Stress hormones are hormones which released by our body in situations that are interpreted as being potentially dangerous for human body. Stress hormones could be interpreted as normal body response to threatening factors – factors which upset body balance.
When body “feels” any kind of danger and/or “attack”, it reacts immediately – the stress response is the body’s way of protection. During stress body experiences a shock or perceives a threat – it triggered the release of hormones which are necessary for survival. Stress hormones force your heart work faster, breath quicker, sense sharper, make your muscles tighten and raise your blood pressure. At the same time, blood vessels open wider to let more blood flow to large muscle groups, putting our muscles on alert and sweat is produced to cool the body. All mentioned physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time and enhance your focus – preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger and/or threat. This kind of body response to the stress called “fight or flight”.
It is well known that human body is very well developed system – it is built to protect and maintain our health and well-being. If we experience any kind of stress (positive or negative), stress hormones react immediately and help out body to overcome emotional, physical, psychological or chemical stress. Stress hormones regulate our feelings, mood, reactions, sleeping habits, hunger and appetite, happiness and/or sadness.
Every time our body senses some threat or overload, it produces stress hormones and sends them into the bloodstream to set the body back into its natural balance.
If we are in long on-going pressure, increased stress hormones will remain in our body and will trigger several symptoms of stress (mood swings, sleep disorders, tiredness, reduced concentration ability, decreased memory, overreaction, food addiction or anorexia, etc.).
Stress hormones play significant role in regulating several body functions including our behavior. Human brain is the controlling center for the release of stress and actual release of hormones is regulated by the endocrine system.
Main stress hormones are: cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin. Some other hormones also can be involved in body response to stress.
Cortisol is a corticosteroid that is produced by the adrenal cortex in the adrenal gland in response to stress and it is used as a market to measure stress. Cortisol secretion increases in response to any kind of stress/pressure – physical (illness, trauma, abuse, surgery, temperature, fight) or psychological (anger, family abuse, problematic relations, conflicts, marriage, divorce, unemployment, imagined problems). Increased levels of cortisol could trigger high blood pressure, increased levels of blood sugars, fastened breath and heart bit. Cortisol can also inhibit the immune system.
Cortisol regulates body blood pressure and cardiovascular functions. Cortisol also is responsible for body’s use of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Increased levels of cortisol usually lead to the release of energy source from fat cells (mainly for use by the muscles). Increased energy is needed for body response to threatened stress factors helping body to dial with stress (run away, move fast, think quickly, react immediately, response promptly). Increased energy during stress also is responsible for adequate energy sources for brain.
Adrenalin is a stress hormone which is also produced during stress – even actually a little bit earlier (when the body feels the danger and prepares for adequate response). Human body is changing the level of adrenalin in anticipation of danger – it is a part of well known “fight or flight” body response – response that prepares the body to “fight” or “flee” from any kind of threat.
Adrenaline is released from the adrenal glands when the body believes it is involved in a stressful situation. When “fight or flight” response is activated, adrenaline (together with noradrenaline and cortisol) is released into the bloodstream which is triggering dramatic changes in our body – breathing is fastening, blood is moving into muscles and limbs, immune system is mobilizing, vision is sharpening, impulses are becoming quicker and whole body becoming prepared for any kind of stress (physical, emotional, psychological, chemical).
During stress adrenaline increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure, boosts energy supplies and sharpens all senses (making them more acute and accurate). At the same time, cortisol increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Concentration of adrenaline increases dramatically when our body senses a threat, but it decreases quickly after the threat has dissipated. The increase in adrenaline sometimes called “the adrenaline rush” which makes you feel empowered (stronger, faster, sharper, quicker).
It should be mentioned that the decrease in adrenaline (after stress) is known as “the adrenaline crash” which makes you feel anxious, unhappy and even depressed. Medical professionals discovered that clients who suffer from depression very often experience an extremely drastic drop in adrenaline.
Noradrenalin is one of stress hormones – it is a catecholamine that functions both as a hormone and neurotransmitter. Noradrenalin is released from the adrenal glands into the blood.
As a stress hormone, noradrenalin affects those parts of the brain that are responsible for attention and responding to actions. Noradrenalin forms the basis of the “fight or flight” body stress response by directly increasing the heart rate, stimulating the release of glucose from stored energy and enhancing the supply of blood to skeletal muscles.
DHEA is also produced by adrenal glands on response to any kind of stress – it is one of shock absorber hormones in the body – adrenal glands produce most of body DHEA but gonads (ovaries, testes) can also produce DHEA when the adrenals are overworked.
DHEA is an important regulator of the thyroid and pituitary glands.Increased levels of DHEA and cortisol actually buffer the stress and reduce the stress negative impact on body (emotional, physical, mental and psychological). But long-term stress can have a serious impact on the adrenal glands and cause them to shrink and reduce production of stress hormones – this could trigger several health problems and health diseases.
In general, DHEA is a good stress barometer – it is noted that when stress levels go up, DHEA levels go down.
Stress and other hormones
Estrogens and Progesterone
It is well known that stress could have influence at menstrual cycle (missed period, late period, irregular periods, absence of periods) and could also trigger uncontrolled imbalanced eating habits, lack of physical activities, sleep disorders, etc. All changes in women could be explained by dramatic changes in female sex hormones (estrogens and progesterone) which are responsible also for symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).
Estrogens and progesterone are very active in women during menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause, they counteract each other and any extreme variations in them may cause symptoms like severe mood swings, anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness and weight changes. This is why during stress women could experience all mentioned symptoms.
Long-term excessive stress, excessive eating, excessive alcohol or nicotine use and drug abuse are recognized by women body as extreme threat which could trigger increased production of testosterone (male hormone) which could provide strength but can also cause several unpleasant symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal fat, mood swings, hirsutism (increased hair grow on face and body), depression, anxiety and sleep disorders.
Long-term stress could trigger disbalance in thyroxine production and as consequences women could experience decreased energy, slow heart rate and weight gain or loss.
Disclaimer: It is strongly recommended to consult your doctor for professional advice. Above mentioned information and recommendations are just general and should be adapted to each person according to personal health indicators and status.