Cortisol Switcheroo (Part 2): How to Right-Size Your Cortisol When It's Bringing You Down
Posted on 01 June 2012
One month ago, I wrote about my Achilles heel, which is the wayward, dysregulated hormone called cortisol. I wrote about "cortisol switch" which I'll define again in a moment, but first up... let's talk about how cortisol, the main stress hormone produced by your adrenal glands in your mid-back, brings you down and ramps up your risk of serious disease, and more importantly, what you can do about it. When stress is not managed skillfully, and becomes chronic and repetitive, cortisol rises too high. Cortisol has 3 main jobs in your body, as I described in Part 1: raise blood sugar (as fuel); raise blood pressure (so you can run from the tiger your body thinks is chasing you); and modulate your immune system. Here are some of the problems linked with excess cortisol.
- Diabetes/Pre-diabetes. Cortisol’s main job is to raise glucose levels, and even small bumps in cortisol, such as when drinking a cup of regular coffee, can raise blood sugar and increase insulin resistance (another major topic I'll tackle soon for you, and I promise to make it stunningly simple).
- Sucky mood. Persistent stress causes your body to increase the production of brain chemicals, and initially you make too many "excitatory" neurotransmitters, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. Over time your backstock runs dry, and you begin to run out of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Then you find yourself mildly depressed, unable to focus, and wondering what happened to your battery charge. Maybe sleep and motivation start to worsen. Not pretty, but also not a good time to start a prescription antidepressant (unless severe or you/your doctor decide it's needed) -- you need to work on more effective stress management and correcting your cortisol (see tips below), not crank up your serotonin with a happy pill! (BTW, the "happy" pill was recently shown to increase breast and ovarian cancer, which you can now add to the list of side effects including weight gain, stroke, and libido hijack.)
- More body fat. Too much cortisol makes you fat, especially at your belly. Hello, spare beach floaty? Unfortunately, the belly fat has 4 times the number of cortisol receptors, so you get into a vicious cycle of excess cortisol creating more body fat, which gets stimulated by persistently high cortisol levels.
- Slow wound healing. When cortisol is high, it takes you longer to recover from injury, like a cut or even a sports injury. Your immune system is too jacked up to work effectively.
- Lousy Sleep. If you measure the cortisol levels of insomniacs, they are way increased.