The big picture

Stress made us who we are. As a species, we've evolved as a result of stress. Our body is designed to handle stress - our ‘flight or fight’ survival reaction was quite useful when the caveman encountered a wild animal. But in the modern world, the “always on” trend puts us in a permanent state of alert. Continuous stress became the norm and it turned against us.

Stress Response System

The body responds to stress via HPA axis (hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis) that will trigger stress hormonal cascade across multiple organs and systems.

Types of Stress

Stress can be positive and stimulating, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger.

Acute Stress

A dog barks loudly at you, or you are about to give a talk in public. Within milliseconds, a hormonal cascade pushes your body’s machinery into a “crisis” state. To "save" your life, your body starts to produce more energy: more glucose is released from your liver, more blood and oxygen are pumped to the heart and muscles. Functions that are not immediately needed, like digestion, sex, the immune system, are slowed down. You feel your heart beating in your throat, you become extremely aware of everything around you, and feel a real boost.

The body's stress-response system is self-limiting: once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. Therefore your heart rate and blood pressure return to regular levels, as well as the activity of other organs and systems.

This ‘on the spot’ type of stress can be good for you because the extra stress hormones help your mind and body to deal with the situation.

Acute Stress Manifestations

Physical Symptoms
Racing heart
Shallow breathing
Dry mouth
Psychological Symptoms
Loss of control

Although an acute stress can be pleasant (like when you’re falling in love or winning a competition), most of the acute stress sign and symptoms of make us feeling at least uncomfortable.

Acute Stress Manifestations

Prolonged stress is harmful and causes wear and tear on your mind and body.

Chronic stress

But there are no nasty dogs who want to bite you every day. And that’s good, because our ‘alert mode’ is not designed to be constantly “on”.

If you are exposed too often to stressful situations, without the necessary recovery or relaxation, your body will build up stress-related tension. This chronic stress will become negative and then manifest in a variety of ways.

For example, excess cortisol will affect several regions in the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex area, that is the most sensitive to the detrimental effects of stress. The prefrontal cortex intelligently regulates our thoughts, actions and emotions through extensive connections with other brain regions, creating a “mental sketch pad”. Therefore, with chronic stress, emotional response, behaviours and decision making are affected.

These reactions to stress differ from person to person and can be influenced by our life experiences (i.e. traumatic events can make us particularly vulnerable to certain stressors) but also genetics (several genes are regulating the stress response process), although genes are not destiny.

Chronic Stress Manifestations

Physical Symptoms
Increased basal heart rate
High blood pressure
Decreased heart rate variability
Frequent colds/infections
Poor Sleep
Skin rush, eczema, psoriasis
Difficulty to lose weight
Low libido/Erectile Dysfunction
Body pain/muscle tension
Upset stomach/intestine
Psychological Symptoms
Low motivaion
Memory loss
Mood swings/Low mood
Decreased efficiency
Learning difficulties
Poor decision making

Chronic stress and overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all your body's physiological functions. This puts you at increased risk of developing many health problems

Chronic Stress Manifestations

Why are we so stressed?

Family and marriage difficulties
Financial problems
Job stress
Shift work or nighttime work hours
Digital intox
Physical or mental illness
Care of ageing parents & raising children
School stress & work/family obligations
Social media
Substance abuse, including tobacco and alchohol
Internet addiction

Biology (just a little bit)

In response to stress, the levels of various hormones and molecules change, especially those secreted by the adrenals, the ‘stress glands’.

The adrenals secrete cortisol and DHEA, steroid hormones and other molecules (adrenaline, noradrenaline) involved in stress response. They influence glucose, insulin and inflammation, and play a major role in bone and muscle building, mood and mental focus, stamina, the sex drive and sleep cycles.

When stress is prolonged, adrenals turn into a roller coaster, become overworked, get tired, lack juice and will lead you to exhaustion and burnout, along with other troubles: blood sugar and insulin imbalances, food cravings, belly fat, sleep problems, low metabolism, weakened immunity.

