Cortisol and Stress: The Cortisol Connection and Your Health
We’ve all seen the infomercials for weight-loss drugs telling you that there is a connection between cortisol, stress and comfort eating. Those infomercials were based on the book The Cortisol Connection, which explored the connection between stress hormones and emotional eating. But are there benefits to regulating your cortisol levels?
Do your cortisol levels have a larger impact than we think?
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a stress hormone. It’s part of our fight-or-flight reflex that allows humans to focus when a mountain lion attacks. Fast food and chronic stress lead to higher levels of cortisol in our systems. But cortisol isn’t meant to be pumping through your body constantly; in fact that sort of built-up stress can have huge health impacts. From elevated blood pressure to an increased risk of viral infections, having lots of stress is terrible for you! Cortisol can elevate from exercise, caffeine use, sleep deprivation, and excessive drinking, with effects on everything from memory to bone density.
But cortisol is only one of several stress hormones. And while there is a correlation between out-of-whack cortisol levels and a range of health problems, it’s not clear if cortisol is the issue or stress in general.
True or Not: What Can We Take From It
Cortisol might have a big impact on your health, but cortisol is tied to stress, which definitely has an impact on both health. Unless you have Addison’s syndrome, you can control your cortisol levels by reducing stress in your life. There’s not some magical formula that allows us to reduce stress, and often there are monetary or time constraints to reducing stress. But it’s important to regulate if you don’t want a heart attack.
Stress has big impacts on your health.
Your heart is hurt by stress — not just emotionally but physically. Chronic stress exposes your heart to damaging stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which in the long term can damage the walls of your arteries.
Being stressed out all the time can also hurt your brain. Stress will affect your short-term memory as blood flow goes to key organs, and if stressed over time, you can experience actual damage to the white tissue folds that let you think. High levels of cortisol will also affect your brain function from literally shrinking your brain to depression and an increased risk of stroke.
Stress can literally dissolve your bones. That is a huge deal for women who are prone to osteoporosis and anyone who wants to reduce the amount of physical stress on their body. Even little thought of bones, like your teeth can be affected by stress. If you want to keep your bones healthy, reducing your stress levels should be included as part of your diet and exercise. Stress and stress hormones are the real bone hurting juice.
How to Not Be Stressed (Reduce Cortisol)
It’s not easy to not be stressed. Living without stress — easy words!
But a hard reality of reducing stress:
- Healthy eating
- Getting enough sleep
- Finding your bliss
It sounds so basic to eat well and get sleep, but that’s a hard habit for many Americans to add into their life. Starting small is a great way for many people to integrate healthy habits into their life.
Whether it’s a face mask and nighttime process that’ll get you into bed early, or enjoying Saturday morning time by lying in bed, getting sleep has a huge effect on your stress levels. Eating well can be done by creating an environment of choices. It seems easy to to just pick up fast food or make a boxed dinner, but if you ask yourself if you want a mountain of zoodles or a fast food pressed and fried chicken bit, you may find yourself making zoodles more.
It’s a hard life trying to reduce stress in your life, but honestly evaluating what you want to take enjoyment in will help you reduce stress. Do you want to watch another episode of Suits or do you want to find yourself enveloped in a blissful sleep that seems so alluring in the morning for another hour?
Your life is special. You are special. Stop wasting time with stress. It’ll ruin your brain, your heart, and your bones. Taking steps to care for yourself and treat your body right will help you live a better life.