The Cortisol Connection
Estimated time for reading: 8 minutes
Tags: Adrenal glands, Chronic stress, Cortisol, Cramps, Diet, Endometriosis, Fertility, Fix Your Period, Hormonal Imbalance, Hormones, Infertility, Modern Diets, Painful Periods, PCOS, PMS, Stress, sugar
It has been a huge week for me and it’s only Wednesday! On Monday afternoon I spoke live on the Infertility 2 Pregnancy Virtual Summit and then spoke on a panel event called “The Balancing Act of an Entrepreness.” Apparently I can talk about this stuff all day long!
Upon reflection, I realized that these two events were very connected because the basic concepts I discussed were rooted in hormonal health. Naturally! On the Fertility Summit, I spoke about the hormone cortisol and it’s profound effect on women’s reproductive health while on the panel discussion, I spoke of cortisol’s effect on women business owners.
In thinking about this post, I wanted to be able to tie the two events together because they each led to so many new lovely ladies joining my mailing list. Hooray for that! I want to provide valuable content to a large cross-section of women and cortisol problems definitely affect a large cross-section of women! Cortisol does not discriminate ladies!
We hear about stress and it’s effects all the time. What’s not talked about is the fact that this broadly used term does indeed have a physical effect. And it is most especially apparent in women. We feel the effects of stress much more than men do and that is because of our hormonal makeup. We’ve plain just got more hormonal action than the dudes. Of course this is a good thing when everything is humming along smoothly, but when it’s not, things deteriorate fast for us
The hormone behind most stress-related conditions is cortisol. Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands during times of stress, which is the reason it has been dubbed the “stress hormone.” The body needs cortisol to power through demanding situations, whether it’s dealing with hectic schedules and difficult bosses or a traumatic life event. Unfortunately, many of us over-produce this hormone due to unrelenting stress in our professional and personal lives. Some of us are so sensitive that the smallest thing can cause our adrenals to over-produce cortisol…so if you’re not feeling stressed, you might not be off the hook.
There are two key points about a healthy stress response that need to be emphasized: First, it takes priority over all other metabolic functions in the body and second, it wasn’t designed to last very long.
Our ancestors used this response to escape life-threatening situations like running from wooly mammoths! Their adrenals would release cortisol, which would immediately increase their heart rate and blood pressure, release energy stores for immediate use, shut down digestion and other secondary functions, and sharpen their senses. Thousands of years later, our bodies still respond the same way, except nowadays we’re most likely just sitting in traffic! In the past there would be acute moments of stress followed by periods of rest but today we are in a constant state of chronic stress with very short periods of rest. Our adrenals are living in the past and have not adapted well to this norm.
Cortisol is great in the short term to help us deal with a perceived threat, but can have a detrimental effect on the body in the long term. This is because cortisol has three main jobs:
1. It raises blood sugar (to feed muscles so you can run away)
2. It raises blood pressure (so you can get out of a threatening situation)
3. It lowers immune function (as well as shuts down digestion and reproductive organs – basically any bodily function that isn’t necessary to survive).
As you can imagine, this will inevitably lead to major fallout over time. Symptoms & conditions associated with dysregulated cortisol:
:: Inability to maintain steady energy levels throughout the day - Reliance on carbs/caffeine
:: Fatigue and grogginess (lack of energy in the morning, even after a full nights sleep)
:: Tired but wired feeling, poor sleep (difficulty winding down or staying asleep
:: Unstable blood sugar levels – cortisol and insulin work together, and when cortisol goes up insulin goes up. High insulin causes the ovaries to produce more testosterone. We do not want this! PCOS is the result for many women.
:: Brain fog and forgetfulness – ADD, scattered thoughts, inability to focus on a task for long
:: Estrogen dominance and other conditions of hormonal imbalance
:: Fertility issues – difficulty getting and staying pregnant – cortisol directly affects our progesterone levels
:: Weight gain in the mid-section – the dreaded muffin top that keeps getting bigger. This is because belly fat has 4 TIMES more cortisol receptors than any other body fat.
