Cortisol and the Modern Day Saber Toothed Tiger

This is how life makes us feel sometimes.
Stress.  It can be our best friend or our worst enemy.  In moderation it can give us a boost of energy to accomplish miracles.  But when it’s unrelenting, chronic, never ending … it can wear us down and create a host of health problems.  The culprit?  Cortisol.
Cortisol does some interesting things.  Our levels can either be really high or really low or both.  Next week I’ll explain what happens when levels get out of balance.  But first, you need to know what cortisol is.
Cortisol is a glucocorticosteroid and plays a role in the metabolism of glucose (sugar), synthesis in the adrenal cortex and is a steroidal structure.
Cortisol is most important for glucose metabolism.  This is, in fact, cortisol’s main function; to increase your glucose and store the excess in the liver.  Glucose gives you energy.  Without sufficient glucose, we experience hypoglycemic symptoms: light-headedness, irritability and fatigue.  Cortisol is released in response to stress and low blood glucose concentration.    It also suppresses the immune system by modulating inflammation, increases blood pressure and aids in metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
The way it’s supposed to work is when your body is under stress (physical, mental, emotional), it produces a brief surge of cortisol.  It is beneficial and protective when it’s infrequent.  It’s the classic “being chased by a saber toothed tiger”.  Once you are safe and the tiger is no longer a threat, cortisol should return to normal levels until the next tiger comes along.
However … for many women … there is a never ending supply of tigers and the cortisol surge never really turns off.  We are struggling with far too many stresses in our life.  There’s an illness in the family, the commute is long and frustrating, the job is never ending, the husband is rarely home (if he’s even still in the picture), the children need your attention with homework, the dog barks constantly … you get my point.
When the switch doesn’t turn off, many things can happen.  You may be experiencing chocolate cravings, sleeplessness, anxiety, panic attacks, increased belly fat, lack of energy, mild depression.  I’ll explain more about what’s happening next week.
In the meantime … take some deep breaths, try to get some sleep, drink lots of water and eat your veggies.  We’ll get through this together.

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