Let's Take a Closer Look at the Metabolic Hormones - Epinephrine, Norepinephrine, and Cortisol

7:11 AM Posted by jo

This post is part of my series about the metabolic hormones and how they especially influence the weight. In my last post I discussed estrogen and progesterone.  Today I will discuss the fight or flight hormones, and they have their advantages as well as negative effect on the body. They can be useful and make sure we accomplish things on time, but they can also be extremely damaging to our health.

They key players and where they are produced
Norepinephrine, epinephrine and cortisol are produced in the adrenal glands. The cortisol, which is also referred to as hydrocortisone, is produced in the outer part of each adrenal gland called the adrenal cortex. Norepinephrine, which restricts blood vessels causing an increase in the blood pressure, is produced in the inner part of the adrenals called the adrenal medulla. The other stress hormone epinephrine, which increases heart rate and and blood flow to the muscles, is also produced in the adrenal medulla.

You decide the amount released
The amount of stress hormones released depends on the challenges faced. More norepinephrine is released when you face challenges you think you can handle. Testosterone is released after you win the victory. More of the  "anxiety hormone" epinephrine is released when you are faced with a challenged that you don't think you can master. When you feel discouraged, overwhelmed and convinced that you have no chance at all the body releases more cortisol. Some researchers call cortisol "the hormone of defeat." 

Stress and norepinephrine
At the first sign of stress norepinephrine will tell the body to stop producing insulin. This gives the body plenty of fast acting blood glucose. At the same time, the epinephrine will relax the muscles of the stomach and intestines to decrease the blood flow to that area. This leads to stomach and high blood sugar problems often associated with stress.

The function of cortisol 
The cortisol make sure that the body resume digestion by telling the body to stop producing these hormones once the stress is gone. Unfortunately the cortisol still influences the blood sugar, especially on how the body uses fuel. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, and as such it tells the body what protein, fat, or carbohydrates to burn depending on what challenge the body face. Cortisol has the power to either take the fat in the form of triglycerides and move it to the muscle, or break down muscle and convert it into glycogen for more energy. The excess cortisol also deconstructs skin and bone, which can lead to osteoporosis easy bruising and stretch marks. 

Epinephrine, aka adrenaline, suppresses appetite when the body is exposed to acute stress, but any cortisol lingering after that will stimulate the appetite. Unless you punched back or ran away which would have released the excess cortisol in your blood, the excess cortisol will increase cravings for high-fat and high-carb foods. The excess cortisol also lowers the leptin levels which stimulate appetite.

Rewarding brain chemicals 
The body releases rewarding brain chemicals once you eat. It can easily become an addictive relationship with food. You eat when feeling stressed, and the body releases natural opioids to make you feel better. Unless you consciously avoid this, it can easily make you dependent on this eat -feel good pattern to manage stress. 

The body resists weight loss 
The body resists weight loss if it is exposed to stress for a long time and the cortisol level stays high. The body thinks it is hard times and that it is starving. Therefor it holds on to all the foods consumed and the fat already stored in the body. 

Cortisol transfers the fat 
Another unpleasant action of cortisol is that it takes adipocytes, the young fat cells, and turn them into mature fat cells that stays with us forever. Cortisol likes to take fat from our healthier areas like the hips and the butts and transfer it to our abdomen. More cortisol receptors are located in the abdomen. During this process it turns healthy peripheral fat into un-healthy visceral fat. Visceral fat increases inflammation and insuline resistance. The abdominal fat leads to more cortisol due to its higher concentration of  a specific enzyme that converts inactive cortisone to active cortisol. Another vicious cycle is created, the more belly fat the more active cortisol will be converted. 

Some people can handle stressful situations better than others. Childhood or previous experiences, or genetics, may also play a role in how each individual deal with stressful situations.

A modern society epidemic
Over-stimulation of the adrenals has reached an epidemic in modern society today. The adrenals are constantly abused, and long term activation of the stress system can  turn lethal. Diabetes, stroke, heart disease and many other conditions are just some conditions that can be caused by exhausted adrenals.

The term adrenal fatigue has not been recognized by the mainstream medicine yet, but more endocrinologists have now accepted the term. It is used by natural health practitioners.

Things that can mess with the cortisol levels 
Dieting, excess caffeine, fear, excess sugar, skipping breakfast, diabetes, aggression, infrequent meals, anger, depression, lack of sleep are some things that can mess up the cortisol levels in the body.

Too little cortisol 
Some signs that there are too little cortisol in the body are chronic diarrhea, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, slow/sluggish movements, salt cravings, extreme weakness, darkening of the skin/or patchy skin color, paleness, weight loss, and changes in blood pressure or heart rate.

Too much cortisol 
Some signs that there is too much cortisol in the body are easily bruised skin, diabetes, depression, obesity, belly fat, high blood sugar, weight gain, frequent infections or colds, high cholesterol and triglycerides, irregular periods, insomnia, and reduced libido.

Feed the body the right food 
If you suspect that you have high or low cortisol it is very important to feed the body the best nutrition possible to support the body. Limit the caffeine, avoid processed foods, simple carbs, refined grains and get plenty of high quality protein. Work on adapting some de-stressing strategies into your life.

Don't self diagnose 
Don't self diagnose, always check with a health  practitioner before assuming you have a condition. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to prescribe or diagnose.

Thanks for visiting!


Johanna is an aromatherapist and an independent distributor of Young Living Essential Oils and Nature's Sunshine. She is passionate about educating people about health, essential oils, real food, natural remedies, and nutrition so they make healthier choices in their lives. 
She also runs Naturally Sports & Wellness together with her husband.  
Follow Johanna on twitter and facebook for more health tips and information. Don't forget to explore her new aromatherapy new blog.

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