Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted by the Adrenal Glands, which are tiny glands that sit on top of the kidneys. You can think of Cortisol and epinephrine as cousins. When your faced with a stressful situation your adrenals pump out these hormones and your body enters fight or flight mode. All extra sugar and energy is given to the muscles to either Fight or Flight. It’s a build in protecting device your body has so you can defend yourself or flee a situation.
Cortisol becomes harmful to us when we “think” we are in a stressful situation on a regular basis. How we perceive our environment will determine if our mind turns on the fight or flight response. Our body switches back and forth from parasympathetic to sympathetic nervous system. When we think we are stressed the sympathetic nervous system switches on and we enter fight or flight mode causing cortisol and epinephrine to dramatically increase. When we feel in control and calm our body switches to parasympathetic mode which allows our bodies to repair, turn on immune and digestion systems.
What if we were stressed all day? What if our cortisol levels were out of control? Since the fight or flight response gives increased glucose levels to the muscles, high cortisol levels means high blood sugar levels. This is normal in short irregular bursts but when cortisol is constantly being pumped out it makes blood sugar levels rise.
Cortisol is also able to relocate triglycerides and place them in fat cells for storage, particularly the abdominal area. A spare tire is a clue that your cortisol levels are constantly high. It’s very difficult to loose weight when your body is in constant fight or flight mode since blood sugar remains high and fat is being stored.
Since the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems can’t both be active at the same time, when your in fight or flight mode your digestion is shut off. When digestion is halted it causes irritating of the stomach and bowels, leading to ulcers and leaky gut issues. Stress can actually cause ulcers.
Chronic high cortisol levels are known to increase blood pressure resulting in cardiovascular disease if issues are not resolved.
So how do we turn off that sympathetic nervous system response and lower our cortisol levels? Lowering overall inflammation in the body is a great start. Removing bad fats like hydrogenated vegetable oils, pork, breads and incorporating good fats such as avocado, olive oil and coconut oil into our diets will lower inflammation.
How you react to a situation determines whether your body views it as stressful or not. When your faced with a situation that you deem stressful, ask yourself a few questions before you let panic set in. Am I in immediate danger right now? Is there a solution to this problem I’m not seeing? Take a few deep breaths and train your body to relax. Stress actually turns off the blood supply to the front of the brain making it harder to think up solutions to your stressful situations!
There are supplements to help lower cortisol levels. A good quality fish oil has been shown to lower levels. Magnesium plays a vital role in nerve conduction and low magnesium levels are linked to high cortisol levels. B vitamins are known to reduce secretion of cortisol. Earthing is also a great way to resync cortisol back into its normal rhythms.
If you need immediate help with cortisol levels taking a few good supplements will get you going in the right direction but please don’t ignore the “lens” in which you look through life. Deep breathing and meditation can really program the brain to see the world through a different light. Remember stress is perceived, what you view as a stressor may not stress someone else at all. Start to view your life with peace!