Stress and sex hormones and dangers of cortisol

Stress and sex hormones and dangers of cortisol

Stress and sex hormones and dangers of cortisol

The following is a transcript of an interview between Patrick Wanis, Human Behavior and Relationship Expert, PhD and Dr. Michael Bauerschmidt, Medical Director of Full Potential Health Care  revealing the links between stress, hormones and staying young. Patrick Wanis and Dr. Mike also reveal the differences between stress hormones and sex hormones as well as cortisol and its role and danger.  For previous part of this transcript (Part 3), click here:

Patrick: So to summarize what we’ve discussed so far, we’re saying that hormonal health is obviously critical to your overall health because the level and the quality of hormones determines the quality of your organs and thus, determines the quality and the function of your entire body.

You also talked about the fact that right now based on what science knows, our body can live, depending on the kind of stress we present it with, can live to about 120 years of age. As we get older, it’s harder for us to maintain the levels of hormones that we had in our 20s. The earlier we start, the healthier we can be and we can stay because we can maintain those levels as much as possible.

You also talked about the four main stressors, which you abbreviate to an acronym, DEEP – diet, emotions, environment and physical state. You gave us an example of a patient who experiences extraordinary pain leading up to her period and that that’s not natural – that’s an imbalance and usually that’s an imbalance of hormones that might be connected either to her diet, her emotions, her environment, or her physical state.

Now, let’s talk for a moment about the difference between the hormones that are stress hormones and the hormones that are sex hormones. You started talking about how pregnenolone can break down into progesterone and then 17-hydroxyprogesterone that then breaks off into the sex hormones or the adrenal corticosteroid hormones. Explain how that works briefly.

Dr. Mike: It’s really quite simple. Your body is kind of like the ultimate triage officer. It sends the things to where they’re needed the most.

If your body is under particular stress and you had a lot of stress hormones, that progesterone is going to be hanging on down and shooting right down that cortisol pathway and there’s going to be precious little left over for the sex hormone support.


Here’s the deal, when you’re dealing with the body, we can look to economics as a thing. One of the economic principles is all resources are scarce. That is, there isn’t an infinite supply of everything for anybody. We may experience individually plenty of food, water and air; but collectively, there really isn’t enough going around, otherwise there wouldn’t be any starvation in the world.

As this principle works in the human body is that if your body is under constant stress and you need a lot of the stress hormones, it’s going to start shutting down other organ systems that are not immediately involved with your survival. So the hormones tend to take a big whack when you’re under stress, particularly your thyroid will begin to down regulate as you demand more out of your adrenals for adrenal support.

Your ovaries may start to shut down because your neurochemistry in your brain or your neurotransmitters are now all in fight-or-flight mode and there isn’t the normal levels of your feel good hormones, like serotonin, dopamine and prolactin, which your body needs in order to keep your hormones balanced. This is why women under stress, whether it’s physical or emotional stress, will start having irregular periods or quit having periods altogether.

The classic example is the woman who really starts running and training aerobically. You look at her, perfect body weight, 4% body fat, like a lean, mean running machine and she’s not having periods. Because of all the amount of physical stress that’s going on in order for her to maintain that high level of performance, other things are shutting down because you just don’t have enough to go around for everybody.

Patrick: So the body makes a choice, whether it chooses to convert or methylate or use up the hormones either for sex or for stress?

Dr. Mike: In the simplest terms, that’s correct. There’s a little complication in the methylation thing; but, in essence, you’re correct.


Patrick: Why is cortisol bad for us?

Dr. Mike: It’s not in normal amounts. Remember, everything is in balance. Cortisol is a wear-and-tear thing but it also keeps us out of trouble. We want good cortisol levels if we’re suddenly frightened. It’s a survival mechanism.

Patrick: Cortisol is part of the fight-or-flight, correct?

Dr. Mike: However, if we’re walking around in a chronic stress state, which most of us in this country are, then we’re actually wearing our machinery out. Our transmission is going to need to be replaced soon, our valves are going to need to get redone, our injectors got to get cleaned more often, and that ages us more quickly.

Patrick: What is the primary —

Dr. Mike: This engine we call our human body.

Patrick: Dr. Mike, what is the primary purpose of cortisol?

