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    Surprise!

    Any link you clicked on the previous page to learn more about how coaching can help improve your health and overall wellbeing brought you here to this page where you  can learn about the importance of learning to manage your cortisol levels.

    This is not a joke, however. While your anxiety and chronic health complaints may appear to have different causes and result in different symptoms, one key common cause is elevated levels of the steroid hormone, cortisol.

    What You Need to Know about Cortisol

    Hormones are chemical substances produced in the body that control and regulate the activities of certain cells or organs. Hormones are essential for every activity of life, including the processes of digestion, metabolism, growth, reproduction, and mood control. 

    Most cells have cortisol receptors, so it affects many different bodily functions. Under normal conditions, cortisol can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, help reduce inflammation and assist with memory formulation. It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure. In women, cortisol also supports the developing fetus during pregnancy. All of these functions make cortisol a crucial hormone to protect overall health and well-being.

    Our bodies also produce cortisol when we experience acute stress which prepares the body for a “fight or flight” response, flooding the body with glucose which provides immediate energy for large muscles. It also keeps glucose available for immediate use by inhibiting insulin production to prevent glucose from being stored. It also narrows the arteries and (along with another stress hormone, epinephrine) causing the heart to beat harder and faster.  When we are able to address and resolve stressful situations, the body returns to normal.  

    So what’s the problem? Many of us have fast-paced, stressful lifestyles. Our bodies try to cope by pumping out cortisol almost constantly.  When chronically elevated, cortisol can have deleterious effects on weight, sleep, immune function, and chronic disease risk.

    Whole-Body Effects of Chronically Elevated Cortisol

    Blood Sugar Imbalance and Diabetes.

    Elevated cortisol over the long term consistently produces glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels. Since a principal function of cortisol is to thwart the effect of insulin—essentially rendering the cells insulin resistant—the body remains in a general insulin-resistant state when cortisol levels are chronically elevated. Over time, the pancreas struggles to keep up with the high demand for insulin, glucose levels in the blood remain high, the cells cannot get the sugar they need, and the cycle continues. Research suggests that insulin resistance is highly correlated Type 2 diabetes.

    Weight Gain and Obesity.
    Persistently high cortisol levels can lead to weight gain in three important ways.

    1. It mobilizes fat cells stored subcutaneously and relocates them deep in the abdomen. These visceral fat cells have more cortisol receptors than subcutaneous fat.  These fat cells then convert the enzyme cortisone into cortisol. Cortisol production in visceral fat cells adds to that already produced by the adrenal glands.

     2. Consistently high blood glucose levels along with insulin suppression lead to cells that are starved of glucose. But those cells are crying out for energy, and one way to regulate is to send hunger signals to the brain. This can lead to overeating. And, of course, unused glucose is eventually stored as body fat.

    3. Cortisol affects appetite and causes cravings for high-calorie foods. High cortisol levels increase production of the appetite stimulating hormone leptin, and reduces production of the appetite suppressant hormone, gherelin. This strengthens your impulses to eat quick energy foods while weakening your ability to recognize when you have had enough and stop eating.

    Insomnia and Disrupted Sleep.
    The relationship between sleep problems and cortisol levels is a vicious cycle. Inadequate sleep raises cortisol levels. Heightened cortisol levels can cause anxiety that interferes with restful sleep. Poor sleep can contribute to negative moods, deteriorating relationships and performance on the job, and obesity.

    Immune System Suppression.
    
Cortisol functions to reduce inflammation in the body, which is good, but over time, these efforts to reduce inflammation also suppress the immune system. Chronic inflammation caused by lifestyle factors ,such as poor diet and stress, helps to keep cortisol levels soaring, wreaking havoc on the immune system. An unchecked immune system responding to unabated inflammation can lead to myriad problems: an increased susceptibility to colds and other illnesses, an increased risk of cancer, the tendency to develop food allergies, an increased risk of an assortment of gastrointestinal issues (because a healthy intestine is dependent on a healthy immune system), and possibly an increased risk of autoimmune disease.

    Gastrointestinal Problems.
    Cortisol activates the sympathetic nervous system, causing all of the physiologic responses previously described. As a rule, the parasympathetic nervous system must then be suppressed, since the two systems cannot operate simultaneously. The parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated during quiet activities such as eating, which is important because for the body to best use food energy, enzymes and hormones controlling digestion and absorption must be working at their peak performance.

    Here’s what goes on in a cortisol-flooded, stressed-out body when you consume food. Digestion and absorption are compromised. You can develop indigestion as the mucosal lining of your stomach becomes irritated and inflamed. The resulting mucosal inflammation leads to the increased production of cortisol, and the cycle continues as the body becomes increasingly taxed.

    Cardiovascular Disease
    Cortisol constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure to enhance the delivery of oxygenated blood. This is good for fight-or-flight situations but not for the long term. Over time, such arterial constriction and high blood pressure can lead to vessel damage and plaque buildup—the perfect scenario for a heart attack or stroke.

    Fertility Problems.
 Elevated cortisol relating to prolonged stress can lend itself to erectile dysfunction or the disruption of normal ovulation and menstrual cycles. Furthermore, the androgenic sex hormones are produced in the same glands as cortisol and epinephrine, so excess cortisol production may hamper optimal production of these sex hormones.

    Other Issues
    Long-term stress and elevated cortisol may also be linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disorders, dementia, depression, osteoporosis, and other conditions.

    How Coaching Can Help You Regain And Maintain Healthy Cortisol Levels?

    Wellness coaching helps you make changes changes in your mindset, life style and diet needed to lower your cortisol levels. Here’s what happens:

    • You learn mindfulness and positive psychology strategies that reduce your anxiety, strengthen your self-confidence, optimism, and overall life satisfaction.
    • You discover enjoyable ways to be more active, increasing endorphin levels (which reduce cortisol production), reducing your insulin resistance and your overall risk for chronic diseases.
    • You explore how eating a healthy diet can help you feel in control of your eating, have more energy and endurance to do the things you want to do, and achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

    If you have been having problems following your health care provider’s recommendations for reducing health risks or managing chronic conditions, your coach can provide emotional support and encouragement for getting into getting into action.

  • Contact me to learn how coaching can help you lower your cortisol levels
    to reduce stress and improve your health
    Call/text 303.810.9125

    Or, schedule an appointment for a complimentary, 60 minute wellness coaching consult.(need calendar link here)