:: Low stamina for stress, and easily irritated, high anxiety, panic attacks
:: Poor immunity; high incidence of colds and flu; chronic infections (bacterial, viral, yeast)
:: Dry, unhealthy skin with excess pigmentation, and/or adult acne
:: Lack of libido or no libido – double sad face!
Here are 6 practical steps to start reducing your cortisol levels now:
- Reduce your light at night. Too much light at night actually stimulates your adrenals to produce more cortisol to keep you awake. This prevents you from being able to wind down and sleep properly. Does the term “tired but wired” sound familiar to you? Here’s what to do. After 9pm turn off as many lights in your house as possible. Do light candles, they make everyone look pretty and they’re sexy too! Give yourself a laptop curfew, this means no laptops in bed ladies. That bright screen is keeping you up at night.
- Practice saying “probably not or no”. Women are programmed to overcommit, overprovide and people please, often at the expense of our own health and adrenal function. Many times we feel resistance to something but do it anyway, in fear of letting someone down. This week when someone asks you to do something that you know will stress you and your adrenals, practice saying “Probably not…(pause), but let me think about it.” Or just straight up say no. People love us when we say yes to everything so this might ruffle some feathers. No guilt is allowed!
- Walk barefoot on the earth. There is actually scientific evidence that walking barefoot on the earth, grass or beach can help reset your adrenal function and improve chronic fatigue. Our bodies’ electrons become frazzled by the harmful electromagnetic fields emitted by man-made products such as computers, phones, hair dryers & home appliances. The earth’s electrons seem to restore order. This is probably why gardeners and farmers are so happy! Now go lay in the grass or hug a tree…your adrenals will thank you.
- Support yourself nutritionally. Eat regular meals, especially breakfast, which include high-quality protein, whole grains and good fats. Properly timing meals to prevent dramatic dips and spikes in blood sugar minimizes cortisol output and also gives you more sustained energy throughout the day. You goal is to feel full for 4-6 hours after you eat – this is a good indicator that your blood sugar is balanced. This is the key for addressing a number of hormonal imbalances and the basis of my program.
- Supplement wisely. Most of us take supplements and never see any effect. This is because we are probably not taking the best quality we can get and/or not taking the right targeted amounts. Most people do best on 3 or 4 supplements at a time, anymore than that and we get overwhelmed and give up. A good B-Complex vitamin is incredibly powerful in addressing a number of hormonal and reproductive issues. And getting 2000-4000mg a day of fish oil a day has been shown to lower cortisol levels and reduce inflammation. Our lady parts are especially vulnerable to inflammation, which is the negative response our bodies have to foods (think sugar, refined wheat products etc) and environmental pollutants that are harmful to us.
- Reduce or cut out caffeine and sugar. I know, I know. This is tough for many people but think of this: both caffeine and sugar stimulate your adrenals to produce cortisol. In addition, both of these substances do a double whammy on the body by raising not only cortisol but blood sugar levels too. This keeps us on a rollercoaster of blood sugar lows and highs that we can’t seem to escape. That 3pm energy slump? It’s related to imbalanced cortisol and usually we grab something with sugar or we get a coffee to deal with it. Take baby steps and wean yourself off of these elements slowly. Try Dandy Blend coffee substitute and use honey and stevia in place of sugar.
Want to learn even more about this and what you can do? Well you’re in luck because today is the day that the Fix Your Period Lite Program starts! I am going to talk about all of this and so much more – we’ll cover the best foods to maintain optimal hormonal health to deal with fertility issues, stress, PMS, cramps (you name it!), supplements and botanicals, self-care practices, reclaiming your feminine vitality along with hormone testing and so much more! If you want to learn more check out the program page or email us at email@example.com. I can’t wait to meet you!
In the comments below, do you feel like stress plays a big role in your life and your hormones? How have you reduced it or taken control of it? We’d all love to hear what’s worked for you! <3COMMENT
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