Last week we explored DHEA, the hormone that helps keep cortisol in check among other things. If you didn’t get a chance to read it you can catch up here. Cortisol is a hormone you may have heard swung around the traps as if it were the Coca-Cola of neurotransmitters – that is, it’s not one bit good for you. But as you’ll learn, it’s quite the contrary. Cortisol is one of the many hormones we all need that performs many functions we must tap into to survive. The issue of modern living is that cortisol is way too often out of control, much like King Kong on a bad day.
Cortisol, produced by your adrenal glands which sit above the kidneys, is that hormone that helps to manage things like digestion as it regulates hunger and cravings. It’s also important to regulate blood pressure, our sleep/wake homeostasis AND where you might have heard it mentioned most, it’s ability to help us cope with stress.
Cortisol isn’t exactly the bad guy.
Cortisol goes to work by helping to raise your glucose and send the surplus packing, to the liver. So under stress, cortisol gets the signal to pump up the glucose through a process called glycogen storage, which helps to give you energy. Fact is, if your body can’t meet the demand of your cells glucose needs, you’ll begin to keel over.
It’s known as a glucocorticoid – meaning it falls under the group of hormones all with the main aim to raise glucose.
It’s is able to weave it’s magic in three ways. It raises blood sugar, regulates inflammation and it increases blood pressure all to get a job done – that is, to help us cope with stress and to help save you from danger like being hit by a car or being chased by a bad guy.
The truth is, stress isn’t actually bad. We all need a little. It gives us a sense of purpose and raises our motivation. It helps us get jobs done and also should help us feel a sense of satisfaction once we complete any task we throw in the mix. Let’s be honest, stress isn’t avoidable BUT as modern day humans we are experiencing increased stress like never before. Thing is, cortisol is most certainly meant to be released, just ideally infrequently, to kick start the alarm bells and get us out of danger or help us cope with terrible news. As a pattern however, this isn’t necessarily what we are seeing in modern day life, where stress is high and constant and cortisol therefore has to keep up, being released frequently to cope.
Cortisol is part of your fight or flight response.
So why is it that we hear about cortisol in such a bad way? Cortisol is a catabolic hormone. Catabolic hormones are in fact the only hormones that increase from our mid-thirties and beyond. Problem is that this type of hormone breaks down muscle tissue, which sees things like muscle mass and strength, metabolism and the overall shape of our body possibly take a turn sideways especially when it’s running the show. For many of us, high cortisol is propelling us in this direction.
Sadly, it doesn’t stop there. Excess cortisol tends to steer us towards weight gain, the stubborn kind that’s impossible to shift whilst the stress is still feeding the cortisol release. Excess oestrogen in the body will also impact cortisol and eventually pull the break on progesterone, since high levels of cortisol will block your progesterone receptors. This means oestrogen continues to run rampant alongside high cortisol – it’s like a pack of crazies on the loose!
Your cortisol needs you to pull the brake – stat.
Just this week I was privileged to present at an event alongside Dr Damien Kristof. He spoke about the realities of our ever-spiralling stress levels and how we continue to add to the pile each and every day, setting a new bar each time we don’t try and address our stress each day. Our body continues to adjust to its new norm, meaning we eventually end up feeling like a rubber band, stretched to full capacity and some.
There isn’t a magic bullet to addressing your possible crazy out of control cortisol other than assessing your stress – remembering stress looks like the following and more:
+ poor digestion/compromised gut health
+ ability to detoxify
+ environment – both chemicals in our environment, a messy environment or a toxic environment from bad relationships
+ nutrient lacking diet
+ toxic lifestyle
+ unresolved emotions
+ unkind thoughts, on repeat
I get it – the list is overwhelming. As always I have a couple of solutions for you.
First and foremost, there are a gazillion things that can turn on your stress response aka your ‘fight or flight’, but only one thing that can turn of that parasympathetic response – and that’s breath. Just 5 belly breaths is enough for most of us to turn things down and flip us back into ‘rest and digest.’ That’s where our body likes to be, unless we’ve tried to trick it into something else.
In my e-course, Debunking Stress, I dig deep into these factors – what’s driving stress, how you can identify your own stress and what you can do to help your body cope better. You can check that out here. Debunking Stress is a 2 hour lecture style ecourse where you will hear from people who are no stranger to stress, like Bianca Dye, who openly talks about her own battles. We dig deep into how you can turn down the cortisol and gain better balance in your own life. It’s just $57 and you can watch it from your couch!
What better way to unwind than on your couch!