Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • November 2016
Written by 

Stress and adrenal hormones — Stress, the silent killer: Four key stressors of the human body, Part 2 of 3

In the September 2016 Northeast Wisconsin issue of this magazine we began a discussion of what happens to your body when you experience a stressful event or have ongoing, unrelenting stress. Too much stress can wreak havoc with your stress response system called the Hypothalamic/Pituitary/Adrenal (HPA) axis. Some people may be familiar with a different erroneous name for this dysfunctional response and call it adrenal fatigue or exhaustion. Actually it is much more complicated than your adrenal glands getting too tired so they can no longer produce the stress hormones called cortisol and DHEA. Low cortisol and DHEA levels may be caused by stress and most likely reflect HPA axis adaptation (down-regulation) to protect the body from excess cortisol and have little to do with the continued ability of the adrenal glands to produce hormones.

We also discussed the symptoms and the stages of adrenal dysfunction caused by too much stress and how to test for imbalances of the adrenal hormones. Please review Part 1 of this series if interested.

In this article we will review the four key stressors of the human body:

  1. Blood sugar control
  2. Mental and emotional stress
  3. Insomnia/sleep cycle disturbances
  4. Inflammation

When most people think of stress they usually define it as related to an emotional or mental event such as job loss, death in the family, financial difficulties or suffering from marital discord. There are 3 other key drivers of stress in the body as well: blood sugar imbalances, inflammation and inadequate sleep. Each of these are potent stimulators of the stress hormone called cortisol. For example, you may have very little emotional stress in your life and you may be getting 8 hours of restful sleep each night but if you are eating a poor diet filled with soda, alcohol and sugary foods, then your cortisol and your insulin levels will be going up and down too often and too quickly. Another example is someone who is eating healthy but has a high level of inflammation in his or her body. That inflammation is communicating to the brain/HPA axis to put out cortisol in order to squelch the inflammatory fire. The specific cause of the HPA axis activation may be different from person to person. The end result is that if the HPA axis is required to continually work hard, then your cortisol and its counter balancing hormone, DHEA, will eventually become unbalanced and so will other systems in your body.

Questions to help get to the root cause of your HPA axis dysfunction:

Blood sugar imbalance:

  • Do you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia such as dizziness, shakiness, brain fog between or following meals?
  • Do you frequently miss or delay meals?
  • Do you frequently crave sugar or carbohydrates?
  • Do you consume excessive sugar or refined carbohydrates?

Are you diabetic or pre-diabetic?

Do you regularly consume alcohol or caffeine?

Mental and emotional stress:

  • Do you frequently experience anxiety?
  • Do you suffer from depression?
  • Do you suffer from mood swings?
  • Do you have difficulty getting motivated?
  • Do you frequently experience feelings of agitation, anger, fear or worry?

Sleep cycle disturbances:

  • Are you experiencing problems falling asleep?
  • Are you experiencing problems staying asleep?
  • Are you not sleeping enough hours?
  • Are you not able to fall into a deep sleep?
  • Do you suffer from light cycle disruption or shift work issues?
  • Do you frequently feel drowsy throughout the day”?


  • Musculoskeletal: Do you suffer from headaches, muscle, back or joint pain?
  • Gastrointestinal: Do you suffer from IBS, Crohn’s disease or diverticulitis?
  • Dermatological: Do you suffer from hives, eczema or psoriasis?
  • Respiratory: Do you suffer from asthma, bronchitis, seasonal allergies or hay-fever?
  • Auto-immune: Do you suffer from any auto-immune condition such as MS, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis?
  • Immunological: Do you suffer from food allergies, chronic infections or frequent illness?

Once you have identified your top stressor(s) you can begin to focus on strategies to lessen them. Part 3 of this series of articles will address ways to help you regulate your blood sugar through diet and lifestyle change, support your mental and emotional health, improve your sleep and lessen your body’s inflammatory burden.

With the right information, stress hormone testing and lifestyle changes you can take control of your stress! Your health depends on it!

Please attend our End Hormone Havoc seminar to learn more about stress and its effects on the HPA axis and treatment options.

References: “The Role of Stress and the HPA Axis in Chronic Disease Management.” Thomas Guilliams. 2015.

“Patient Stress Recovery Program handbook.” Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center. 2014.

Randi Mann, NP

Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, is a board certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner and is the owner of Wise Woman Wellness, LLC, an innovative, wellness and hormone center in De Pere. She is an integrative, functional medicine provider offering natural treatments and prescription medications for thyroid and hormonal imbalances including customized dosed, bioidentical hormones.

She combines the best of conventional, functional and integrative medicine to help women. Attend the introductory “End Hormone Havoc — Stay Sane, Slim and Sexy” seminar — offered monthly. Call 920-339-5252 to register. Visit for details.

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