How Too Much Cortisol Can Lead To Decreased Health and Increased Belly Fat
Some call it the most important of all hormones. Others damn it for its ability to devastate our body’s delicate endocrine system. Regardless of the varying opinions, one thing is for sure: cortisol is a crucial hormone necessary to live. But if its level in your body isn’t optimal, your health could be affected.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone made in the adrenal glands (cone shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys) and is primarily responsible for metabolizing carbohydrates and protein, regulating blood sugar, and helping to manage our response to stress. During times of stress, which we all experience, cortisol helps us function.
When our body detects stress, cortisol moves into action and sends help. Our memory sharpens, our immunity increases, we get a burst of energy, and our sensitivity to pain decreases. These are all natural and vital roles of cortisol and ensure that we’re able to deal with everything life hands us.
However, if the stress is constant, so is the cortisol. Unfortunately, what helps us in small amounts becomes dangerous if sustained over a long period of time. If you have constant stress in your life, then your cortisol levels are elevated, and this is detrimental to your health. It leads to adrenal fatigue.
What happens when you have consistently high levels of cortisol in your blood:
- you crave high carb foods (like donuts and muffins)
- you gain weight around your midsection (increasing your risk of diabetes and heart disease).
- you will have difficulty sleeping.
Cortisol and the Circadian Rhythm
We produce different chemicals throughout the day that have powerful effects on our mood, energy and sleep. They have a natural rhythm referred to as the Circadian Rhythm, and cortisol plays a key role.
Normally, we produce cortisol in amounts mainly determined by what time of day it is. It tends to be higher in the morning (activated by the light of the sunrise, which gives us a kick of energy to start the day).
As the day progresses, cortisol levels decline, allowing us to prepare for sleep. Melatonin (one of our ‘sleepy’ hormones) is lower in the morning and increases later in the day, easing us into relaxation.
So what happens if you’re under constant stress? Your cortisol level may not diminish during the day. It’s actually possible for it to rise and stay elevated permanently, wreaking havoc on your health. When bedtime comes, you’ll be wide awake.
Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
Don’t panic if you think your circadian rhythm is disrupted. There are things you can do to reset it:
- Lower stress. I know, it’s easy to say, right? But the truth of the matter is that cortisol levels are directly correlated to stress (physical, mental, emotional). Doing everything we can to minimize this stress can make a big difference in balancing your cortisol level.
- Be consistent. Wake up and go to sleep every night at roughly the same time.
- Light is key. Your circadian rhythm is affected greatly by light. Make your room as dark as possible when it’s time for bed and flood it with light when it’s time to wake up.
- Don’t nap. If your circadian rhythm is disrupted, you might feel tired in the afternoon. Resist the urge to nap as it may make it harder for you to fall asleep at bedtime.
Take away message? You can’t afford not to relax. Too much is riding on this. Don’t wait for symptoms of adrenal fatigue to start showing up. Be proactive. Start now. Get moving. Eat well. Keep stress in check. You will reap the benefits for years to come!