(The Best Years in Life)
There is plenty to be stressed out about
if you are living in the modern world.
In fact, stress may be the number one
gross national product in America. In
such an environment, it is important to
keep cortisol functioning normally,
because it is the hormone that has to
cope with all that stress.
You've seen people with too much cortisol. They
are the ones who run around like maniacs trying to achieve. The power executive
and the super woman are stereotypes of people whose cortisol is too high.
Cortisol is the hormone of road rage.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone made in the adrenal
glands. It regulates blood pressure and cardiovascular function as well as the
body's use of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The secretion of cortisol causes
a breakdown of muscle protein, leading to a release of amino acids into the
blood stream. The amino acids are utilized by the liver to synthesize glucose
for energy. Rising levels of cortisol also spark release of energy from fat
cells to be used by the muscles so you can out run a tiger or stand up to your
As you can see, production of cortisol increases
in response to stress. It is the survival mechanism that powers fight or flight.
If you ever watched the TV show 'The Hulk', you were seeing cortisol in action
as a normal mild mannered guy turned green, swelled up and blew his stack over a
perceived outrage. Cortisol is what allows a mother to lift up a car to save her
child. Cortisol provides mental clarity, agility, swiftness of movement, and the
enhanced strength and courage to see a way out of a threatening situation,
whether the threat is physical or psychological. But it appears that the body
was designed to use cortisol only infrequently.
The problem with cortisol is chronic stress
Chronic stress, the kind of stress so many people
are experiencing today, causes the adrenal glands to continuously pump out
cortisol. One of the first signs of too much cortisol is the inability to sleep,
and when you don't sleep, the stage is set for degenerative diseases such as
cancer and cardiovascular, but there's more to it that that.
Cortisol has been the subject of much research
lately. Some of the latest findings include:
In patients with high cortisol, the
coagulation pathway is hyperactivated as indicated by increased activity of
coagulation factors. The result can be a cascade of clotting leading to
stroke and death.
Patients with normal levels of cortisol are able to resolve issues that led
to the development of inflammatory arthritis, while those with elevated
cortisol are not.
The primary symptom of Cushing's disease is
elevated cortisol production, which is associated with psychiatric and
neurocognitive disorders. This disease causes brain shrinkage that does not
resolve when cortisol is brought under control.
A continuous flow of cortisol can become additive
when translated into feelings of power and euphoria, but adrenal exhaustion will
follow. If this exhaustion becomes severe, death can occur. Symptoms of
overtaxed adrenal glands are weight gain, hair loss, irritability, skin rash and
acne, along with physical and mental exhaustion.
When cortisol is at a normal level, life seems
easy. Stress is not a hindrance and there are no sleepless nights.
Low levels of cortisol affect mood, with anxiety
and upset over things you would normally ignore. The feeling of being paralyzed
between confrontation and escape is a sign of low cortisol, and so is the
inability to think clearly in any stressful situation.
Aging takes a toll on cortisol
As people age, cortisol production declines, and
it becomes more difficult to avoid adrenal fatigue. Older people who are unable
to manage their stress for long periods of time become subject to degenerative
diseases, just as those with high cortisol do. There is just no more cortisol
that the adrenals can pump out, no matter how hard they try. If you are unable
to bounce back after a particularly stressful physical or psychological
encounter, you probably have exhausted adrenal glands, and it's time to
drastically reduce the stress in your life.
Lupus, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia,
osteoporosis, digestive issues, allergies, and craving salt or sugar are
indications of high cortisol. Other symptoms are low libido, feeling overly
stressed, confusion, difficulty breathing, and difficulty concentrating.
Weight gain is often a problem of depleted
cortisol. When adrenals are fatigued from excessive cortisol production, people
overeat in a play for more energy, usually going for high carb energy foods to
get a quick energy spurt. But this is followed by an even greater energy sag,
and the process repeats.
Learn how to achieve normal cortisol levels
In both men and women, one of the primary causes
of continuous physiological and psychological stress is declining levels of
other steroid hormones. Low levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone
put the body under a great deal of stress. When these hormones are replaced with
their bioidentical hormone replicas, the ability to sleep returns, usually even
in the face of continuing exogenous stress. Bioidentical cortisol is available
by prescription as a last resort for adrenal exhaustion.
It is also important to get your stress load
under control. Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help the body respond
favorably to stress at the physiological level. Adaptogens can condition your
physiology to respond to major stresses in a favorable manner.
Rhodiola is probably the best of these for
handling anxiety and stress. In studies of highly stressed individuals, rhodiola
created a sense of well being and reduced the harmful effects from high cortisol.
A study published this month found that adopting
a yoga and meditation-based lifestyle causes reversal of markers of aging,
mainly oxidative stress, telomerase activity, and oxidative DNA damage. This may
not only delay aging and prolong youthfulness, but it may normalize cortisol and
delay or prevent the onset of several lifestyle-related diseases, of which
oxidative stress and inflammation are the main causes.
Want to learn more about cortisol and other
hormones? Many of the leading specialists in anti-aging medicine have highly
informative websites. Here are some of the best:
Barbara is a school psychologist and the author of Dividend Capture, a book on personal finance. She is a breast cancer survivor using bioidentical hormone therapy, and a passionate advocate of natural health with hundreds of articles on many aspects of health and wellness. She is the editor and publisher of AlignLife's Health Secrets Newsletter.
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