Stressed Already? A Closer Look at Cortisol

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Stress.

It comes in many forms - Physical, emotional and chemical.

Eat a food that you may be sensitive to...release cortisol.

Worry about whether you're going to be laid off at work...release cortisol.

Someone cuts you off on the highway...release cortisol.

When most people think of stress they think of emotional and physical stress - but infections, food sensitivities, caffeine and other aspects can cause stress on your body.

Cortisol

Too high of cortisol is a sign of stress...too low of cortisol is a sign of stress too.

Cortisol has a natural fluctuation to it that can become hijacked when life gets in the way.

Cortisol should be high in the morning and taper off through the day and then rise again overnight.

When we are stressed, the brain triggers our adrenal glands to release cortisol. The pathway is known as the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis or HPA axis.

Over time, the adrenals become tired and your body cannot produce enough cortisol. Cortisol then creates feedback loops that degenerates brain tissue and leaves the body susceptible to immune challenges.

You first overproduce cortisol and then you keep producing it until you tire out or run out of reserves.

But you never truly run out of reserves because the body does everything it can to keep you in balance.

Progressively, the more stressed you are, your body will steal energy and resources from other body functions - like mental focusblood sugar regulation, libido and sexual performance.

Although cortisol has positive functions for the body (it is anti-inflammatory), it can also become a smoldering problem under the surface over weeks, months, and years, kindling chronic disease like poor bone health, immune health, and physical and mental performance.

Too many of us depend on a morning and afternoon coffee to get us through our day. It's a good sign of "adrenal fatigue". Adrenal fatigue is a term that refers to your body is getting tired trying to keep cortisol levels balanced.

What are the Effects of Stress on the Body?

  • Fatigue
  • Crave sweets, salt, cigarettes and caffeine.
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Irritable, lightheaded or shaky if too much time passes between meals
  • Gastric ulcer
  • Bloatedness
  • Afternoon headache, or headache brought on with stress
  • Weakened immune system
  • Allergies, Asthma
  • Dizziness with standing from sitting position
  • Eating relieves tiredness
  • Not being a morning person
  • Excessive sweating
  • Varicose veins
  • Dehydration
  • Neurodegenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer's
  • Lowered libido, difficulty attaining/keepin erections, hair growth in females
  • Thyroid problems, thinning hair, weight gain...

Volumes could be written about the direct and indirect effects of cortisol.

Cortisol imbalances can be related to gastrointestinal issues, thyroid problems, fertility, immune discrepancies and blood sugar imbalances.

Good news is if you get a handle of cortisol, you can hit a lot of birds with one stone. Functional nutritionists look to identify the pattern, correct it, and let the body do the rest.

Managing Adrenal Deficiency

Adrenal imbalances can be incredibly frustrating for both practitioner and practice member alike because it takes time and results, while almost immediate for some, can take months to develop.

Adrenal support also requires some  lifestyle commitments for approaches to work.

Luckily lifestyle and nutrition work in this dynamic way.

For instance, "adaptogens" like ashwagandha, rhodiola, holy basil, and panax ginseng are herbs that can have dual effects on the body. If your cortisol is low, they may help spur the adrenals back into function. If the cortisol is high, they may help to lower cortisol as well as positively influence blood sugar balance. In short, adaptogens help you to "adapt" to stress.

You take adrenal fatigue stage by stage, like unlayering an onion. In this case, the "onion" is the layers of compensation your body has gone through to keep your stress hormones in balance. Get through the first difficult layers and the other layers may finally peel away with ease.

One of the best means of measuring your unique cortisol profile, is to have an adrenal salivary hormone test performed by a functional healthcare provider so that recommendations can be specific to your unique energy fluctuations throughout the day.

I personally like the adaptogenic blends of HPA Adapt for every day support and Cortisol Manager for more advanced support. I also love medicinal mushrooms for adrenal support. Personally, I turn to CordyChi and Stamets 7 for energy and Mycobotanicals Stress Decompress as an everyday support.

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Dr Alex Rinehart

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