Why Measure Stress

Everyone knows what stress is, but it's a big challenge to know where you are on the stress roller-coaster.

To understand the real impact of these stress molecules on your body, you need to rely on more than what you “feel”. Your perception of stress does not always reflect your biology.

Stress molecules can be objectively measured and this gives you clues on how to deal with stress from within (if your HPA axis has a proper functioning). When a stress occurs, there is the catecholamines cascades that starts within milliseconds:

We want to check if your diurnal cortisol secretion curve has a physiological pattern (high in the morning than decreasing all long day). We want you to keep a healthy cortisol rhythm, since it influences your response to stress, your energy level, your sleep and your sugar metabolism.

We will also check your CAR (cortisol awakening response).
The awakening response (CAR) is typically the cortisol peaking between 30 and 45 min after being awake and this peaking is a crucial reference point for a healthy cortisol circadian rhythm. It is related to stress, affective disorders, and physical health risks.


Cortisol 'the stress hormone'

This generally affects the body‘s ability to adapt to stimuli. An important function of cortisol is activating the metabolism to mobilise energy reserves. Cortisol influences emotional stress, blood pressure, metabolism, immune response and memory formation, among other important functions.

Excess of cortisol

  • - Sleeping difficulties
  • - Tension, nervousness
  • - High blood pressure
  • - Increased cholesterol
  • - Increased belly fat
  • - Susceptibility to infections

Lack of cortisol

  • - Lack of energy
  • - Lack of focus
  • - Tired in the morning
  • - Fatigue
  • - Forgetfulness
  • - Sugar cravings
  • - Low resistance to stress

DHEA 'the youth hormone'

DHEA is made of cholesterol, mainly in the adrenal gland, the same gland that secretes cortisol. DHEA balances the stress reaction caused by cortisol and thus helps to better deal with stress.

The production of DHEA decreases continually with age, from age 25 on. DHEA is also a building block of the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen, improving well-being and vitality.

Lack of DHEA

  • - Low resistance to stress
  • - Increase cortisol effect
  • - Low sex hormones
  • - Low libido
  • - Depression
  • - Forgetfulness
  • - Learning difficulties

Excess of DHEA (mainly noticeable in women, usually asymptomatic in men)

  • - Oily Hair
  • - Oily Skin
  • - Acne
  • - Excess of body/or facial hair
  • - Amenorrhea
  • - Male pattern baldness

DA 'the reward molecule'

DA, part of the dopaminergic system mainly acts in a stimulating manner. It is essential for coordination, movement, memory and learning, as well as concentration and mental performance. In addition, together with serotonin, it has a mood-lifting effect and regulates the so-called reward system and therefore our drives and motivation.

Excess of DA

  • - Restlessness
  • - Difficulties to concentrate
  • - Poor sleep
  • - Fatigue

Lack of DA

  • - Lack of motivation
  • - Depression
  • - Low libido
  • - Fatigue
  • - Addictions
  • - Low muscle tone
  • - Eating disorders
  • - Poor memory

Homovanillic acid (HVA)

Homovanillic acid (HVA) is a major catecholamine metabolite, associated with DA levels in the brain. Chronic stress alter the catecholamine pathway, including influencing the HVA levels.

HVA are typically elevated in the presence of a catecholamine-secreting tumor which are fortunately quite rare and most of the are benign, HVA levels can also be altered in disorders of catecholamine metabolism; monoamine oxidase-A deficiency can cause decreased urinary HVA values, while a deficiency of DA beta-hydrolase (the enzyme that converts DA to norepinephrine) can cause elevated urinary HVA values. Chronic stress alter the catecholamine pathway.

Adrenaline 'the performance and stress hormone'

When a stressful situation occurs, adrenaline ensures that the muscles and the brain quickly have more energy available. It increases respiratory volume, blood pressure and the heart rate; it also increases attentiveness and general mental activity, motivation and willingness to perform.

