Cortisol & Stress – The silent killer

We all have heard about stress and how it is the number one killer of the human race. In this article we shall explore the stress factor and how cortisol affects the most important factor in our lifestyle.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. They are a pair of glands which sit over our kidneys. They produce adrenaline along with a few other hormones.

Cortisol is a catabolic hormone. It helps break down protein. The opposite of catabolic is anabolic which helps build. Stress spikes cortisol and releases adrenaline in the blood stream.

Cortisol is also released when you are injured. That makes you feel thirsty and crave for sweets. The other reason when cortisol is released when you are under mental stress. It can be a daily stress factor or a stressful event or episode like a break up. Certain events in life like menopause also increase cortisol.

Stress mechanism and increase in blood sugar

Liver is the store house of glucose. It is stocked with energy like a refrigerator. Glucose is converted to glycogen to be stored in the liver. Stress is a defensive mechanism of the body. As soon as the body senses a threat, the mechanism is triggered. To combat the threat, the body needs an extra dosage of energy. This is the reserve energy which is released by the liver in the blood stream in the form of glucose.

The natural stress mechanism is supposed to be good for the body as stress keeps up going in difficult situations. The release of extra glucose helps us to overcome situations. It provides a small dosage of energy for the brain to think too. But what happens when there is a continuous stress situation. You have a regular stream of glucose getting released. All this extra glucose induces a spike in insulin. This also leads to weight gain. That is why people under stress or in extended stressful situations put on weight.

Read this article to understand how our body puts on weight due to spike in insulin or insulin resistance.

Cortisol and protein blockage

Proteins are broken down into amino acids during digestion process. Amino acids are required to reach the muscles for repair. Too much cortisol blocks the proteins from going to the muscles. Instead it is send to the liver and converted to carbs and then glycogen and stored as reserve energy. This process is called Gluco-neo-genesis. All this extra sugar spikes insulin and increases cholesterol. Once insulin gets excessive, it leads to build up of body fat.

Cortisol decreases insulin sensitivity. Excessive cortisol also removes fat and protein from the muscles and coverts it into body fat.

Relationship between cortisol and Vitamin D

There is an intricate relationship between cortisol and production of Vitamin D. As we all know, this is the only vitamin which is produced by the body. Vitamin D is required to make all adrenal hormones including cortisol. Stress is the most cause for deficiency of Vitamin D.

The visible damage

Cortisol and stress will cause muscle loss, low Vitamin D, poor sleep, belly fat, high BP and hair loss. All these problems are linked with the liver generating excess sugar and releasing it in the blood. But the most visible sign of stress is too much of body stiffness and tension. This is how stress works.

Imagine an injury to say the toe. You get a swelling to restrict the movement of that body part. It also becomes numb. This is exactly the stress mechanism. Body stress induced by cortisol prevents motion and correct function of your organs and then overall body. Stress affects functioning and communication with body parts.

Fixing stress

Walking is the best stress buster. A walk in the morning at sunrise starts the circadian rhythm which will help your body wake up due to the light and later help you to sleep. It also kick starts the day with the best fat burning exercise. Almost all exercises require carbs because only carbs can give you that extra burst of energy. It is only walking which consumes fats and hence while walking, your body is actually burning fat.

Assuming you had the meal at 7pm on the previous day, 7am is about just the right time to follow up your walk with yoga. In particular we are talking about suryanamaskar. It is the best stretching and breathing exercise. Suryanamaskar tones up the body and is the best way to beat stress and tensed up body muscles. You can further relax with the four second breathing exercise.

An evening walk before the meal followed by family time before sleep helps you relax. Do not watch any action movie of news before going to sleep. Avoid consumption of carbs and sugar before you sleep. It will just pump up your body with excess glucose. Make sure you dim out the light before going off to sleep. The first sleep wave hits at 10:30pm, make sure to catch it.

Pick up a hobby, listen to music and do a bit of gardening to relax during the day. A nature hike once a week is a good idea as a stress buster. Reading and writing is a good way to relax. But the most sure shot way to relieve stress is keeping a pet. Go out with your friends and have a good time.

Green tea is a known stress reliever. Aswagandha herb and arjuna bark powder also help in relieving stress.

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