Excess cortisol: learn more about how stress damages our health?
It’s no secret that many women suffer from chronic stress. It’s hard to stay calm when you have so many lives to manage: family, professional, marital, friends, personal… It’s like everything else: if stress is necessary for life, too much stress is bad for your health, including your hormonal health
The main biological marker of stress is cortisol. Let’s take a look at this hormone, how it acts on our body and how to control its secretion and deleterious effects.
Adrenal hormone deficiencies (including cortisol) are increasingly frequent and too rarely diagnosed. Did you know that? The adrenal glands of a man are 50% larger than those of a woman. What is cortisol used for? Cortisol is essentially the “stress hormone”. Manufactured by the adrenal glands, this hormone plays an essential role in regulating the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, ions and water to avoid any sudden variation in the physiological balance of the body. A situation of too regular stress, called “chronic stress” will boost the secretion of cortisol and exhaust the adrenal glands, affecting the functioning of other hormones. First direct effect: the production of cortisol being weakened, it is the progesterone (sexual hormone “calming”) which will be converted into cortisol to replenish the stocks, thus unbalancing the ratio estrogens / progesterone… it is thus a vicious circle. So an excess of cortisol will eventually lead to a cortisol deficit in the long term. This is why it is so important to better control our stress and not let it take hold.
What is cortisol? What are its effects?
Cortisol is the stress hormone par excellence. This hormone also plays an important role in the proper functioning of the circadian rhythm, that is to say the rhythm that, if it works well, makes us feel good in the morning and more relaxed in the evening. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, then takes over and invites us to go to bed. Cortisol is secreted by the adrenals, small triangular glands located just above the kidneys. It is a steroid hormone: it is made from cholesterol
In situations of stress, this hormone is very beneficial: it allows us to mobilize our resources and make them available for the functions we will need most to face the “danger”. Thus, our reserves of sugars and fats will be recruited and directed towards the brain and the muscles, including the cardiac muscle. It will increase blood pressure so that these nutrients reach these essential organs more quickly in response to stress. In moderate doses and in punctual release, it has an anti-inflammatory role. Cortisol is used as a drug for this purpose in a form called cortisone or corticoids. We could not live without cortisol.
In case of excess and/or prolonged secretion, as in the case of a stressful life that generates chronic stress, the effects of cortisol become deleterious: it will then disrupt the metabolism of carbohydrates, leading to cravings and weight gain. It will decrease the immune response and thus weaken our health. Its ‘stimulating’ side can disturb your sleep. It will promote osteoporosis and tire the heart. Finally, beyond a certain threshold, it will become pro-inflammatory and lead to pain, weight gain, fatigue, cardiovascular risks, degradation of the quality of the microbiota… Last but not least, it will lead to a progesterone deficiency since the adrenal glands, once exhausted by chronic stress, will maintain cortisol by degradation of progesterone.
What are the signs of excess cortisol?
The signs of an excess of cortisol are numerous and varied: mood disorders, fatigue, difficulties in concentrating or memorizing, hypertension, sugar cravings, weight gain, especially in the stomach area, difficulties in falling asleep..
To be sure, there are several types of analyses that you can do in a laboratory: blood, urine or saliva tests. These tests will allow you to know your cortisol level as well as its evolution during the day: it should be at its highest in the morning between 6 and 8 o’clock and then drop during the day until it reaches its minimum around midnight
What is the relationship between cortisol and hormonal imbalance?
As we have seen above, cortisol is a steroid hormone synthesized from cholesterol. It is also
cholesterol. This is also the case for sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. All these hormones have the same precursor: pregnenolone. In case of intense and prolonged stress, this substance will be primarily dedicated to the production of cortisol, to the detriment of our hormones. The cycles will be disturbed, the premenstrual syndrome or endometriosis will be more important, menopausal symptoms or pre-menopause will be felt much more, etc..
For all these reasons, it is important to keep the cortisol level within tight quantitative and temporal limits.
How to reduce your cortisol level?
The first priority is to learn to limit, control and evacuate stress: exercise, take regular breaks during the day, breathe, meditate, delegate, organize, write, spend time outdoors, in nature. Take the time to go out in the daylight for at least 15/20 minutes (preferably in the morning or at noon), to reinforce our vitamin D (link to glossary) . All these actions contribute greatly. You can also use plants such as ashwagandha, lemon balm, rhodiola, saffron, griffonia and supplement with magnesium, which you can find in our food supplement [MY] Serenity Essentials
In the plate, we force on the good fat, the omega 3: fatty fish, by privileging the small ones which contain less heavy metals (sardines, mackerels, anchovies…), chia seeds, oil of colza, flax, hemp… We put fruits and vegetables in every meal to fill up with antioxidants. And we reduce sweets, red meats, industrial dishes and dairy products
Controlling stress is a key issue for our health and hormonal balance. Its short and long term negative effects impact all our functions. It is a trigger or aggravating factor for many pathologies. So, if we can’t avoid it in our modern lives, let’s learn to keep it within acceptable limits and limit its consequences on our body!