Stress and hormones are related – Learn how to manage both!

Dear girlfriend,

I know what you are going through … trying to balance work, relationships, kids etc., and things are pulling you in all directions. With so much stress going on, it puts your hormones also out of whack.

I am fully aware that these hormonal imbalances are affecting your life and driving you crazy! It’s vital that you know about the two very important hormones – cortisol and insulin – that can dramatically affect your efforts to balance out all the other hormones. If these two culprits get out of whack, they can cause a cascade of other hormonal symptoms throughout the endocrine system. And, oh, they can make you feel fat and witchy, too

Dr Disha Sridhar

I am a Gynaecologist Obstetrician ( MD, DNB OBGYN )with an emphasis on INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE.

Conquering  THE STRESS HORMONE – CORTISOL:

Let’s learn about the stress giving child, cortisol. From my 20-plus years focused on women’s health and hormone management, I can tell you that while sex hormones and Thyroid hormones  are obviously important, cortisol is a big contributor to most of the misery I see in the thousands of women who I saw as patients and many more who participate in my women’s online health programs.

In order to fully address other hormonal imbalances, you first need to get a good hold of how cortisol works. Because, you need to balance your major hormones first, in order to address any underlying hormonal imbalances.

Symptoms of underlying hormonal imbalances include:

  • Weight gain (and challenges with losing the extra pounds)
  • Mood swings, depression and anxiety
  •  Brain fog and memory issues
  • Vaginal dryness and other symptoms such as pain and incontinence
  • Relationship disconnect
  • Hot Flashes
  • Low Sex drive

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is secreted by our adrenal glands (which is why people refer to long-term, chronic stress as adrenal burnout). A certain amount of cortisol is healthy for us as it has anti-inflammatory properties and is definitely needed in the right amount for our body to function properly.  Cortisol is our stress hormone, and we’re not just talking mental stress.


Examples of stressors include:

  • A carb-heavy diet which also happens to be heavy on acidity, through a traditionally carb-heavy diet can put the body through a lot of physical stress.
  • The stress you might put on your body if you don’t deal with any food sensitivities you may have, such as gluten intolerance.
  • Strains that cause gut permeability (“leaky gut”) issues.
  • Nutrient deficiencies.
  • Lack of sleep or not sleeping well.
  • Environmental toxins.
  • Relationship tensions.

All of these stresses get our cortisol pumping, often at unhealthy levels. Cortisol heightens mental focus in the case of a short-term stressor – where it provides a jolt of energy, and refocuses the body’s energy resources on addressing the issue at hand. Cortisol would shut down your libido and reproductive hormones, in a “fight-or-flight” situation, increase blood flow to your legs and arms, provide a spike of energy, and sharpen your focus. Everyday short-term stressors are usually more related to things such as relationships, overly demanding schedules, jobs and the like. As a result, our bodies are constantly preparing for an emergency that never comes, which will lead to a spiral down of each of our health, eventually.

Too much cortisol output, for too lengthy of time, is not a good thing. When this occurs, our adrenal glands – where cortisol is produced – become dysfunctional.  They may then significantly decrease making cortisol.

Some symptoms of adrenal dysfunction are:

  • Feeling ultra-fatigued, yet unable to fall asleep
  • Blood sugar spike or insulin resistance
  • Gaining belly fat as your metabolism
  • Becoming sick with a cold as your immune system becomes suppressed.
  • Anxiety, mood swings and irritability.
  • Sugar and food cravings

A classic case of someone who functions on excess cortisol is a person who takes a long vacation to relieve their stress from routine stuff and for some reason catches a cold.Take the stress away, cortisol goes down, and “boom!” underlying inflammation flares up.

Chronic high cortisol eventually leads to chronically low levels of cortisol,along with adrenal dysfunction,and that causes problems(remember, a healthy level of cortisol is needed to protect our body from inflammation).

Adrenal exhaustion occurs eventually.This is where your body starts to suffer from increasing inflammation, oxidative damage and rapid ageing. All that inflammation further compromises our immune system.And as we know 90% of the chronic diseases are caused by inflammation.

We can start to see low libido and sexual performance issues along with depression.

Do you know what happens when cortisol has an impact on other important hormones?Here the different stages of Adrenal dysfunction are explained in detail:

1. Adrenal Insufficiency – the First Phase: The body begins to metabolise proteins from the muscles initially, which causes weakness,fatigue and muscle pain. This also causes many women to start having cravings and to experience unhealthy weight gain around the middle.

2. Adrenal insufficiency – the Second Phase: Hormonal symptoms begin to worsen because the adrenals are now impacting the balance of other minor hormones (such as estrogen, progesterone and pregnenolone) in favour of creating more cortisol. We may see thyroid hormone fluctuations – in particular, a slowing of thyroid hormone production.

Gut permeability issues, sleep issues, moodiness and isolating behaviours, hair loss, inflammation (a lot of joint pain), decreased immunity, and a lack of libido can be seen.As if it wasn’t enough, we’ll likely experience blood sugar issues, since our bodies are keeping themselves in this state of preparation for a nonexistent, yet ever-threatening emergency.

