Stress isn’t just a matter of the mind. Cortisol is a chemical that is released in response to stress, and when we have too much of this ‘master hormone’ running through our systems, our mind and body can turn into a frazzled mess. Herbalist Sam Schartz (see his products on our editors’ shortlist here) is sharing everything we need to know about managing cortisol below…
Hormones are chemical messengers that are created in the endocrine glands, like cortisol in the adrenals, estrogen in the ovaries, testosterone in the gonads, vitamin D in the kidneys, T-3 and T-4 in the thyroid and insulin in the pancreas, just to name a few. These messengers control most major bodily functions such as hunger, reproduction, digestion, emotions and mood. The endocrine system is highly complex and interconnected.
What Is Cortisol + What Does It Do?Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is one of the most influential compounds the body produces. Almost every cell in the body contains a cortisol receptor, therefore almost every cell can be influenced by the release of cortisol. Cortisol is necessary for many bodily functions such as controlling inflammation, blood sugar and metabolism, but what it’s most known for is activating the fight-or-flight response in the body.
Fight-or-Flight | Eighty percent of the population report being chronically stressed out on a daily basis, and this, to some degree, activates the fight-or-flight systems in the body. In response to stress, the body produces cortisol and the degree of cortisol depends on the level of stress. Acute stress is normal — the body handles it because cortisol returns to normal levels. But when cortisol levels stay high, the body becomes unbalanced and disease can start to set in. This occurs when stress is chronic and constant for long periods of time.
Vitamin D Deficiency | Eighty percent of the population are vitamin D deficient and take vitamin D supplements to boost levels (yet still report being deficient). It is not widely known that vitamin D is a hormone and that cortisol and stress can have an impact on the body’s ability to absorb and synthesize vitamin D. When the body experiences high levels of cortisol, the VDR (or vitamin D receptors) turn off so the body cannot absorb vitamin D and the body excretes it.
Thyroid Function | The impact of high cortisol levels during stress on the thyroid occurs by decreasing TSH, therefore lowering thyroid hormone production. When thyroid function declines, T-3 and T-4 levels fall and the thyroid conversion of T-4 to active T-3 fall as well. The long term impact on metabolism from low thyroid function can result in significant weight gain that exercise cannot overcome.
Diabetes | Type 2 Diabetes is on the rise due to an overstimulated, over-caffeinated population. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid and stimulates the secretion of blood glucose for energy. Insulin is a pancreas-produced hormone that helps to balance blood sugar levels so they don’t spike too high. When cortisol goes high during a stressful period, the body releases more glucose into the blood stream and, therefore, the pancreas has to produce more insulin if the blood sugar is not used. Over time, the body will adjust to these high levels of insulin and the insulin receptors start to turn off, all which leads to insulin resistance and pre-diabetes.
Auto-Immune Disease | Cortisol is the most powerful anti-inflammatory substance the body produces. When we get a cut or a bruise, the body responds by secreting cortisol to reduce the inflammation. It’s just like getting a cortisone injection in an inflamed joint or rubbing cortisone cream on a skin rash to control the inflammation. Again, when cortisol is too high for too long, the body tries to balance itself by desensitizing cortisol receptors so cortisol doesn’t reduce inflammation when it’s not necessary. When cortisol receptors are down regulated, auto-immune diseases can start to set in, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia and others. The receptors are not as sensitive to the effects of cortisol’s anti-inflammatory properties.
How Do I Manage Cortisol + Stress?Managing cortisol and stress in today’s environment is not an easy task, but there are things we can incorporate in our lives that can help significantly:
Clean Up Your Diet. Improve diet by limiting sugar and starch heavy foods.
Keep Moving. Exercise regularly.
Get Those Z’s. Adopt a regular sleep pattern.
Actively relax. Meditation, yoga and deep breathing are all relaxation techniques that can be utilized to reduce stress.
Occupy Your Mind. Read to distract oneself from stressors.
Change scenery. Movement helps take our focus away from stressful situations.
Be thankful. We all have some unpleasantness in our lives but considering what is pleasant helps keep stress at bay.
Take adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogenic herbs, or adaptogens, are a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes.
Discover our ten most popular stories for reducing daily stress here.
Learn how to effectively manage emotional stress. Check out!
The Chalkboard Mag and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on The Chalkboard Mag is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programs.