Dr. Mike: The primary purpose of cortisol it is the stress hormone. It’s your fight-or-flight hormone. It’s going to raise your sugar level, which is your primary mechanism for getting the heck out of there, you got to fuel the system. It also is going to suppress the immune system, which is why doctors love giving steroids for sinusitis or sprained ankle or whatever it is because it suppresses the immune system so that energy can be used for the more acute getting the heck out of there.

Along with the cortisol comes norepinephrine, which raises your heart rate, constricts your blood vessels, dilates your pupils so you can take in more light so you can see more keenly and acutely. The whole thing puts the body in the fight-or-flight mode.


Patrick: Cortisol also converts to cortisone and —

Dr. Mike: Right, and that’s on a tissue level, same principle applies. It’s the action of the cortisol; cortisone is basically the same thing.

Patrick: That’s part of the stress, fight-or-flight syndrome?

Dr. Mike: Exactly.

Patrick: So that’s another clear way of stating why we need to maintain or lower our stress levels to lower the production of cortisol in our body?

Dr. Mike: Correct. Here’s the bonus question, this is how methylation also pulls into this, is the same pathway that breaks down your stress hormone levels are the same methylation pathways that are used to break down your sex hormones so that if you overwhelm the system with stress hormones, you’re automatically going to be backing up your sex hormones, those metabolites.

Patrick: When you say “backing up”, what do you mean?

Dr. Mike: That means you’re not getting rid of those active estrogen metabolites, which is another way of being estrogen-dominant. It doesn’t necessarily have to happen that way, but that’s another complicating feature of why it’s so hard to balance women’s hormones when they’re chronically stressed.

Patrick: Are you saying that when a woman is chronically stressed, she’s producing more estrogen?

Dr. Mike: Not necessarily producing more, but she may have more of the active metabolites because those active metabolites are — it’s like trying to get into the store on Black Friday, you got a lot of people vying for a very narrow space. If you’ve got an overabundance of cortisol or stress hormones, the estrogens aren’t going to be able to get in there to get processed with the same efficiency because, again, your system can only process so much in a given length of time.

Patrick: So then we have an excess level of —

Dr. Mike: Then you have the excess level of the estrogen metabolites, which can also lead to all the premenstrual symptoms. If that’s not the case and you have low estrogen levels to begin with because you’re getting near that menopausal stage and your ovaries aren’t working as well as they should or could and you’re chronically under stress, you’ve got no progesterone left over to make any, the adrenals can kick in a little bit to help the ovaries out. If the adrenals are so taxed by making cortisol, they got nothing left over to make the sex hormones, so you’ll suffer equally on the other side.

You actually have two ways that the increased stress hormone levels can affect you. One is making your premenstrual symptoms worse because of the bioaccumulation of the active metabolites of estrogen. Or two, it can bring on early menopause simply because your adrenals aren’t able to give that little boost, that little extra kick to the women when their ovaries start going out on us.

I know this to be an absolute truth because I’ve had a number of patients in their 60s, finished menopause years ago, don’t have any symptoms and then, all of a sudden, they come in and say, “Why am I having hot flashes again?”

My first question is usually, “How’s your marriage?” or “What’s happening with the grandkids?” There’s usually some acute stressor in their life that has brought on the hot flashes, has nothing to do with anything other than stress.

Patrick: So if a woman is experiencing extreme stress and obviously the hormones are being used to handle the stress and then you’re saying the reason that men and women lose interest in sex when they’re overly stressed is because the body isn’t then producing enough of the sex hormones?

Dr. Mike: Yeah. That’s the Reader’s Digest abridged version.

Patrick: You also talked earlier about the fact that the hormones are produced by glands, the hormones determine the health of the glands. When one of the hormones goes out of balance, is it true that all other hormones go out of balance?

Dr. Mike: Generally because the body is self-regulating. It’s not like the hormones have a little meeting and say hey, the adrenals are having a hard time, what can we do to help? The body is now trying to rebalance itself under less than optimum circumstances and this all gets back to how the brain responds to stress or how the brain responds to environmental influences.


There is a whole new body of literature that’s come up probably in the last ten years about the psychoneuroimmunologic system. It all has to do with the investigation of how emotions influence the biochemistry in the brain in terms of neurotransmitters, which then influences things like your immune system, which a lot has to do with the endocrine system in this regard as well.

It’s really fascinating that, say, we’re under stress, it’s not that the thyroid and the pancreas and everybody else kind of getting together and having a little meeting and saying what can we do to help out the adrenals. It all has to do with what is happening in the brain in terms of the balance of the neurotransmitters and how is that affecting our different hormone levels.

