The immediate effects of increased cortisol levels include high energy and impulsiveness, but this is soon followed by exhaustion. In the long run, elevated cortisol levels can throw a healthy life into a tailspin and bring about some of the worst and most experienced health conditions facing society today.
We have all felt that energetic rush when confronted by something that scares or threatens us. It could be a car swerving into our lane or the pressure to meet an important deadline.
As your body perceives a threat in the environment, it reacts by preparing the body for quick action. One way is through the stress response. When this happens, the body releases a unique combination of chemicals into the bloodstream that increases the heart rate, builds blood pressure, and prepares the body to either fight off the attack or make a good escape. This “fight or flight” response is the reason humans are still alive on the planet.
Nevertheless, the stress response in our modern societies and the consequences have been grim. The chemicals released into the body in a state of stress are potent. Even though they are extremely useful, they are not without their seriously adverse side effects. If stress is not appropriately reduced and cortisol levels restored to normal levels, the results can be severe.
How Stress and Cortisol Works
The fact is cortisol and stress are essential functions of the body. Since time immemorial, our hunter-gatherer ancestors relied on the stress response to save life and limb as we battled the elements for our rightful place on the planet.
Cortisol kicks in when the body perceives a threat. A few thousand years ago, this may have been the shadow of a predator, falling rock or the ground below the feet suddenly giving way. It triggers a stress response that alerts the adrenal glands to release a potent dose of cortisol into the bloodstream.
Glucose releases into the blood and functions as the primary energy source for large muscle systems. The cortisol in the bloodstream also stops the supply of insulin from entering the blood, so the glucose available will remain available until the alarm has passed
At the same time, epinephrine, another hormone commonly associated with the stress response, increases the heart rate, while increased cortisol levels narrow the body’s blood vessels. The combined actions force the blood to pump harder and faster through the body system allowing for critical thinking and instant reaction time.
This “superhuman” mode allowed the threatened individual to wrestle the bear, dodge falling rocks, and grasp for support in a moment, ensuring the survival of our species. But today, it isn’t predators and falling rocks that trigger our stress response.
Today’s highest causes of stress include working about the future, experiencing significant life changes, not having work or fearing for one’s work, and the terrifying uncertainty of life in a super-modern society.
In a perfect world, that is the natural order of things; the body will soon recover from the stress response. It is no wonder that simply walking through the great outdoors, inhaling the fresh forest air, and casting the eyes on natural surroundings are some of the most stress-relieving actions.
Unfortunately, humans today live in a constant state of stress, and cortisol never has a chance to leave the body before another dose releases. The increased cortisol levels that many people live with can seriously affect the healthy living.
Consequences of Increased Cortisol Levels
If you are one of the many that live in a constant state of stress, elevated cortisol levels could be wreaking havoc on your health. Here are some of the most significant health issues that out-of-control cortisol levels can have on the body.
Increased blood sugar levels — elevated cortisol means that insulin production and regulation are hampered. The bloodstream carries a high level of glucose and lacks the insulin needed to transform this sugar into food for the body’s cells.
Weight gain — when the body’s cells are hungry, they will send signals to the brain that they need nourishment fast. Studies have shown that cortisol levels can impact calorie intake. This “false hunger” state can lead the individual to consume high-calorie foods that will not be adequately assimilated into the body and eventually turn into body fat.
Suppressed immune system — even though cortisol is supposed to affect the body positively, when it exists in the system in large quantities for longer than it is supposed to, the results can be severe. Elevated levels of cortisol can reduce the efficacy of the immune function. You are at a far greater risk of getting sick through viral or bacterial infections and more susceptible to allergic reactions.
Digestive problems — while stress is the “fight or flight” response, the regular body mode is referred to as “feed and breed.” The digestive system can’t function well if all the body’s energy is busy with stress. The natural reaction is that ulcers, colitis, and other digestive conditions ensue.
Heart disease — cortisol constricts arteries, leading to a build-up of harmful plaque, setting the stage for a stroke or heart attack.
Other consequences of increased cortisol levels include
- Anxiety or depression
- Tension Headaches
- Difficulty recovering from exercise
- Intestinal problems, such as constipation, bloating, or diarrhea
- Weight gain
- Increased blood pressure
- Low libido, erectile dysfunction, or problems with regular ovulation or menstrual periods
- Poor sleep
Combating Elevated Levels of Cortisol
If you have been under considerable stress over the past few months, see your regular health practitioner about a cortisol test that can determine your levels of cortisol. Your doctor may be able to tell you more about your condition and may recommend a protocol for reducing cortisol levels.
Under ideal circumstances, the brain will be able to regulate the cortisol in the body as needed. Here are a few practices that can help you control stress and allow your body to reduce cortisol levels naturally.
- Lowering stress
The first thing to do will be to reduce the stress you are suffering. If you have recently made a big move, gotten married or divorced, or taken on too many projects, you may need to find calm. The solution will be to learn how to distance yourself from stressful situations long enough to allow cortisol to purge from the body.
It will be equally important to gain control over the mind as the thought of deadlines, disappointments, and anxiety for the future can also be a significant stressor. If you feel plagued by thoughts and unable to banish them from your mind, speak with a friend or a trusted medical professional. Just remember, help is always right around the corner.
- Eating a good diet
A person plagued by increased cortisol levels should focus on eating a deliciously healthy diet. It will be imperative to keep a close eye on the intake of sugars during this time.
Some foods that are key to controlling cortisol levels include:
- Dark chocolate
- Black or green tea
- Bananas and pears
- Probiotics in foods containing soluble fiber
- Probiotics in food such as yogurt
- Drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration
- Sleeping well
It seems counter-intuitive because high cortisol levels can be the very thing that prevents good sleeping habits, but improving the quality of sleep can be a big part of keeping your cortisol in check. A bad night’s sleep can do much to increase cortisol levels and prevent proper rest from balancing out the body’s chemistry.
- Trying relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques are never easy at first, but like any skill, they can become easier to apply and more effective as the practice is used. Meditation, mindfulness, and breathing exercises can help reduce stress levels by lowering the heart rate and allowing the body to follow the mind to a relaxed place.
People experiencing stress can try to manage it by experimenting with relaxation techniques.
- Taking up a hobby
Hobbies are another great way to reduce cortisol in the body. Hobbies have a whole slew of benefits to the mind. For one, they are a happy place where you are in complete control of your efforts and can go at your own pace.
Then, some hobbies can go even further. Gardening is incredibly therapeutic and found to increase feel-good hormones that counteract the negativity experienced by stress hormones.
Benefits of BioScan Testing
Another important way to gain some control is by detecting the source of stress. Through the combined sciences of homeopathy, acupuncture, and biofeedback, BioScan can provide important clues into the nature of the condition your patient is facing.
BioScan information compares a database of stressors that feature similar digital signatures. The stressors with similar patterns often may include dietary elements or habits, environmental actors, and emotional connections. It allows you to consider the significant sources of stress and formulate a plan to counteract the incredibly unhealthy effects they can have.
Effectively Reducing Stress
No matter what line of work you are in or your economic capacity, most people are suffering from stress and the effects of increased cortisol levels. The extensive health conditions mentioned earlier are merely the beginning of the severe problems stemming from chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels.
Even though many people function well under the effects of stress, if stress levels are not adequately balanced, they will have cumulative results that can lead to degenerative conditions.
For this reason, modern humans need to remember that stress’ most potent weapon is cortisol. Beware of this natural body function, and make sure you do what you can to keep stress levels under control.