Can I gain weight from producing too much cortisol? Yes.
Can I develop anxiety and depression from too much cortisol? Yes.
What about increased blood sugar, does cortisol have an impact on my diabetes? Yes.
This past weekend I finished an invigorating course by ACE(American Council on Exercise) on managing diabetes using a holistic approach, and these three questions stood out to me the most. The reality is that the production of cortisol may lead to headaches, trouble sleeping, digestion issues, and even develop heart disease. Cortisol works with your brain to control mood, fear, and motivation. So, you may want to pay attention and learn as much as you can about this hormone and its effects on your health.
Cortisol is the body's main stress hormone. Known by many as the hormone that activates our “fight-or-flight” mechanism. It is a vital hormone because it is our built-in alarm system. You see, back when we were hunting for our food, cortisol made sure to let us know when to run when to hide and it kept us alive. By no means is this a "bad" hormone. The issue is that we are no longer living the life of a hunter/gatherer. Instead, we are living in a high-paced, high-stress, developed age. And with that developed age comes many environmental aspects that seem out of our control.
For instance, every time there is too much traffic and you're furious behind the wheel or you get overwhelmed with daily tasks your cortisol levels are rising. Every time you are late for work and begin to panic, your cortisol levels are rising. Every time you want to get to sleep but instead, you stay up watching t.v or on your phone, yup! You guessed it, your cortisol levels rise.
It is clear that we are consumed by stress and that stress is hugely impacting our health. With 29 million diabetic Americans and a whopping 86 million pre-diabetic Americans, it is clear more than ever that we have a bit of a challenge on our hands. But when problems become challenges anything is possible and there are always solutions.
So, what can we do about this? Well, instead of being overwhelmed by what we can't control, let's focus on what we can control. Diet and behavior.
Let’s say you had a hideous day at work, vanquished by tasks and there’s a traffic jam on your way home. You are now two hours late to get home for dinner! When you get home your partner is aggravated, the kids are screaming and you realize there’s a leak on your roof. You cannot take another second of this day. You decide to push it all aside for another time and "reward" yourself for a hectic day. You go to your local coffee shop and get a large size sweet caffeinated blended beverage and a pastry. Oh boy, doesn't this sound delicious?
Well, unfortunately as rewarding as that may seem, it's detrimental to your health. You had a day full of stress and your cortisol levels have been high all day long. Then you consume a large quantity of caffeine and high glycemic carbohydrates and your already shocked system crashes triggering your brain to say "Uh, oh! We need more fuel!" And two things happen, you want more sugary snacks because your body is asking for fuel and your body sends more cortisol. It may feel wonderful while you eat your snack, but your body is riding a wild roller coaster.
Now imagine partaking in this cycle constantly? Wake up, stress, indulge, repeat. This cycle inevitably leads to lifestyle diseases. And let's not condemn the foods themselves, honestly, if you consume the appropriate portions it is not the sugar or the caffeine that are evil, It’s not the carbs or the fats or even the cortisol! It's our adaptation to our developed age. It’s our habits and our behaviors. The good news, we can fix it.
Here are 6 lifestyle management factors you CAN control:
Brain cells are made up of 85% H20 and some of us may be walking around dehydrated, if that is so, our brain will be releasing stress responses and cortisol. It is important to know that when your body is dehydrated your brain sends a "thirst and hunger" signal together so a piece of advice, THIRST FIRST.
• Drink at least half your body weight of water in ounces per day. For example, if you weigh 200lbs you would consume 100oz of H20 per day.
• Listen to your body's feedback, if your urine is pale yellow this means you are hydrated, if it is a brown hue, you need to hydrate!
• Drink water 30min before every meal and right when you wake up.
The glycemic effect is measured by the glycemic index, think about high glycemic foods as a jackrabbit, those foods are instant fuel that will send blood sugar rushing through your system. Think of low glycemic foods as a turtle, slow-digesting high fat, protein, and fiber foods.
• Choose food in the low to medium glycemic index and consume fat, protein, and fiber in every meal.
• NEVER skip a meal, eating mindfully is key but you still need to tune in every 3-4hrs and assess if your body needs fuel.
• Increase raw foods per plate
• Do not eat when stressed, you are what you absorb and stressful eating leads to diminished saliva and digestion.
Did you know that from 10 pm to 2 am your body is going through physical recovery and repair and between 2 am and 6 am it goes through mental recovery and repair? Neither did I, it is phenomenal! The circadian cycle is ingrained in our DNA and sleep is vital to our existence. Sleep is the way your body can recover, get plenty of it daily!
• Attempt to get 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep per day.
• Optimal bedtime is 10 PM - 6 AM.
• Turn bedtime back in 15min increments.
We all know we need to exercise to balance the expenditure and intake of our calories, but it is not always easy in our fast-paced lives. So, take the right steps to get your body moving, be it using the stairs instead of the escalator or taking some walks, joining a boot camp with 30-min or 45-min workouts, anything that will get all that energy excess out of your body.
• Get your 10,000 steps daily
• Workout (resistance training, cardio..) or work in (tai chi, yoga, non-anabolic exercise)
• Get moving! Taking walks, using the stairs, taking breaks at work to stretch.
It is estimated that we have about 86,000 thoughts per day and that a large majority of those thoughts may be negative in orientation. This is detrimental to our wellness. Recall the Law of Facilitation that suggests that the same thought over and over becomes stronger and the stronger the thought the more of a reality it becomes.
• Practice goal affirmative thoughts. Practice mindfulness and affirmations.
• Ask yourself powerful questions. When you have a negative thought ask yourself, "Is this a fact?"
• Try a gratitude journal! Seeing everything you are grateful for makes us feel accomplished.
• Remember thoughts create realities.
You take 25,900 breaths per day and inverted, shallow or mouth/chest breathing can lead to fatigue and stress. And the lack of O2 produces more cortisol!
• Inhale and exhale out your nose try 10 deep belly breaths per hour.
(hold one hand on your belly and the other on your chest, on the exhale the watch your belly expand 2/3 and then the chest 1/3).
• Take 10-second breaths (1-2-3-4-5, 5-4-3-2-1)
I know in times it may seem that we do not have much control of our surroundings, our environment, or even our lives, but we do. YOU do. We just need to focus on what we can control immediately, for instance, our thoughts and our emotions. Then we can start creating habits that will lead to a change in our behavior and lead us to wellness. Remember, change is a process, not an event and it takes time and effort to create change. But once you do, once you feel in control of your life, you will see that you CAN achieve wellness and feel happiness physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. You will realize that all that hard work was worth it.
Believe and Prosper.
American Council on Exercise.(2013).ACE Health Coach Manual: The ultimate guide to wellness, fitness and lifestyle change. Library of Congress.
American Council on Exercise.(2016). ACE Health: A Holistic Approach to Managing Diabetes. Library of Congress.
Batmanghelidiji, F. MD. (2008). Your body's many cries for water. Global health Soultions, INC.
Chek.P.(2004)How to eat, move and be healthy! Check Institute, SCHU.