Stressful events are a certainty for all of us, and the way that we interpret and internalize these events has a profound effect on two important hormones in our bodies, DHEA and cortisol. DHEA (or dehydroepiandrosterone) is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is the most abundant of all of our hormones. DHEA is responsible for revitalizing, rebuilding, and restoring each of the over 100 trillion cells we have in our bodies. In nutritional researcher Sam Graci’s book The Food Connection, he describes DHEA as the “mother hormone” because of its role in producing other adrenal hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.

Cortisol is also a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. After DHEA, it is the second most abundant hormone. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid, meaning that it has the ability to increase blood glucose levels. This occurs as part of the fight or flight response, as cortisol assumes control of the body’s metabolic systems during high-stress events. When faced with a life or death situation, cortisol will temporarily increase the flow of glucose (as well as protein and fat) out of your tissues and into the bloodstream. This increases physical readiness and energy in order to handle the stressful situation. However, when we prolong our stress through excessive worry, overwork, inadequate sleep, overtraining, and poor nutrition, cortisol’s temporary job becomes a permanent one. When this happens, excess cortisol is produced, which raises insulin levels as well as blood pressure, reduces immune function, increases appetite and cravings for sugar, increases fat deposition (particularly around the abdominal area), and causes brain damage. Not a pretty picture. As you can see, it is very important that we keep cortisol in check.

Imagine that these two hormones, DHEA and cortisol, are seated on a teeter-totter with DHEA on one side and cortisol on the other. As one side goes up, the other side goes down. In order to keep our DHEA/cortisol teeter-totter from tipping too far to one side, we must remain in homeostasis, which is a state of equilibrium or balance. The more we can remain in balance, the healthier we will be both physically (by remaining disease free and in good physical shape) and mentally (by feeling happy and at peace).

When we spend our time worrying over our bodies, lives, jobs, etc., we are upsetting the DHEA/cortisol balance and damaging both our bodies and our minds. In many cases the solution is not to quit your job, go under the knife, or leave your relationship. This is like cutting off the head to cure the headache. Rather, the solution lies in finding practical ways to manage the stress that occurs each and every day.

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