and the fast pace of life mean that our bodies are constantly
pumping out cortisol, which can wreak havoc on our health.
Cortisol is a type of steroid hormone which is naturally produced by the two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney. Cortisol is normally released in response to events such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and in stressful circumstances.
Cortisol is best known for its involvement in the “fight-or-flight” response and temporary increase in energy production. Cortisol also plays an important role in human nutrition.
It regulates energy and metabolism by selecting the right type of nutrients i.e. carbohydrate, fat, or protein to meet the physiological demands on the body. When chronically elevated, cortisol can have deleterious effects on weight, immune function and chronic disease risk.
The effects of frequently elevated cortisol:
Blood Sugar Imbalance and Diabetes
Cortisol may also be involved in weight gain due to the blood sugar-insulin problem mentioned above. Consistently high blood sugar levels combined with insulin suppression, lead to cells that are starved of glucose. These cells are crying out for energy and the body then sends hunger signals to the brain, leading to overeating and unused glucose is eventually stored as body fat.
Repeated elevation of cortisol can lead to weight gain, particularly within the tummy area. Cortisol can even mobilise fat from temporary storage in the muscles and relocate them to visceral fat cells – deep within the abdomen.
Cortisol functions to reduce inflammation in the body, which is good, but over time, these efforts to reduce inflammation also suppress the immune system. Chronic inflammation, caused by lifestyle factors such as poor diet and stress, maintains soaring levels of cortisol, wreaking havoc on the immune system.
An immune system responding to constant levels of inflammation can lead to myriad of problems: more susceptible to colds and other illnesses, a higher risk of cancer, a tendency to develop food allergies and possibly an increased risk of autoimmune disease.
Cortisol can supress the nervous system which has a vital role when eating. In order for the body to get the most from the food we eat, enzymes and hormones are essential for controlling digestion and absorption. Imagine what goes on in a cortisol-flooded, stressed-out body when food is consumed: digestion and absorption of nutrients is compromised, indigestion develops and stomach ulcers are more common.
We know that cortisol constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure to enhance the delivery of oxygenated blood. This is advantageous for fight-or-flight situations but not perpetually.
Over time, such arterial constriction and high blood pressure can lead to vessel damage and plaque accumulation which could lead to a stroke or heart attack.
Long-term stress and elevated cortisol may also be linked to insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disorders, depression and other conditions.
Some strategies include getting more and better quality sleep, deep breathing, meditation,acupuncture, yoga, pilates and cardiovascular exercises and addressing psychological or emotional issues.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
If we can naturally decrease inflammation in the body and minimize stress, decreased cortisol levels should follow, resulting in improved wellness.
Obviously, maximizing the anti-inflammatory foods and minimizing the pro-inflammatory ones is a big step toward controlling inflammation:
Follow a low glycaemic load diet, boosting consumption of whole grain foods to maximize intake of fibre, antioxidants and phytonutrients: with vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and beans. Reduce intakes of unhealthy fats such as trans and saturated type fats. Eliminate or reduction of caffeine and consume alcohol in moderation. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight and take regular exercise. Eat omega-3 fatty acids e.g. salmon, trout and mackerel 1-2 times every week.
For more information on this topic or other nutrition concerns,
Contact Nutri Vive Nutrition Clinic, 49 John St, Kilkenny.
Clinics also located at Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny.