIONSHIP
Note: This is an abbreviated version of the module on Endocrine health.
Excellent food, regular exercise, and lifestyle choices are critical, but are by no means the only factors to support your overall health. Stress can take a tremendous toll on your health profile. It can increase body fat even if you eat well and exercise responsibly.
A stressful lifestyle (be it through excessive work pressure, internal anxiety or old repressed emotions from difficult life experiences) all place a load on the glands of the endocrine system: the pituitary, adrenal and thyroid glands – the main glands that are impacted by stress, due to the body’s automatic ‘Fight or Flight’ response.
In the same way that our endocrine system worked when we were cave people, the Pituitary gland receives stress signals from the brain’s Hypothalamus, which is like the body’s ‘Stress ‘Radio Antennae’. If we saw a tiger in the days of old, this message that the Pituitary gland received would be akin to ‘We’re going to die’… The Pituitary gland then sends this ‘message’ to the Adrenal glands, which in turn responds with the appropriate survival message akin to ‘Oh no we’re Not!’ in a ‘Superhero’ sort of way, which ‘saves the day’ by ‘mobilizing your troops’ (the Stress hormones) into action.
Think of your Pituitary gland as the ‘Air Traffic Control Centre’ at an airport, where the ‘airport’ is your Endocrine System. It is known as the ‘Master Controller’ of the entire Endocrine System. If all the staff go on lunch at the same time, then the planes are left circling in the sky, unable to communicate with, or see each other. One does not have to think too far to imagine the chaos that may ensue! The Pituitary gland effectively ‘gives instructions’ or ‘sends messages’ to the endocrine system. These ‘instructions’ or ‘messages’ take the form of hormones that the Pituitary uses to influence how the endocrine system ‘steps up’ to ‘save your life’ from the perceived danger.
These Stress hormones are the all too familiar adrenaline (which will make you run faster and find more physical strength should you need it) and the less familiar Cortisol, which is the culprit when it comes to that belly weight that plagues so many people. Cortisol gets the stress message from the adrenal glands, in response to the ‘tiger’ signal and responds by raising your blood sugars quickly, as it is vital to run very fast, or fight like you never have before. Apart from alcohol, sugar is the fastest source of energy for the body. Your body also knows that if it sees a tiger, it may at least bleed before it may die, so your cortisol sets up inflammation in your body, in advance of this happening, in order to prepare the body with healing nutrients and potential, prior to the body’s perceived crisis. Inflammation is a normal and appropriate part of immunity. It must just not be prolonged. In caveman days, our endocrine system functioned this way…by using short term inflammation to support survival…but then it would subside once the danger was over.
In addition to the Cortisol inflammatory trigger, stress converts what should be anti-inflammatory omega 3 oils into inflammatory compounds, thereby exacerbating the problem if you are prone to inflammation. This is typically seen when a client takes an omega 3 supplement, and experiences MORE pain or inflammation afterwards. It is advisable to abstain from omega 3 supplements until the stress response has been supported, or to take vitamin B complex alongside the omega 3 supplements, in order to appropriately convert them into anti inflammatory compounds in the body. This happens because B vitamins are depleted by stress, and your body uses B vitamins to trigger the enzyme called ‘Delta-6-desaturase’ which sends the omega 3s down the anti inflammatory conversion pathway. Without sufficient B vitamins present, Delta-6-desaturase cannot be triggered and therefore the omega 3s are converted to the inflammatory arachidonic acid (this is what red meat converts to in the body)
Interestingly, statistics show that up to 80% of people who are depressed go on to develop inflammatory illnesses. The converse is also true – up to around 80% of people with inflammation will go on to become depressed. This feeds straight back into the stress-blood sugar-inflammation-weight gain cascade. It is therefore of the UTMOST importance to control or manage stress and inflammation in the body.