3. Adrenal hypo-function: Over time, the adrenals will no longer pump out the needed level of cortisol. Why? To protect itself from high cortisol outputs,our brain shuts down cortisol production altogether.The adrenals decrease cortisol output as a defensive measure through this feedback system. Gradually,our bodies will then become quite acidic and suffer from increased inflammation, which further compromises our immune system. We can gauge this by measuring the levels of secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), an antibody, in our saliva or blood.

How to tame the cortisol beast:

Maintaining control over your cortisol levels will support your body by regulating your other hormones in a healthier fashion. There a few ways you can “tame the cortisol beast”:

1. Embrace an alkaline diet.

Research has shown that cortisol gets elavated on eating an acid-heavy diet (one made up of carbs, sugars and processed foods). Dietary acid load and the conditions of bone health,obesity, cardiovascular disease and overall well-being have a strong connection.

Eating and living alkaline is the solution.Cortisol restores to healthy levels by eating and living alkaline and also helps reset our daily circadian rhythm,decreases joint pain,boosts mood, promotes better sleeping habits, and helps shed the pounds. Bone loss can be reduced,muscle mass can be improved and much more can be achieved by following an alkaline diet.

The good news is an alkaline diet is relatively easy to adhere to! In general, due to their mineral content,vegetables are the most-alkaline foods. On the other hand, processed foods, meat, poultry, dairy and most vices (alcohol, sugar and caffeine) are acidic – sorry! I recommend trying to follow an 80/20 rule, with a diet that is 80% alkaline and 20% healthy, clean (i.e., organic!) protein and healthy fats.

2. Adrenals can be supported by some natural supplements and herbs.

3. Pursue a healthy lifestyle

Measures such as improving your stress management, reducing toxins in your environment, sleeping better, maintaining healthy bowel movements, making your gut healthy (by removing food sensitivities) and many others will help move your body into a state of being more net alkaline, versus more net acidic.

The first step in managing your cortisol levels is training your brain to work on your behalf (instead of against you!). Make a conscious choice not to see the things in your life as stressors, but as opportunities to learn how to slow down, stay balanced, and manage things gracefully. It is possible!

Practicing regular deep breathing, meditation, or yoga on a daily basis is an easy way to get into that “zone”. The good news? In order for it to work you don’t have to devote hours to this. Even just 10-15 minutes of quiet contemplation or movement (try a few hip opener yoga poses, as we tend to store stress in our hips), will help you create the space to hit the reset button. It can assist you in clearing your mind, making that mental shift, and approaching the next thing on your to-do list with clarity, focus, and calm.

4. And finally, increase the oxytocin THE LOVE HORMONE in your life!

So, are you living an alkaline lifestyle or an acidic one? Are you ready to make a change? Remember that love is alkaline:).

Oxytocin is the powerful hormone of love, bonding and connection. The hormone released during hugging, play, laughter, and with giving is also Oxytocin.

Wonder why there is such an immediate and powerful bond when you hold your infant for the first time, a powerful unity that you’ve maybe never experienced before?I first encountered oxytocin’s powers in love and connection as an obstetrician. A woman’s body produces oxytocin in abundance during labor.

If you’ve ever nursed a baby, think back to the process that occurs during breastfeeding called milk “let-down”. You just need to hold your little one and think about nursing, and the oxytocin starts to flow, and then your milk does, too! As your baby nurses, your bond grows even more deep and powerful. Later on, the ocytocin is released by just a hug from your child and that unconditional love.

Oxytocin is all about relationships, nurturing, and attachment. It is about giving and receiving pleasure, kindness and happiness. Have I convinced you that you need as much oxytocin in your life as possible? That helping others to increase their oxytocin is also a beautiful gift?

Oxytocin and cortisol have a love-hate relationship. Cortisol and oxytocin oppose each other. They are the two boxers in a ring, or the two kids on a seesaw. When one goes up, the other is forced to go down. The key is to maintain the balance between the two.

You Need To Put Oxytocin In The Winner’s Circle

To  create more oxytocin and to counter cortisol in your life: hug, laugh, play, look into someone’s eyes and smile, give gratitude and thanks, play, and stay in the present.  

Other things you can do to keep oxytocin at healthy levels are:

Learn to control stress in a better way and also manage your thoughts around stressors you simply cannot control. You can’t remove all stress from your life, so don’t even try (that’s stressful!).Some form of meditation everyday, along with a few minutes of deep belly breathing (slow breaths deep within the abdomen, at about 5-6 breaths per minute works best)can be practiced. For meditation, I like yoga or just walking in nature; but I am also a big proponent of gratitude journaling. The quality and quantity of sleep must be improved.Find ways to do it! This will inturn help maintain a balance and reset your natural circadian rhythm.

Connect with those around you and reduce your stress.Carve out some time for that! Isn’t it easy to do?

All of these changes – can help you feel less isolated and more in the mood for enjoying life again – many of which you can start today!



Originally published October 22, 2019 by Dr Disha Sridhar