Did you know that cortisol hormone levels can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing by influencing both the way your other hormones e.g. oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, are produced and metabolised?
Cortisol levels are generally driven by our brain’s stress response as a part of the Hypothalamic/Pituitary/Adrenal (HPA) axis.
Originally designed to be of short duration to give us a quick burst of adrenaline to escape from danger (lions and tigers and bears – oh my!), these days our stress response is often in a constant state of overload from work, family and lifestyle commitments.
This puts our HPA axis into overdrive and we find it harder to maintain quality sleep, get grumpy and tired, find that it gets harder to lose weight, are injured more easily when exercising or playing sports and find it harder to fight off or recover from illnesses and strenuous exercise. As time moves on the body can struggle to make enough cortisol hormones through its normal pathways, so it starts diverting the progesterone and testosterone precursor hormone to try and make cortisol in what is called the “pregnenolone steal”. This can be tragic for people trying to become pregnant as it can lead to fertility issues for both men and women. It can also lead to oestrogen dominance in women since there is a reduced amount of progesterone to balance out oestrogen putting us at risk of PMS, fibroids and oestrogen driven cancers. The extra hormonal complication for women is what makes it harder for us to lose weight.
And even the blokes can’t escape from this one! Cortisol mobilises fat stores in the body to become belly fat in both women and men. Constant stress also puts us at risk of systemic inflammation which increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancers. We have all heard of people burning out and many will have heard of adrenal fatigue syndrome that occurs as a result of too much stress.
Stress does not even need to be real to have an impact – just imagining or anticipating a situation is enough to elicit a stress response.
Here are some simple things that you can do about it before you get to the point that you cannot raise enough energy to even get out of bed:
Support restorative sleep:
Exercise with care:
This is a challenging one because fitness levels are such an individual thing. If you are already in a state of exhaustion, adrenal fatigue or burnout then a hard-out session at the gym or training for an iron man event is really the last thing you should be doing, particularly when cortisol production is under strain. When I have clients in this state I get them to stop all exercise, with the exception of going for a short, mindful, stroll 2 to 3 times a week or some simple stretching until they start to recover. If you are not at this stage then just be aware of how you feel after a workout session. If you are so tired that you cannot do much for the rest of the day, then you are likely to be over doing it.
Minimise Healthier alternatives
White bread Wholegrain bread
Chippies/crisps Mixed nuts (handful - preferably raw)
Sweets and lollies Fresh fruit (1-2 pieces per day)
Sweet chocolate Dark 85% or higher low sugar chocolate
Canola oil, cooking oil, non-dairy spreads Olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil and butter
Get out of the building!
If hormonal issues are becoming a problem for you then a DUTCH test, which reports on how adrenal hormones (including cortisol and adrenaline) and reproductive hormones are being metabolised. It is a great way of seeing what is going on. You can then work on a targeted plan to getting your health and wellbeing back on track.
For more information on Adrenal Fatigue and Burn Out, Dr Lam and Dr Wilson are recognised specialists in this area. Both have published books and have some great resources on their websites:
Lam, M., & Dorine, L. (2012). Adrenal fatigue syndrome. Loma Linda, FA: Adrenal Institute Press. https://www.drlam.com/
Wilson, J. (2001). Adrenal fatigue: The 21st century stress syndrome. Petaluma, CA: Smart Publications https://adrenalfatigue.org/
As always, this is general information and not to be taken as direct advice. For a more personalised approach, either click the “Book Now” button to book a consultation with me or contact your local registered Naturopath or other Health and Wellness professional.