Why You Should Control Your Cortisol
Cortisol can be our friend or our enemy. Charles Poliquin taught me this. It is our friend when we need energy for training but it is our enemy when it is elevated for long periods of time and remains chronically elevated. Too much cortisol for too long a period and the body starts to breakdown, muscle tissue gets broken down, fat storage increases, and tissues get oxidized. Not enough cortisol and you have no energy and critical processes of the body stall.
Some reasons why you want to ensure you keep cortisol levels in check:
High levels of cortisol are horrible for the brain. Memory gets impaired and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia are related to excessive cortisol levels.
Cortisol breaks down body tissues. It does this to supply glucose to the brain and muscles to help cope with stressful situations. If cortisol is elevated for prolonged periods then it can result in an accelerated catabolic state.
High cortisol levels deplete nutrients. Two important nutrients it depletes are vitamin C and B5. Vitamin C helps the immune system and B5 helps you deal with stress.
An elevated cortisol-to-DHEA ratio wrecks the body’s mucosal barriers. The mucosal barriers are the body’s first line of defence against pathogens.
The liver is negatively affected by elevated cortisol levels as the adrenal glands play a major role in the liver’s ability to detoxify chemicals, heavy metals, and waste materials in general. It does this by inhibiting enzymes that are a part of the livers enzyme system and needed for it to function optimally.
The adrenal glands play a role in metabolism. When cortisol is high you will see abdominal fat and excess fat around the hips, even in people who are otherwise quite lean. When the adrenal glands are burnt out it impairs the body’s ability to burn fat.
High cortisol levels lower testosterone. This occurs through a process known as pregnenolone steal. Pregnenolone is the mother hormone that can be converted into either cortisol or testosterone. The pathway or conversion into cortisol is much simpler than that of testosterone. It is a one step process whereas the one towards testosterone requires many steps. The more stressed you are, the more easily you will convert pregnenolone into cortisol. It is a vicious cycle (see steroidal hormone principal pathways diagram below).
It can imbalance female hormones by disturbing the timing, distribution, and output of estrogen and progesterone as the adrenal glands play a major role in producing ovarian hormones.
Persistently high cortisol levels impact recovery. Cortisol levels follow a circadian rhythm and should peak early in the morning (normally around 8am) and reach their lowest levels during the night (about midnight). If cortisol levels remain elevated at night the body is unable to shut down and begin physical and mental restoration processes that occur naturally while you sleep. Hormone secretions, such as growth hormone, are disrupted and a cascade of negative events can occur.
A high cortisol level can also impact the thyroid. The HPA axis and the HPT axis are very closely related and it is why you see that in a lot of cases of hypothyroidism the underlying cause is actually adrenal dysfunction.
Now to control cortisol levels you have to know what elevates it in the first place. Basically everything can increase cortisol levels but those that tend to keep it elevated for long periods of time are things like mobile phones and electronic devices, radiation from these devices and Wi-Fi, food sensitivities, chemical exposure such as heavy metals and pesticides, overtraining, poor sleep or lack of sleep, poor diet, problems with blood sugar, gluten, nutrient deficiencies, lack of exercise, mold, parasitic infections, bacterial overgrowth, air pollution, injury, and overworking to name a few.
You can go through a list like this and check off the things that could be causing a potential problem for you. You then remove the offenders and begin to support your system so you can function at your peak.
If you need a 24-hour salivary hormone test done to know what your cortisol levels, cortisol-DHEA ratio, and sex hormone levels are then feel free to contact me and I would be more than happy to give you a test kit so you can begin to take control of your health.