We all experience stress to some degree, but did you know that routine stress can have a negative impact across many other areas of your health? Find out how constant stress can compromise even the healthiest of lifestyles.
Cortisol, often called the ‘stress hormone’, is the steroid hormone that is made in the adrenal glands and released into the bloodstream for various reasons. Cortisol gets picked up by almost all the cells in the body and plays a role in managing blood sugar, thyroid function, metabolism, and the sleep cycle. That’s why chronic stress leads to increased cortisol in your system that can wreak havoc on all of these biological processes. Managing stress helps you keep these elevated cortisol levels at bay, allowing you to live a healthy life. Here are a few health reasons you may want to keep your stress and cortisol levels under control:
When high amounts of cortisol are circulating in your body, it can cause insulin levels to go up. Increased insulin drops your blood sugar quickly, sending the message to your brain that cells are hungry and we need to eat. So what happens? We end up consuming sugary, fatty foods in response to intense cravings. Studies have shown that those who experience higher stress showed higher cortisol secretion and increased fat storage.
Increased heart disease risk
Higher cortisol levels play a role in controlling the constriction of blood vessels and increased inflammation. Over time, this leads to the narrowing of arteries that can cause high blood pressure and have been linked to higher plaque buildup in arteries. This is the perfect recipe for increased heart disease and heart attacks later down the road.
It has been shown that people who suffer from depression also have higher levels of cortisol in their system. Elevated levels of cortisol have been linked to decreased brain serotonin function as well as tryptophan levels. This is worth noting because tryptophan is needed to make serotonin, a hormone that highly regulates mood, appetite, and sleep.
Cortisol and chronic stress can lead to increased risk for gastric ulcers and overall inflammation of the stomach lining. This is especially problematic for those who suffer for irritable bowel syndrome and colitis. Also, recent studies have shown a relationship between cortisol and its impact on our gut microbiome, which can lead to profound effects that extend out to our brain function and immune health.
Mental focus and cognitive function
It has been shown that high levels of cortisol are associated with memory loss linked to impaired hippocampus, which is the part of the brain associated with memory function. This could explain why some studies show a correlation between increased cortisol and dementia later in life. In addition, the grey matter volume of brain tissues is found to be decreased in those with higher levels of cortisol. Grey matter includes brain regions that involve in muscle control, sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control.
Living to your healthiest potential can never be obtained if you are carrying stress for too long. Body, mind, and spirit all suffer from chronic stress, preventing you from living the full life you deserve. Find ways to manage stress effectively by staying active with friends, engaging in relaxation techniques, and eating as healthy as you can.
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Marissa Puleo, RDN, LDN is a private practice Registered Dietitian based in Scranton, PA helping people find the balance between healthy and happy. As a ‘food peace promoter’, Marissa specializes in helping those with food struggles and disordered eating in learning how to enjoy food while leaving guilt and self criticisms behind. Connect with Marissa at Thrive Nutrition.