Cortisol "The Stress Hormone"

We have all experienced the effects of stress throughout our lives but how does stress impact our health? I would like to share some insight on the physiological effects of stress and address some common misconceptions as to the body's ability to maintain homeostasis. First we look at the 3 types of stress. Acute physical stress such as physical trauma and injury can initiate our stress response of "Fight or Flight" and as humans our bodies are brilliantly adapted to manage this. The stressor signals the release of hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for eliminating pain and helping us to escape danger. Chronic physical challenges are compensated for and can be adapted to over time. Chronic psychological stress though, is the long straw to break the camels back, make him gain 30 lbs, and give him a heart attack. A stressor is anything that knocks you out of balance be it physical, mental, or emotional. In response to stress the body will inhibit NON-Essential functions such as digestion, wound healing, the perception of pain, immune function, and reproduction just to name a few. Given time the body will begin to re-establish a balance and adapt to the situation or stressor. Cortisol is released in high amount during the stress response to allow for a surge of energy. Cortisol taps into the protein stores in the liver and converts them to glucose (sugar) by a process called gluconeogenesis.

Cortisol is a wonderful hormone when kept in check. It can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation (think "cortisone"), and assist with memory. During situations of chronic stress the prolonged exposure to higher levels of cortisol can create negative effects. Here's just a few.

  • Impaired Cognitive Ability

  • Suppressed Thyroid Function

  • Blood Sugar Imbalances

  • Decreased Bone Density

  • Decrease in Muscle Tissue

  • High Blood Pressure

  • Lowered Immunity

  • Slow Wound Healing Due to Decreased Circulation

  • Increased Abdominal Fat

The body will do what it needs to in order to maintain a certain level of homeostasis for survival. There is no doubt the bombardment of chronic stress takes its toll on many vital systems. Identifying chronic stressors and implementing stress management techniques are so very important when regaining and maintaining your health and overall wellness. It could be removing the stressor from your life, learning new ways to respond to the stressor, spending more time outdoors, walking, meditation, art, exercise, or acupuncture. Make time to support yourself and allow for rest and recharge. "Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Do not resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like." - Lao Tzu

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