Stress, if severe and prolonged enough, will destroy your health, and much of the damage is due to the high cortisol levels causedby chronic stress. Cortisol is a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands located immediately above your kidneys and is the hormone most responsible for maintaining your body functions in response to stress. It is normal for your cortisol levels to be highest upon waking in the morning, to be lower later in the day, and to be lowest at night. This is the normal rhythm of cortisol in relation to time of day.
Cortisol acts as a natural antihistamine, but also lowers immunity and resistance to infection. High cortisol levels decrease immune response, as measured through secretory IgA, in the linings of the lungs, throat, kidneys, bladder, and intestinal tract. Abnormal cortisol levels also weaken the intestinal wall, resulting in increased risk for developing ulcers, colitis, Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and abnormal intestinal flora.
Abdominal fat is a common outcome of high cortisol and is a symptom of impaired insulin control and type II diabetes. Muscle and joint aches and pain often result from impaired ability to maintain muscle, cartilage, and connective tissue. The same process predisposes to osteoporosis, thinning of skin, poor wound healing and muscle wasting. Thyroid problems are often caused by poor regulation of cortisol.
Abnormal circadian rhythm of cortisol will usually show as waking tired in the morning, fatigue during the day along with craving caffeine and sugar to provide temporary relief, and difficulty getting to sleep at night. The disturbed sleep has shown to be causative of depression. High cortisol levels can actually cause atrophy of the region of the brain where memories are processed and stored (hippocampus) and this phenomenon probably accounts for the impaired memory seen in people who are chronically stressed.
Self Care for High Cortisol
1) Rest and Relaxation– Get enough rest. Have some unstructured time for relaxation, and make sure to find satisfaction in your work or hobby.
2) Balance your Nervous System– Activity, Yoga, Meditation, Chiropractic
3) Balance your Blood Sugar– Eat whole, natural, unrefined foods.
4) Avoid Stimulants– Energy drinks and caffeine to excess