In the modern day, ‘tigers’ are everywhere – in the form of stress, and stimulants like cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar. These food and lifestyle choices send us into a ‘mock ‘Fight or Flight’ response. We seldom have the opportunity to ‘retreat back into our caves’ and let our cortisol calm down. DHEA is the ‘calming’ opposite hormone to cortisol, that is vital for recovery, and in the present day, is not functioning as well as it should. DHEA is the most restorative and regenerative hormone known to man, and our high stress levels keep it low. In a healthy individual, you cannot have high cortisol and high DHEA at the same time. The one suppresses the other: in other words, you cannot be calm and stressed at the same time.
Effectively, you cannot be REgenerating while you are DEgenerating!
We see this when we watch a troupe of deer grazing peacefully…until a predator arrives on the scene! Then we see ‘CORTISOL IN ACTION’ as the deer spring into flight. The interesting thing is that as soon as one of them is caught by the predator, we see ‘DHEA IN ACTION’ as the deer realise that the danger has passed and they are no longer potential prey. They calm down INSTANTLY and continue grazing…even with the predator feeding off one of their own in plain sight.
Unfortunately the minds of humans are not as well tuned to the stress response as deer are. We agonise about the ‘predator’ long after they are no longer in our world…often for years. Just think of that first love that dumped you, or that traumatic childhood experience that lives on painfully in your memories. Cortisol keeps responding EACH TIME YOU HAVE THESE PAINFUL MEMORIES!
Unlike animals, human beings respond to past troubling or traumatic (even repressed) memories as if they are happening in the present moment, by the endocrine system releasing the appropriate stress hormones (as mentioned above) as soon as the thoughts/feelings occur (even if the feeling is a trigger to a ‘forgotten memory’)
This is why it is a useful idea to combine Life Skills Management support sessions with strategies to improve nutrition, as this is all now known to be associated with weight and other health difficulties through feedback systems between emotions, and biochemistry and physiology.
We at the Academy of Wellness advocate an Integrative approach to health, through addressing both physiology (through nutrition, essential oils, herbs and spices, etc) and emotional issues. These integrative emotional support strategies are designed to help access the underlying memories and emotions, that may underpin the ‘stuck’ causes of emotional patterns giving rise to unbalanced health profiles. It has been shown scientifically that we need to access memories in order to change neural pathways, to achieve improved physiology.
The subsequent hormonal cascade – and its repercussions – that follow, adds the Pain and the Pounds (kilograms) to your waistline! This is what the Academy of Wellness Partners refer to as ‘Emotional & Stress related Weight gain’. This subject is covered in the Life Skills and Emotional Well Being Module/ Short Course, where you will understand it better and find suggestions for support
When the waistline expands, a greater difficulty arises in that the adipose tissue (fat cells) ‘take on a life of their own’ in terms of the oestrogen hormones. Fat cells raise the oestrogens: Estradiol, Estrone and Estriol, which is particularly problematic in the presence of stress, as cortisol is critically linked to these sex hormones.
Progesterone is the raw material in the body, for making cortisol. Therefore, if your cortisol levels are raised, your body uses your ‘progesterone reserves’ to cope with the demand for higher levels of cortisol. This in turn negatively influences the oestrogens and testosterone levels, as progesterone and the oestrogens will not both be high, in a stable healthy individual. Low progesterone can result in high oestrogens, all too easily. The Academy of Wellness analogue in this scenario, is that Progesterone is like the ‘moderator in the Chat room’ …if it has a reduced presence, then the oestrogens can ‘misbehave and get out of hand’. Imbalance in the gynaecological hormones creates inappropriate adipose tissue formation (such as breasts in men who have too much oestrogen) and female hormone imbalance and mood swings, leading to more stress, which effectively keeps you locked in the cycle of inefficient weight loss.
Cortisol also inhibits optimal immune, digestive, and liver function, which is not required to function optimally when the body perceives that it is in danger.
It is also astonishing how many infertility cases and first trimester miscarriages are resolved when endocrine function is resumed. We cover all this in the Endocrine and Female modules.
