Endocrine Health: The Stress, Blood Sugar and Inflammation Relationship

By Mary-Lou Harris (FdSc, Dip ION, ITEC, SACOCT)

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 endocrine system’s 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 systems 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’… which it then sends 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.

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, in response to the tigerand responds by raising your blood sugars quickly, as it is vital to run very fast, and 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 in advance.

Inflammation is a normal and appropriate part of immunity. It must just not be prolonged. In cave man 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.

Ever heard the saying “it’s a jungle out there”? Well…effectively it still is! Except that we no longer have the ability to recognise them! They do not have fur and teeth…Modern day ‘tigers’ are everywhere – in the form of stimulants like cigarettes and alcohol and caffeine, and stress and sugar. We seldom have the opportunity to ‘retreat back into our caves’ and let our cortisol calm down.

DHEA is our ‘calming’ hormone that is vital for recovery. In the present day, this does not function as well as it should, because cortisol naturally suppresses DHEA, so the more stressed we become, the less DHEA we produce … and the more difficult it becomes to remain calm on the inside. DHEA is also the body’s most restorative regenerative hormone in the body so is related to good health. Cortisol is destructive to body tissue and in excess is related to ill health (on virtually every level…from mood to mental clarity, hormones and fertility health, digestive and liver function, inflammation and immunity problems to name but a few.

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.

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.

In addition to the Cortisol inflammatory trigger, stress converts anti-inflammatory omega oils into inflammatory compounds, thereby exacerbating the problem if you are prone to inflammation. Statistics show that up to 80% of people who are depressed go on to develop inflammatory illnesses.

Cortisol also inhibits optimal immune, digestive, liver and hormonal function, which is not required to function optimally when the body perceives that it is in danger. It is astonishing how many infertility cases and first trimester miscarriages are resolved when endocrine function is resumed. We cover all this on New You Boot Camps, individually with each client as it is relevant.

It is also interesting to note that 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 we have introduced Life Skills Management talks and consultations at the New You Boot Camp, as this is all now known to be associated with weight and other health difficulties.

Additional foods that help your Endocrine System:

  • Brown rice (as the B vitamins and magnesium in the husks are calming and stress relieving);
  • Oily fish has been shown to markedly improve anxiety and especially depression. Turkey (when eaten with foods like garden peas or lentils which contain folic acid) contains the protein tryptophan.  The folic acid helps the body to convert the tryptophan to serotonin…a happy brain chemical that is implicated in easing 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. Reasonably new research is clear that they do not, in fact, raise cholesterol.  This happens 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 include a stress management lifestyle and food programme which includes 1 or 2 organic, but at least free range, eggs per day. It is an outstanding way to start your day, Low GL fruits and non starchy vegetables;
  • Protein combined with carbohydrate to lower the GL of the carbs; cinnamon (which mimics insulin so please do not exceed more than half a teaspoon per day); turmeric (which has blood sugar stabilizing and anti inflammatory properties)

Foods that hurt your Endocrine System:

Remember Mary-Lou’s Mantra: “W+W+W = WEIGHT (and other ill health symptoms) White + Wheat +Worry are the WWWs:

White refined carbohydrates; cow’s milk and cheese, sugar

Wheat (bread, pasta, flour products like cakes and biscuits, etc) Wheat is particularly difficult for the 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)

Mary-Lou will be at The Well Garden on:

24th August   /   25th September
19th October   /   23rd November
14th December

For more information and to book a personal appointment with Mary-Lou, visit: http://bit.ly/1FGP0K5 or email us at info@thewellgarden.co.uk.

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