HealthHub Login

Sympathetic Dominance – The Effect of Stress On Hormones and Weight

By Lucy Rose Clinic

December 27, 2020

How switched on are you? 

Are you consuming multiple cups of coffee or caffeinated beverages a day?

Do you feel like your heart is always racing? 

Do you start multiple tasks but don’t finish them before moving on to the next?

Do you find it hard to just sit still and relax?

If you said YES, then this article might shed some light for you.

Sympathetic Dominance

When High Achiever Syndrome Backfires On Your Body

The symptoms described above can occur due our survival switch being stuck ON, a condition called Sympathetic Dominance.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System is our “rest and digest” system where we are conserving energy and where body functions such as detoxification, digestion and urination are in full swing.

The Stress Center

The Sympathetic Nervous System is our “fight, flight or freeze” system which is activated in stressful situations. From an evolutionary perspective, this system was helpful for our survival in circumstances such as invading tribes or wild animals, however, in 2020 our stress triggers are very different. 

The wild animals of the modern day are busy schedules, work place bullying, traffic jams or never ending unread emails. 

Many of us no longer experience the one-off momentary stressful period before heading back into a restful Parasympathetic state, we are continuously living in a “fight or flight” response. We are continuously on call, on the move and doing multiple tasks at once. 

When we are in a Sympathetic Nervous System state our brain signals our adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline and cortisol hormones. These hormones increase our heart and respiratory rates, increase circulating blood sugar and they pause any non-vital body functions such as digestion and reproduction. All of these things are helpful in an emergency but not designed to be running long term. 

The other concern with modern day stressors, is that we are usually handling them in a sedentary state – i.e. sitting at the computer.

This results in flooding cortisol having nothing to activate. Instead, the liver breaks it into sugar molecules and then stores it as fat for another day.

This is why weight gain around the middle, and fatty liver are 2 common presentation people have when they want to lose weight.

Research has shown that long term exposure to living in a Sympathetic Dominant state and high cortisol can increase your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety or depression, weight gain and chronic fatigue, as well as thyroid hormone imbalances. 

Case review

Interestingly, chronic stress may not be the only culprit to high cortisol levels. A patient came to us recently with all of the typical symptoms of underactive thyroid – fatigue, weight gain, poor memory, dry hair and skin. However, she was also experiencing tachycardia, palpitations, shakiness and increased sweating – symptoms that often correlate to an overactive thyroid or in a lot of cases, high cortisol. 

During the consultation we spoke about her stress levels, to which she believed were quite low. Stress and anxiety, she said, were not part of her life and she felt that she was managing her day-to-day routine and any high pressure circumstances quite well. However, once we began discussing her diet it became clear that there was a new likely culprit for these symptoms – coffee. This patient was drinking at least 5 cups of coffee throughout the day. Caffeine stimulates cortisol production in much the same way stress does, putting us into a diet induced Sympathetic Dominant state every day.  

Do you relate?

You might be living in Sympathetic Dominance. We can find out for sure if this is the cause of your uncomfortable symptoms by running an Adrenal Plus Profile that tests your salivary cortisol levels at 3 specific points of the day. 

Get to the bottom of your stress with functional testing that is designed to get answers!


Related Content


Does PCOS end at menopause?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder affecting women of reproductive age. It is characterised by hyperandrogenism, ovulatory dysfunction, and polycystic ovaries. While

Read More

Thyroid and ADHD Connection

Children’s health can be complex, influenced by the growth of the mind & body, and today’s article explores the potential link between thyroid and ADHD,

Read More