Let’s talk about cortisol. This is a hormone that we produce to help us deal with stress – a hormone that we can’t live without! And when cortisol is at optimal levels, it is actually a very good thing for us!
It helps us to get up and go in the morning, to be able to get things done during the day, to have energy and feel ‘good,’ etc. Of course problems can arise when cortisol gets depleted from continuous stress and imbalanced lifestyles and/or is chronically elevated (usually before it gets depleted and drops to a very low level) due to stressors, often then instigating something called insulin resistance. Today we’re going to further explore the relationship between cortisol and insulin, how they interact, why we want adequate but not too low or too high levels of either, what are some common signs and symptoms of imbalance, and again, a few easy steps to consider if you may be showing signs of cortisol and insulin imbalance!
Cortisol and Stress and the Connection to Insulin
Cortisol is instrumental in helping us deal with stress. For instance, in stressful conditions, cortisol provides the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores via a process we call “gluconeogenesis” in the liver. This energy can help an individual fight, deal with, and/or flee a stressor. However, elevated cortisol over the long term consistently produces elevated glucose release, leading to increased blood sugar levels and that’s where the connection to insulin problems can begin!
Theoretically, this mechanism can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes and this can be clearly seen in the skyrocketing rates of diabetes across much of the globe. Since a principal function of cortisol is to thwart the effect of insulin—essentially making the cells insulin resistant—the body remains in a general insulin-resistant state when cortisol levels are chronically elevated. Over time, our pancreas (our producer of insulin), struggles to keep up with the high demand for insulin (which is like a chemical ‘chaperone’ to help bring sugar into our cells). This means that glucose levels in the blood remain high, the cells cannot get the sugar they need, and the cycle continues. What is kind of especially ‘crazy’ about this is that ironically we have plenty of sugar to feed the cells, but because they have become insulin resistant, it cannot get into them, so they literally are ‘starving.’ This often prompts us to then reach for quick, sugary ‘fixes’ in a misguided attempt to try and get that sugar into our hungry cells! Of course it isn’t much of a leap then to figure out that in such a situation, weight gain can happen very easily and relatively quickly!
Thus, signs and symptoms such as feeling ‘tired but wired,’ craving sweets, a growing waistline, having trouble falling and/or staying asleep, elevating blood sugar and insulin levels (measured in blood tests), fatty liver, hypoglycemic feelings (such as lightheadedness, irritable or what I like to term as ‘hangry’ (i.e. a little bit hungry and angry at the same time!), and trouble getting up in the morning, may all be potential signs of cortisol and insulin imbalance.
What To Do?
Again, this involves taking control of your stressors by actively minimizing additional stresses and implementing stress management techniques such as many we’ve discussed in this series of articles. Eating healthier, taking time for exercise and ensuring you are getting proper rest, are all foundational things you should be attending to as a starting point. For those of you with considerable cortisol/insulin issues, discussing the matter with a qualified health care provider is a great place to start. Exploring supplemental options here such as phosphatidylserine, vitamin C, and others may go a long way in helping things come better back into balance too.
Fiona Caddies is the Founder of www.whitezebra.com
Fiona Caddies lights up a room. Her electric energy, dreamlike love for life and boundless knowledge of health and nutrition is contagious. With an active interest to engage a community of those who are ‘hyperactively healthy’, Fiona dreamed of, and later co- designed, WhiteZebra; a health website set to centralize the teachings of a credible suite of esteemed health professionals which feature a high concentration of current news and practical ideas.
Qualifications: Cert III & Cert IV in Fitness, Poliquin BioSignature Level 2 (Advanced Nutrition, Fat Loss & Hormone Balancing), FMA Strength Coach, Thump Boxing Advanced Instructor, 200 Hour Power Living Yoga Teacher Training
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