Cortisol, Stress, and Blood Sugar
The video link above discusses Cortisol and its affects on a detailed hormonal level. If you don’t care about that sh-tuff then please read my take below…
Cortisol is a stress hormone. The body produces it via the Adrenal Glands that sit atop of the Kidneys – this is a normal bodily function. Without Cortisol, the body literally cannot handle excess daily stress and it can break down in various ways – muscular system, immune system, digsestive system, and so on. However, too much Cortisol will have the same deteriorating effects. The body releases Cortisol to increase the level of blood sugar. By doing so it provides the body with enough fuel to get through a stressful situation. The body needs sugar to survive – it is our primary fuel source. Now, I don’t mean sugar in the sense of straight up eating tablespoons of the white stuff – in order for the body to use any carbohydrate (starches, grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc.) they must be converted into simple sugars (vs. complex). Too much Cortisol or a constant environment that causes the release of Cortisol can deplete the body of all of its sugar stores, thus causing the body to eat its own muscle for energy, thus causing a down-regulation of metabolism and thyroid hormone release. Too little Cortisol can be caused by a constant need for Cortisol due to chronic stress. The body becomes fatigued from being fatigued and it simply cannot keep up anymore. These examples are an oversimplification of the process but I’m keeping it short so it’s easy to comprehend.
Types of Stress
Exercise is number one on my list. No matter how you look at exercise - it is a stress on the body. We’re designed to survive, but we’re also designed to have an ego – for example, when a person runs for an hour on the treadmill their body doesn’t know if they’re running from a lion or running to fit into their pants again. The reality is that too much exercise, too frequent exercise, and not enough rest/recovery/sleep/proper nutrition will cause an increase in Cortisol. The increase of this stress hormone can completely negate what you’re trying to accomplish – in times of excess stress the body will actually store belly fat and eat muscle to help it survive.
Keep exercise routines within 30-45 minutes. During exercise we release Cortisol and Testosterone. At around the 45 minute mark, Testosterone (the primary anabolic, muscle building, metabolism increasing hormone) drops off of the graph while Cortisol continues. Less is more!
Diet Stress. When you eat like shit it stresses your body. Actually, when you eat foods that don’t work WITH the body it can cause stress. For instance, people think whole grains are healthy but what about the constant inflammation that the gluten protein induces on the intestinal tract? It may be on a small scale but over time of every day consumption that stress can add up. Diet Stress is the largest daily stressor that one can influence on themselves.
Life Stress (family, relationship, money, work, school, etc). These occur on a daily basis and must be dealt with whether you like it or not. My question is: does your diet and exercise program provide your body with enough of the right fuel to cope with these daily stressors? Or do they add to it?
Sleep Stress How many of you can’t fall asleep at night, toss and turn, sleep less than 7/8 hours, or don’t sleep at all? Perhaps all of the other stressors in your life are affecting your sleep schedule which, in turn, increases the amount of stress that your body cannot already handle.
Chemical Stress Deodorant, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, detergent, fabric softener, household cleaner, air fresheners, candles, polluted air, dust, mold, that new car smell, and the list goes on. You body (specifically the liver, lungs, and skin) has to detoxify all of the topical, inhaled, and external stressors we influence on our body. Do you consider how much of a stress your chemical-filled deodorant is?
In conclusion, you want to decrease the amount of Cortisol your body produces by decreasing stressful situations. One must take the perspective of what truly stress them: what factors help and what factors hurt. And lastly, do not be afraid of carbohydrates and sugars – there are too many out there that are adopting low-carb diets that “work” at first but soon fall to the excess stress of depleting your main energy source.