Patrick: How are the other organs affected when we have this stress? Right at the beginning you talked about the impact of stress on liver and kidneys, can you explain that?

Dr. Mike: There is not a single organ in the body that doesn’t have some hormone receptor on it. As an example, if estrogen and progesterone were just involved with sex and reproduction, then why do women have hot flashes after they go through menopause?

Why do women get osteoporosis after they go through menopause? Why does the incidence of heart disease go way up after menopause? Why does the skin start looking terrible after menopause? Why does the brain fog set in and why does the memory go after menopause?

It all has to do with the fact that you need your hormones down on a cellular level to tell the cells what you want them to do. In that effect, you can’t have an imbalance of any of your hormones and expect your body to be working properly.

Patrick: But that is what I said a moment ago that the imbalance of your hormone levels affect your organs, which, obviously, is going to affect the function of your body. You did talk about stress playing a big part or putting additional pressure on your kidneys and liver, what were you referring to?

Dr. Mike: Your stress hormones, you’re going to raise your blood pressure, you’re going to be increasing your — because you’re now in an increased energy production state, you have more toxins and more byproducts of energy production, you’ve got more exhaust to deal with. Your liver and your kidneys are your exhaust system for the body.

Patrick: In other words, you’re saying with more toxins —

Dr. Mike: There’s more toxins releasing.

Patrick: Okay. And that’s what’s going to put pressure on the kidneys and liver to cleanse out those toxins?

Dr. Mike: Precisely.

Patrick: In summing up, what is the best advice you can give to everyone listening right now regarding maintaining hormonal health?

Dr. Mike: Meditate, preferably twice a day for at least 15 minutes. It does wonders for quieting the brain and taking the foot off the accelerator or the hand off the fire alarm in the brain. Other than that, pay attention to your body.

If you’re one of those women with the premenstrual symptoms, you don’t have to suffer with that. There are doctors out there to help you. Sometimes it’s just a question of finding the one that wants to treat the patient and not the lab report. That may take a little searching.

I could give you a couple of recommendations of websites your audience could go to find somebody in their area.


Patrick: Obviously, they should look at your website,

Dr. Mike: By all means, Full Potential Healthcare. Please make that your first stop. But that may not help you if you’re in California; although, I do see people from out of state and out of country.

There are other doctors that have been trained and think the way I do and they are likely in a town near you, hopefully.

Patrick: What is your other website?

Dr. Mike: The other website is  It’s the American College for Advancement in Medicine. I received a lot of my training at their seminars and workshops. On their front page, you just punch in your zip code and they’ll tell you people that are in your area.

What you want to look for is somebody that’s been trained with bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. Or, you can simply Google BHRT and people in your area will pop up.

I strongly, strongly recommend, however, if that’s the way you go, that you avoid anybody that wants to give you troches that is the stuff you stick in your mouth and you suck on because that’s overpowering the liver.

I also do not like pellets. Pellets can be very effective. However, they usually last for about four months and just the way they’re manufactured and made, you’re going to have a really good level the first month, the second and third month, you’re going to be okay, and the fourth month you’re going to feel like oh my god, what happened to me, my hormones aren’t working anymore. They also tend to be rather expensive.

Patrick: Dr. Mike, this has been truly enlightening.

Dr. Mike: Absolutely you have to do a 24-hour urine. If you’re not doing a 24-hour urine, you’re getting set up for a bad result.

Patrick: All right. Summarizing:

No. 1: meditate;

No. 2: find a doctor in functional family medicine;

No 3: ensure that the doctor treats the patient not the lab report;

No 4: ensure that he also runs a 24-urine analysis

Dr. Mike: Correct.

Patrick: Dr. Mike, this has been extraordinarily enlightening, very, very challenging at times to follow the amount of information you have because we’re talking about something that’s extremely complicated and complex. Thank you for doing that.

I look forward to speaking with you again soon. The advice you give is truly empowering and beneficial. Thank you for that.

Your website is

Dr. Mike Bauerschmidt, thank you very much.

Dr. Mike: Thank you, Patrick. It’s always a pleasure.

[0:48:02]        End of Audio

– [View and download the hormonal chart mentioned by Dr. Mike here: Downloadable Hormonal Chart – allow time for chart to open – it is printable quality.]

Read here all of  the parts of this interview revealing the links between stress, hormones and staying young.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4: rx

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