The stress of the holiday season effects all of us in different ways. For some, it is a time of family, fun, and bad food that, by January 1st, is already a fond memory. For others, however, the stress of shopping, cleaning, cooking, and eating our way through the holidays can bring us down into a funk that can be hard to climb out of. A common symptom of holiday overload is elevated cortisol levels. A buzzword since the introduction of drugs like Cortislim, cortisol has gotten plenty of attention from the weight-loss community for its negative effects on the body. Cortisol is a survival hormone, however–without it, we would be unable to function. Read on to learn more about this hormone & its role in the stress response.
What is cortisol?
Hormone levels are the end-all indicators of the levels of stress your body may be enduring (physical or mental). Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to a) stress or b) low blood sugar levels. Cortisol is characterized by its diurnal variation pattern; like some other hormones, including the sex hormone testosterone, the levels peak in the morning and drop off toward the evening.
In its normal function, cortisol helps us meet these challenges by converting fats and proteins into energy, keeping us alert, balancing electrolytes, calibrating heart beat and pressure, and counteracting inflammation. In the short run, that’s great — even protective and restorative.
However, problems can develop as today’s relentlessly busy lifestyle forces your adrenal glands to be on constant “high alert” resulting in sustained high levels of cortisol.
Chronically High Cortisol Levels
How can you tell if your cortisol levels are chronically high & why can this be a potentially destructive pattern? Firstly, your doctor can run a blood test to tell you if your cortisol levels are above normal. Here is a table showing the upper and lower limits of cortisol levels in the blood.
|Reference ranges for blood plasma content of free cortisol|
|Time||Lower limit||Upper limit||Unit|
Here are some observations you can make yourself to get an idea of whether your cortisol levels are up (and staying up):
1. The Wired/Tired Combo
A symptom of chronically high cortisol is the inability to relax. Your brain is often running at high speed with the stress of life while your body is physically not up to the task.
2. Junk Food Cravings
Similar to the reaction the human body generates when deprived of sleep, high cortisol prompts high-fat, high-sugar food cravings in response to perceived stress.
3. Long-Distance Exerciser
Training for a marathon? Or maybe you just like to go out everyday for a 45 minute jog to calm your brain. This type of repetitive, aerobic exercise can contribute to elevated cortisol. You might be able to spot this type next time you’re at the gym–the man or woman who is always on the treadmill, never hitting the weights, yet has a pudgy middle.
Chronically high cortisol levels can make it next to impossible to lose weight. Cortisol, as a stress hormone, keeps your body on high alert and in a constant state of stress. Your body is not in homeostasis, or biological balance.
In Part Two, we will talk about ways to bring your cortisol back into sync to have you looking and feeling better. Until then,
North Texas Fitness