We Americans are an interesting bunch. We work more hours and take less time off than any other nation on the planet. We love work, it’s our identity and the more stress we feel, the better we feel about ourselves. Yet all of the stress that we put ourselves under comes at a huge cost.
Cortisol - what is it?
It’s a steroid hormone that is produced from cholesterol by our adrenal glands in the adrenal cortex. It’s our body’s response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration. It increases our blood sugar, suppresses our immune system, decreases bone formation and helps us to metabolize the foods that we eat.
So, how can you tell if you have too much Cortisol?
Answer these 10 questions for yourself to give you some insight about your cortisol level.
Have you been gaining weight, especially around your middle, even if you feel that you have been eating right and are exercising?
Is it usual for you to feel tired all day long and then feel “too tired to sleep”? You toss and turn so much that you feel as if you have done battle all night and you do not feel well rested in the morning. Do you frequently suffer from “getting your second wind” right around bedtime? Cortisol levels are supposed to go down at night, this helps your body relax and repair. If they don’t, they keep you awake.
Do you feel that you lack motivation? “I’d really like to exercise, but I’m too tired.” Sounds familiar?
Do you seem to catch every illness that comes your way? As I mentioned above, cortisol suppresses our immune system, making us vulnerable to every “bug” out there.
Do you often experience stomach upset? Do you experience nausea, heartburn, abdominal cramping, constipation and/or diarrhea?
Do you have cravings for foods that you know are not healthy for you? Again, as mentioned above, Cortisol increases our blood sugar, putting us at greater risk for diabetes.
Has your sex drive driven off without you? Cortisol puts us in survival mode, so all of those functions that our bodies don’t need for immediate survival get shut down. Testosterone levels drop off the face of the planet and we wonder if we will ever find it again.
Do you feel hypersensitive to pain? If our cortisol levels remain high over a long period of time, our adrenal glands get depleted. This raises prolactin levels which increases our body’s sensitivity to pain. We start to experience backaches, muscle aches and headaches more often and with greater intensity.
Do you feel sad? High levels of cortisol suppress production of serotonin and suddenly our outlook of life is dismal and positive thoughts are hard to come by.
Do you feel anxious? Too much Cortisol can lead to feeling jittery, feeling edgy, having a nervous stomach, panicky and paranoid.
If this situation goes on long enough, our adrenal glands, which produces the cortisol in the first place, become exhausted. The very glands that are designed to help us deal with stress become so stressed themselves; they cease to function properly, leading to full blown adrenal collapse or insufficiency. This is very dangerous indeed.
Does any of this sound familiar? Well, stay tuned next month. My next article will be on some fun ways to decrease those Cortisol levels.