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Stress and the Cortisol Steal

By Jan Nelson MSN, NP-C, ABAAHP


     Too many irons in the fire? Feeling wired, tired, and stressed? Your adrenal glands are trying to keep up with your crazy lifestyle, but when unable, other hormones are then converted to the stress hormone called cortisol. Your hormonal symphony is now out of tune, resulting in a multitude of problems.

     When the adrenals are stressed, the increased need for cortisol can deplete the progesterone levels by converting to cortisol. This is known as the “Cortisol Steal”.  As more progesterone is shunted or sequestered to make cortisol, less is available to balance estrogen. Without adequate progesterone available, estrogen then becomes excessive resulting in irritability, anxiety, insomnia, breast tenderness, and weight gain.

     Typically, bioidentical progesterone replacement is prescribed as an oral or topical agent taken at bedtime to help with sleep. However, research has indicated on occasion those with high cortisol as a result of stressed adrenals will convert the supplemental progesterone to cortisol during the night resulting in sleep disturbances with increased anxiety and or a feeling of panic. Women with high cortisol cannot experience the full benefit of progesterone therapy until lifestyle modifications are made to decrease the stress overload in their lives.

      Chronic high stress leads to overactive adrenals resulting in high blood pressure, stress anxiety, mood swings, depression, destructive personality changes, and other mental instabilities. When the adrenals continue in an overactive state for an extended period, they are likely to become underactive or fatigued— worn down and unable to respond at all. This state of weakened adrenals may result in fatigue, insomnia, allergies, and hypoglycemia.

     Diet and lifestyles changes along with nutritional supplements can help restore health and balance to the adrenal function. Start by eliminating the demands in your life, simplify your life. Your health depends on it! Chronic high stress accelerates the aging process, if you want proof take a look at those who are running our country!

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