The Effects Stress And Cortisol Have On The Body
Have you been feeling stressed? Feeling tired, irritable, having memory and concentration issues?
It could be from too much of the stress hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol can have a detrimental effect on your health. What is cortisol and where does it come from? Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are two tiny pyramid-shaped pieces of tissue situated right above each kidney. Their job is to produce and release certain hormones and chemical messengers. Adrenaline is manufactured in the interior of the adrenal gland, called the adrenal medulla. Cortisol, the other chemical from the adrenal gland, is made in the exterior portion of the gland, called the adrenal cortex. Cortisol, commonly called hydrocortisone, is the most abundant — and one of the most important — of many adrenal cortex hormones. Cortisol helps you handle longer-term stress situations. If stress goes on too long and cortisol levels have stayed too high for too long this can lead to eventual adrenal fatigue and burn-out.
How does stress cause high cortisol?
The HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis is the neurohormonal regulator of the stress response. The limbic system of the brain triggers the hypothalamus to secrete CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone) in response to a physical, emotional, or environmental stressor. The CRH then triggers the pituitary gland to secrete ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), which activates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol which is then released into the bloodstream.
When cortisol blood levels become high, the HPA axis feedback mechanism turns off the corticotropin-releasing hormone which tells the brain and adrenal glands to cut down on cortisol excretion. Continued stress overrides this feedback system leading to continued production of cortisol. You become stuck in alarm mode or “fight or flight”. If our exposure to stress is only for brief periods, and we have a balance in our life between work and play, get adequate rest, and have good nutrition, then occasional stress accompanied by elevated cortisol will not be a problem. Yet if the stress becomes chronic with inadequate nutrition, rest, relaxation and sleep, then we begin to experience chronic excessive cortisol levels.
What Does Cortisol Do?
Some cortisol is essential for life. Cortisol is necessary for normal brain, immune, muscle, blood sugar function, and blood circulation. In the beginning stages of adrenal fatigue cortisol levels are elevated. As the stress continues and the adrenal glands further deteriorate cortisol levels begin to decline. Having too little cortisol contributes to a new set of problems. Serious cortisol deficiency such as Addison’s disease, is a potentially fatal illness.
The Consequences of High Cortisol
Too much cortisol causes: Abdominal obesity High blood sugar (“adrenal diabetes”) muscle wasting Bone loss Immune shutdown Brain (hippocampus) atrophy Poor wound healing Thin wrinkled skin Fluid retention Hypertension.
Excessive cortisol frequently causes increased: Fatigue/decreased energy Irritability Impaired memory Depressed mood, decreased libido Insomnia anxiety Impaired concentration Crying Restlessness Social withdrawal Feelings of hopelessness
Chronically high cortisol may contribute to many diseases, including cancer, ulcers, heart attacks, diabetes, infections, alcoholism, strokes, skin diseases, psychosis, multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, and possibly Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease . High Cortisol may contribute to obesity not only because of the metabolic disruptions (including insulin resistance) that it promotes, but also because it induces “stress overeating,” especially in women.
Is There A Test?
Yes! An Adrenal Stress Index is a simple saliva test that can determine if your cortisol levels are too high or too low. This consists collecting your saliva collection at four times during the day which determines a diurnal cortisol rhythm. The quicker high cortisol levels or adrenal fatigue is discovered the better your chances are for recovery without more serious health consequences.
Ways to Reduce High Cortisol:
1. Use cortisol reducing supplement: There are a variety of herbs to reduce cortisol at peak times. Some of my favorites include: Seriphos, and Calm-PRT.
2. Eat at regular intervals throughout the day: Avoid skipping meals, as this will create a cortisol release.
3. Excessive carbohydrate intake creates cortisol release in response to constantly elevated insulin levels. Eat complex carbohydrates instead.
4. Utilize stress reduction techniques at peak cortisol times: meditation, self-hypnosis, or simply lying on the floor doing belly breathing for 10-15 minutes can work wonders at reducing stress and thus cortisol levels.
5. Get to bed on time. Get at least 8 hours of sleep nightly.
6. Avoid stimulants: Stay away from energy drinks that contain ephedra-like compounds and caffeine. Stimulants shift the body into sympathetic dominance, or “fight or flight”. Stimulants can also disrupt your sleeping patterns. If you must drink coffee, be sure that you do not drink any after 12 noon.
7. Keep your workouts under 1 hour: At the 1 hour mark, your testosterone levels begin to decline and cortisol levels rise. Forty-five minute workouts are even better.