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What is the Impact of Cortisol and How Can we Make Stress your Friend?

Acute Stress:
• This comes from quick surprises that need a response.
• Our adrenal gland secretes adrenaline, creating the “Flight or Fight” response.
• Acute stress or “bad” stress in itself doesn’t take a heavy toll if we find ways to relax quickly.
• Once the stressor has been dealt with, we need to return our body to homeostasis, or its pre-stress state, to be healthy and happy.
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Good Stress:
• “Good stress,” or what psychologists refer to as “eustress” – type of stress when we feel excited.
• Our pulse quickens and our hormones surge, but there is no threat or fear. This keeps us feeling alive and excited about life.
Have stress reduction techniques to use on hand
• Pituitary gland secretes a message to the adrenal cortex to secrete cortisol
• When under stress, we produce and release short bursts of cortisol into the bloodstream.
• However, over time if we have prolonged exposure to stress- this could drain the adrenals and lead to cortisol levels being imbalanced.
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Cortisol impacts our sex hormones including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone as well as insulin and thyroid. We want cortisol to be highest upon waking and then lowest at nighttime. It is inversely related to melatonin levels.
High cortisol can contribute to excess estrogen. Excess estrogen is stored in our fat cells and can result in insulin resistance.
When we are stressed, our brain will activate our hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and will down-regulate FSH and LH, which can cause lower progesterone levels and can impact sleep and mood.
Elevated cortisol can also suppress thyroid levels since it will create the inactive form of thyroid hormone and can cause symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, constipation, mood changes, hair loss, and decrease metabolism.
How can we balance cortisol levels?
· Improve vagal tone – the vagus nerve (cranial nerve 10) helps with our nervous system, particularly our parasympathetic nervous system ‘rest and digest’ system. Improving vagal tone will help lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, stimulate digestion, and balance cortisol levels. Think diaphragmatic breathing, contrast showers, gargling with water, and singing!
· Stabilize blood sugar levels as this will stabilize cortisol levels. If you let cortisol go on a rollercoaster ride, it ill also put cortisol on a rollercoaster ride. Eat balanced and regular meals to avoid blood sugar spikes.
· Practice good sleep hygiene – reset circadian rhythm by watching the sunrise and sunset. Avoid excess stimulation from electronics and limit the exposure when it is dark outside.
Monteleone P, Fuschino A, Nolfe G, Maj M. Temporal relationship between melatonin and cortisol responses to nighttime physical stress in humans. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1992;17(1):81-6. doi: 10.1016/0306-4530(92)90078-l. PMID: 1609019.
Plechner AJ. Cortisol abnormality as a cause of elevated estrogen and immune destabilization: insights for human medicine from a veterinary perspective. Med Hypotheses. 2004;62(4):575-81. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2003.12.005. PMID: 15050110.
Walter KN, Corwin EJ, Ulbrecht J, et al. Elevated thyroid stimulating hormone is associated with elevated cortisol in healthy young men and women. Thyroid Res. 2012;5(1):13. Published 2012 Oct 30. doi:10.1186/1756-6614-5-13
Wolfram M, Bellingrath S, Kudielka BM. The cortisol awakening response (CAR) across the female menstrual cycle. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011 Jul;36(6):905-12. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.12.006. Epub 2011 Jan 14. PMID: 21237574.
Yuan H, Silberstein SD. Vagus Nerve and Vagus Nerve Stimulation, a Comprehensive Review: Part II. Headache. 2016 Feb;56(2):259-66. doi: 10.1111/head.12650. Epub 2015 Sep 18. PMID: 26381725
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.