Adrenal Dysfunction : Common Stress Triggers


By Yulli Agnes, MD, MBiomed (AAM)

Stress is define as any stimulus, physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension; that are different from the normal expectation of life; that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium. Stress may be bad - “distress” - such as a difficult work environment, divorce, or illness. Stress may also be good - “eustress” - such as the birth of a child, marriage, or the opportunity to present a paper at a large convention. Stress may also be acute or chronic, and it is chronic stress that is debilitating.

The stress-response-system start at the brain.  The key components of the ‘stress system’ are the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). When the hypothalamus is triggered by a stressor, it elicits some reaction at the brain, involving some releasing-hormones that will drives the production of cortisol from the adrenal gland (glands located above kidneys).

Life is stressful. You likely could give a good description of circumstances or persons that leave you at the end of your rope. Even seemingly simple daily responsibilities like having a job, maintaining a home, being in a relationship or just dealing with life's ups and downs can become major contributors to stress. With no relief from daily and unexpected stressors, being chronically stressed becomes a normal state. When  your stress response mechanisms is constantly triggers with events that are not resolved, your response mechanisms begin to become disjointed, improperly regulated and exhausted. Sometimes they fail altogether.

Each person is different with different life stories; each situation is unique and complex. And though most people can certainly identify when they're feeling stressed, a lot of people aren't aware what's actually going on in their body when it happens.



1) Mental & Emotional

Our stress-response system is easily triggered by non-physical events. grief, anger, worry, fear, guilt, embarrassment, traumatic memories — all can trigger the stress-response at our brain. Also, events such as job stress, financial pressure, public speaking, performance evaluations, relationship issues, doctor appointment; even excitement such as sky diving; will drive up cortisol in most individuals. Research has shown that the magnitude of the response and recovery to these stressors is based on the individual’s perception rather than the stressors themselves.        

2) Sleep Disruption

Sleep is your body’s way of resetting itself metabolically and psychologically. It helps your body readjust to the stresses placed upon it during the day. If you are not getting a good quality of sleep your natural stress response will not be able to function properly. There are different causes of sleep disruption, include elevated cortisol, low melatonin, low progesterone, hypoglycemic response, sleep apnea, restless leg, etc.

3) Blood Sugar Dysregulation

Food is not just nutrients. It also contains information to help regulate systems in the body. How much, how often and what types of food you eat will determine how your body will respond. Constant fluctuations in blood glucose create one of the body’s most stressful conditions. Dietary pattern that drive poor glycemic control include low-calorie dieting, going too long between meals, consuming high-glycemic index foods and junk food diets.

4) Inflammation

Cortisol is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Any acute or chronic inflammatory condition will signal cortisol release through normal inflammatory signaling and the stress-response system. Tissue damage or surgery, inflammation in the gut (IBD, celiac, food allergies), chronic inflammatory conditions (arthritis, skin allergies), obesity or toxins overload will all drive up stress-response system dysfunction if not corrected.

We are all affected by stress, yet how we perceive and respond to the stressors in our lives can have a big impact on our health. Identifying your stress trigger is crucial in managing adrenal dysfunction.