In summary, your Adrenal glands’ survival instinct is to prepare you for the worst, by anticipating that you are about to fight or run away at top speed, and that the chances are that you are going to be injured and bleed. Because you will need extra ‘fuel’ reserves for this, the stress hormone Cortisol’s two main functions are to raise your blood sugar, and to raise your inflammatory response, which is part of the immune system responses to keeping you surviving and healthy.
As a side note – cortisol is also short term ANTI INFLAMMATORY. This is because your body knows that if you have been bitten, you don’t have the luxury of time to say ‘owwwww!’ …you have to run like the wind! Therefore cortisol plays a short term anaesthetising role in the ‘Fight or Flight’ response…these are the stories you hear where someone runs on a broken leg, when they are in a Fight or Flight state (e.g. in a war situation etc)
If you constantly subject your body to ‘modern day tigers’, by being anxious, or stressed emotionally, or subjecting your body to long working hours, many nights of late night partying, alcohol, cigarettes, sugary drinks and foods (including white refined carbohydrates) and erratic or insufficient sleep, your Cortisol is constantly raised in response to the ‘Fight or Flight’ trigger, thereby contributing to unstable blood sugar, and excessive inflammation in the body.
Further to our blood sugars being raised by stress, sugar is the greatest inflammatory substance in our diet, with trans fats not far behind. Examples of trans fats include the hydrogenated (and partially-hydrogenated) fats found in margarine, cooking oils, store bought cakes, biscuits, crisps and many processed, fried and fast foods. One of the mechanisms that cause trans fats to promote inflammation is that they block the receptors that normally switch your metabolism on and off. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold water fish and fish oil supplements, help these receptors function appropriately.
Inflammation has been shown scientifically to be present wherever there is obesity. Inflammation also results in an approximate 80% correlation with depression. It is also known that depression conversely leads to inflammation (also roughly 80%). This feeds straight back into the loop of cortisol and the subsequent weight gain patterns.
Depression, anxiety and persistent stress can also cause insomnia, which throws your normal circadian rhythms out of balance. These are the cycles that the body operates around in terms of organ and body system function: (e.g sleep wake cycles or menstrual cycles etc)
Sleep is an under-recognized yet major player in the game of weight control. Essential metabolism improving hormones such as thyroid, testosterone and growth hormone are produced during the deeper sleep cycles. Furthermore, important appetite signaling hormones are thrown out of balance with poor sleep and cause increased appetite: lack of sleep destabilizes the hormones Leptin and Ghrelin (refer to the section on the Low Fat Myth) Chronically high levels of cortisol make you less sensitive to these two critical weight influencing hormones which, in addition to many other important functions, influences your appetite.
Sleep increases leptin levels in the fat cells, and as you may recall, leptin levels help the feast or famine response by making you feel satisfied, and telling your fat cells to release stored fat.
Magnesium is known as ‘Nature’s relaxing mineral’ and supports sleep patterns extremely well. Magnesium also raises leptin levels, therefore high magnesium content foods like pumpkin seeds, watermelon and butternut squash seeds are helpful to promote weight loss by supporting sleep and stress management all at the same time.
Lack of sufficient, or inappropriate sleep patterns lead to further weight gain. The majority of people require between 7 and 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, depending on the energy expenditure in waking hours. Getting up once in the night is still considered ‘uninterrupted’ sleep. Should you wake two or more times, it is important to investigate the reasons:
- If you wake and cannot get back to sleep it may well be a magnesium deficiency. You can try one of the following:
- Eat a tablespoon of pumpkin seeds half an hour before bed each evening
- Spray your skin before bed, with a quality magnesium oil, or solution of 5 tablespoons of magnesium bath flakes to about 120ml of quality water.
- If you cannot fall asleep easily, it may indicate a calcium deficiency. This can also commonly indicate a low stomach acid status.
- Do the burp test referred to in the Digestion section, to ascertain and rectify your deficiency if you are low, as you need stomach acid to assimilate calcium.
