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. Many are hoping to reduce stress this month and maybe finding that the thought of reducing stress is well…stressful.
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. In fact, cortisol then creates feedback loops that can degenerate brain tissue, leave the body more susceptible to allergies and autoimmune problems.
You overproduce cortisol, then you don’t produce cortisol as you run out of reserves, and then body does everything it can so that you can produce it again – each stage of the game has it’s progressive consequences as it steals energy and resources from other body functions – especially things like blood sugar regulation, libido and sexual performance.
Even though cortisol has some positive functions for the body (such as anti-inflammatory properties), for too many Americans, it’s a problem that is smoldering under the surface over weeks, months, and years, kindling chronic disease.
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.
What are the Effects of Stress on the Body?
- 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
- Afternoon headache or headache brought on by stress
- Weakened immune system
- Allergies, Asthma
- Dizziness when moving from sitting to standing position
- Eating relieves tiredness
- Not being a morning person
- Excessive sweating
- Varicose veins (depending on the size, the person may need to find some options for vein treatments)
- Neurodegenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s
- Lowered libido, difficulty attaining/keeping 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.
The good news is if you get a handle on 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. My favorite collection of herbs can be found in Everyday Stress Support by Doctor Alex Supplements. It includes ashwagandha, skullcap, phosphatidylserine, L-theanine, rhodiola, and eleuthero (Siberian ginseng).
Treatment plans are not always linear. You may need to periodically jumpstart the adrenals, or clear out some detoxification, or sometimes take a step back while the body rebalances and finds its new set point. You take it stage by stage, like unlayering an onion. Get through the first layer 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.