But on the other hand, it inhibits digestion and sexual activity.

Excess of adrenaline

  • - Insomnia
  • - Nervousness
  • - Anxiety

Lack of adrenaline

  • - Fatigue, exhaustion
  • - Depression
  • - Apathy
  • - Lack of focus
  • - Low blood pressure
  • - Difficulties to lose weight

Noradrenaline 'mental alertness'

Noradrenaline has the effect of increasing blood pressure, alertness, concentration, willingness to perform, motivation and motor functions. It is also involved in the controlling a multitude of hormones.

Excess of Noradrenaline

  • - Hyperactivity
  • - High blood pressure
  • - Anxiety

Lack of Noradrenaline

  • - Lack of energy
  • - Depression
  • - Lack of focus
  • - Impaired sensitivity to pain

Serotonin 'the happiness hormone'

Serotonin is an important messenger substance in the brain, mainly found in the gut nervous system and blood platelets. Serotonin is essentially responsible for our emotions. Acting together with adrenaline and dopamine, it elevates our mood and controls motivation. It also has a relaxing, sleep-enhancing and anti-depressive effect. In addition, it participates in regulating the feeling of being full and sensitivity to pain. Essential intestinal functions are also affected by serotonin.

Lack of Serotonin

  • - Depression
  • - Anxiety
  • - Fatigue
  • - Bulimia
  • - Weight gain
  • - Increased sensitivity to pain
  • - Migraine
  • - Lack of focus
  • - Poor sleep
  • - Nervousness


This molecule (5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid) is a downstream metabolite of Serotonin (the liver breaks down the hormone serotonin into 5-HIAA). This transformation is influenced by several co-factors, like Vitamine B2, Manganese and ADH (aldehide dehydrogenase) and MAO-A (monoamine oxidase A) enzymes. MAO-A gene is sensitive to oestrogens (high oestrogen inhibits MAO-A and low oestrogens increase MAO-A activity with increasing the turnover of Serotonin to 5HIAA that can lead to depression, night sweats and hot flushes, symptoms that are common at menopause).

High levels may mean

  • - Cystic fibrosis
  • - Malabsorption
  • - Carcinoid tumors
  • - Noncarcinoid tumors
  • - High MAO activity (due to due to genetic polymorphysms, low oestrogens, menopause etc)

Low levels may mean

  • - Depression
  • - Migraines

Vanil mandelic acid (VMA)

Vanillylmandelic acid (VMA) is one of the breakdown products of epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. This transformation is influenced by several co-factors (Magnesium, Vit B2, Cupper, SAM and enzymes such as monoamine oxidase (MOA) or catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT).

Unbalances of urinary VMA can indicate:

  • - Potential genetic mutations involving enzymes in this pathway
  • - Possible nutrient deficiencies that affect the epinephrine pathway
  • - Potential issues with related neurotransmitters, like dopamine, Epinephrine, Norepinephrine
  • - Adrenal problems (excess or insufficiency)
  • - Stress (acute or chronic)

Other hormones modified by stress


Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, is the main hormone that regulates the sugar metabolism. When stress occurs, the blood sugar is rising under the action of adrenaline and cortisol to ensure the necessary energy for this emergency state. Therefore, insulin must handle this rapid raise of blood sugar that was released to produce an extra-amount of energy needed for survival. The problem is that this extra energy is not really fully consumed (we are almost never literally running to save our lives). What’s more, because this phenomenon will occur again and again with a chronic stress, we can end up having a high blood sugar almost all the time, and consequently develop insulin resistance, with an increased risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, weight gain/obesity.

Thyroid Hormones

Are slowed down in stressful conditions. Decreased thyroid function is a factor in fatigue, weight gain and feeling low.

Sex Hormones

Prolonged stress leads to a lower libido and sex drive. The female reproductive cycle can also be disturbed.

Growth Hormone

Increases during acute physical stress, which can enhance metabolic activity. But chronic stress can lead to less growth hormone being secreted.