- You can also try eating any of the following:
- A tablespoon of almonds before bed,
- A tablespoon of Tahini before bed.
- Have sardines with the bones for dinner a few nights in a row and notice if you fall asleep more easily.
- If you wake up hungry and need to raid the fridge, it is most likely that your blood sugars are out of balance. It is recommended that you have a small protein and fat snack about half an hour before bed e.g.
- Half a small avocado
- A tablespoon of nuts (NOT peanuts or soy – remember that edamame beans are in fact soy)
- A tablespoon of seeds (pumpkin seeds are full of magnesium, so will help you relax into deeper sleep, and help fat loss too)
- A tablespoon of nut or seed butter (NOT peanut butter)
The importance of using Blood and Laboratory tests to assess Endocrine Function
Getting to the underlying body system imbalances that have created dysfunction, can help one determine how to adjust one’s eating patterns and lifestyle in order to support sustainable weight loss or weight gain.
It is now a well known fact that visceral (around the organs) and abdominal (on the belly) fat tissue produces inflammation in the body. Therefore the Oxidative stress biomarkers in blood tests are one of best methods for measuring the body’s general level of inflammation: Among others, these include Homocysteine, Ferritin, and High-sensitivity C-reactive protein’ (hs-CRP). While there may be clues, they do not, however, identify the cause of inflammation. The levels can be elevated in people with high stress levels, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, food allergies (e.g.gluten) and a host of other diseases. People with high Homocysteine, and hs-CRP levels typically experience problems losing weight.
It is essential to prevent Oxidative stress. Even though oxygen is essential to life, cellular damage occurs in the presence of the wrong kind of oxygen. Oxygen molecules operate in pairs (O2) However when a pair is split in two,the lone molecules become highly unstable and reactive. These lone molecules are referred to as Reactive Oxygen species (ROS) or free radicals, which leads to damaged DNA. The result is an imbalance in normal metabolic function and promotes various health complications such as:
- Weight gain
Antioxidants quench free radical activity in the body, and supports the restoration of a healthy metabolism. Antioxidants can be found in:
- Colorful plant foods:
- Kiwi fruit
- Organic berries
- Cherries (especially sour)
- Sweet colourful peppers
- Seaweed (kelp)
- Sulphur vegetables such as:
- Onions (preferably red)
- Brussel sprouts
- Spices such as:
- Seeds such as:
- Herbal teas
- Organic cocoa
- Supplements, in particularly aggressive health conditions where food alone will not be sufficient:
- PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline quinone)
- And many more, as may be recommended by your Health Practitioner.
Life Expectancy is known to be significantly compromised by obesity, largely due to the wide range of negative impact on overall health. It is essential that the underlying imbalances are identified and rectified.
Further laboratory testing can determine whether you have additional imbalances:
- An overactive or underactive stress response, as cortisol and other stress hormone levels are best assessed through urine, and saliva samples.
- Liver and Digestive function, including the microbiome (bacteria) and parasite status can be assessed through stool sample tests.
There is a wide range of tests available to assess many different possibilities for underlying dysfunction, and will best be supported with the guidance of a qualified Functional or Integrative Health and Wellness Practitioner. The Academy of Wellness students are comprehensively trained in the range of various laboratory tests and Functional Blood Chemistry tests, in order to support their clients after they graduate.
Additional foods that help your Endocrine System:
- Brown rice (as the B vitamins and magnesium in the husks are calming and stress relieving)
- Buckwheat (which is not wheat but a seed, so a great substitute for wheat foods) is packed with magnesium (known as ‘Nature’s Relaxing Mineral’)
- Oily fish has been shown to markedly improve anxiety and especially depression.
- Turkey contains the protein tryptophan and when eaten with foods such as garden peas or lentils (which contain folate) helps the body to convert the tryptophan to serotonin…a ‘happiness inducing’ brain chemical that helps to ease depression symptoms.
- Pumpkin seeds are full of magnesium (nature’s relaxing mineral) as are watermelon seeds (so toast, roast or juice them as opposed to throwing them away).
- Eggs are natural tranquilisers. Recent research is clear that they do not in fact raise cholesterol, as previously touted.
- Cholesterol rises due to stress, as cortisol is produced on demand when you are stressed, and cortisol is made of cholesterol! Therefore a good cholesterol stabilizing food programme should also include a stress management lifestyle.
- An outstanding way to start your day is by eating 1 or 2 organic – but if not, at least free range – eggs per day, as this ACTUALLY LOWERS CHOLESTEROL, which is directly opposed to the old myth of ‘eggs raise cholesterol’.
- Low GL fruits and non starchy vegetables;
- Protein combined with carbohydrate to lower the GL of the carbs
- Cinnamon (which mimics insulin – therefore please do not exceed more than half a teaspoon per day)
- Cautionary note: do not exceed one teaspoon of cinnamon in your food or drinks PER DAY, as it can have a blood sugar lowering effect that is too dramatic, which will send you straight back into the negative feedback loop where you will crave stimulants or sugary foods/drinks, in order to raise your falling blood sugars again. If your blood sugar drops too quickly, you can become dizzy, feel faint, and perspire excessively. If this should happen, the best way to support the symptoms are by having a teaspoon of maple syrup in some water, and also a nut butter, or avocado, or small block of goat’s cheese (i.e. fat and protein) to stabilise the blood sugars.
- Turmeric (which has blood sugar stabilizing and anti inflammatory properties)
- Always add a pinch of black pepper when you have turmeric, as the active ingredient piperine, improves the assimilation of the turmeric.
Foods that hurt your Endocrine System:
- Remember The Academy of Wellness Mantra:
“W+W+W = WEIGHT (and other ill health symptoms)
- White + Wheat + Worry are the WWWs:
- White e.g. refined carbohydrates; cow’s milk and cheese, and sugar
- Wheat e.g. bread, pasta, flour products like cakes and biscuits, etc) Wheat (including spelt and kamut) is particularly difficult for an overworked pancreas, which is where your insulin is produced, so compromises your body’s blood sugar regulation (and digestive function)
- Worry (any stressor, be it emotional, or a stimulant like alcohol or caffeine or cigarettes etc)
- White + Wheat + Worry are the WWWs:
Recipes that support your Endocrine System:
At the Academy of Wellness, we recognise that providing information is not enough, when it comes to practical support. As a result we have a created supportive eBooks:
- ‘THERAPEUTIC RECIPES FOR PERSONALISED WEIGHT LOSS.
- ‘THERAPEUTIC RECIPES FOR ENDOCRINE, BLOOD SUGAR AND STRESS MANAGEMENT’
If you have purchased the Short Course relating to this section, you will qualify for a discount on the Therapeutic Recipes eBook/s BY USING THE COUPON CODE: . These can be purchased independently of this short course/module by visiting by visiting the link below:
The following recipes in the eBooks support the Endocrine System:
- Spice Up Your Life Tea
- Mary-Lou’s Homemade Liver Flush
- Happy & Healthy Hot Chocolate
- Summer Fruit Ice Blend
- Sweet Kiwi Surprise Smoothie
- Seeds and Pears in Small Ramekins
- Kallo brown rice cakes with Mackerel Pate
- Wheat free bread or Oatcakes with Coriander or Sundried Tomato Houmous
- Low GL Cereal Bar
- Quality Fibre Guacamole with crudités, Almonds & Brazil nuts
- Devilled Egg with a Difference
- Apple and nuts
- Dark chocolate and nuts/ pumpkin seeds
- Creamy Water-based Power Oats Porridge
- Scrambled Egg with Tomato and coriander
- Granola with Low GL Fruits
- Turkey & Bean Soup with Oat Cakes
- Salmon and Seaweed ‘Thyroid’ Soup
- Pea and Mint Soup (and smoked salmon optional)
- Spicy Tomato and Red Pepper Soup
- Spinach, Lentil and Turkey Rasher Soup