(Health Secrets) People living in America today are seeking quality of life in the midst of a polluted world, an onslaught of chemicals, and a medical establishment educated to reflect corporate interests rather than the interests of patients. We live in a country where the number one gross national product is stress. Now more than ever, it is imperative for people to get cortisol under control and keep themselves at the peak of health, a peak that is based on a foundation of optimal hormone balance. It is this hormonal foundation that provides the bedrock of support for people trying to live genuine lives in today’s world.
All the stress and pollution along with poor diet choices are causing people to experience hormonal imbalance and decline at an earlier age than ever. Hormonal imbalance is now showing up in men and women in their late 20’s. Many people in their 30’s are in unrecognized hormonal imbalance that saps their energy, causes weight gain, and makes their thinking foggy, leaving them in a state where they are unable to act in their own best interests.
Americans are experiencing record levels of depression and sleeplessness. Their conventional physicians answer their symptoms with the prescription pad, adding even more chemicals to the pile without addressing the causes of these symptoms. This failure by the conventional medical establishment to help us restore hormone balance means that people who want to live a long, happy, disease-free life will need to intervene on their own.
Each of the hormones oversees an area of bodily processes, and each person is only as healthy as his or her weakest hormone. For true hormone balance, the hormonal orchestra requires optimal levels from each player. When one hormone is in decline, the imbalance means the rest will soon follow, causing a downward cascade of all bodily processes. Low levels of estrogen, progesterone or testosterone lead to erratic production of thyroid, insulin, and cortisol. High cortisol and low thyroid levels cause weight gain even when you are eating less and exercising more. When cortisol levels are high, sleep is impossible, but heart attack is a real possibility.
Knowing what the major hormones do in the body and what happens when they go awry will make you aware of how critical hormone balance is to your overall health and well being. Cortisol, insulin and thyroid are called major hormones because you can’t live without them. When these hormones fall out of balance, the risk of death is highly increased. Let’s start with cortisol.
Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone
Everybody has seen people with high cortisol levels. They are the ones who run around like maniacs trying to achieve. The super woman and the power executive are stereotypes of the high cortisol person. Cortisol is the hormone of road rage.
Cortisol production increases in response to stress. It is the body’s survival mechanism, pouring hormone into the bloodstream when the fight or flight mechanism is engaged. Cortisol is what allows a mother to lift up a car to save her child, and what powers a person running away from an attacker. It’s cortisol that gives us the clarity of mind, swiftness of movement, and the enhanced strength and courage we need to see our way out of threatening situations, whether the threats are physical or psychological.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone made in the adrenal glands. It regulates blood pressure and cardiovascular function as well as the body’s use of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. When cortisol is secreted, it causes a breakdown of muscle protein, leading to release of amino acids into the blood stream. The amino acids are used by the liver to synthesize glucose for energy. Cortisol also leads to the release of energy from fat cells to be used by the muscles. These actions ensure that the brain and body have the energy resources they need for defense. So far, so good.
The problem comes when stress becomes chronic, causing the adrenal glands to continuously produce cortisol. This can lead to overtaxed adrenals that eventually become unable to function. High cortisol destroys sleep, and when you don’t sleep, more hormonal imbalance follows and the stage becomes set for the onset of degenerative disease.
One of the primary causes of continuous physiological stress in both women and men is declining levels of other steroid hormones. Low estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels in the body put it under a tremendous and continuous stress load. When hormones are replaced, the ability to sleep returns, usually even in the face of continuing exogenous stress.
There are people who seem to seek out stressful situations and like living on the edge. The continuous flow of cortisol becomes addictive when it translates into feelings of power and euphoria. These people are on their way to adrenal exhaustion. If adrenal exhaustion gets to be severe, it can result in death. Signs of overtaxed adrenal glands are exhaustion, hair loss, weight gain, irritability, and probably the most telltale sign of all, skin rashes and acne.
When cortisol is doing its job, life seems easy. Stress doesn’t get you down or keep you awake. If cortisol levels are low, the mood becomes affected. Anxiety begins its downward pull, and you become upset by things you normally would just ignore. Feeling paralyzed between confrontation and escape is a sign of low cortisol, as is inability to think clearly in a stressful situation.
Cortisol levels decline with age making it easier for older people to end up with adrenal fatigue. It becomes particularly important at this stage to be able to manage stress effectively. People who are unable to manage their stress for long periods of time are subject to heart attack, stroke and cancer. When stress levels are continuously high as they are in modern life, there is little extra cortisol left to use in your defense when you really need it. If you are unable to bounce back after a particularly stressful physical or psychological encounter, your adrenal glands are probably exhausted, and a time out period or a vacation is needed.
Lupus, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, sugar or salt cravings, digestive problems and allergies may indicate high cortisol. Other symptoms are feeling overly stressed, confusion, respiratory difficulties, difficulty concentrating and indifference toward sex.
Weight gain is a problem of depleted cortisol. People with fatigued adrenal glands from excessive production of cortisol tend to overeat as a way to bolster sagging energy levels. They frequently crave high calorie processed foods because those will prompt a quick energy release. Unfortunately, that quick energy boost is then followed by an even greater energy sag, and the cycle repeats.
Cortisol secretion is promoted by the presence of even the tiniest bit of light. This is why it is so important to sleep in a room that is completely dark with no glow in the dark alarm clock. Researchers did a study of one hundred subjects who were placed in a completely dark room with the exception of a pin point of light on the back of their knees. Cortisol levels rose in each subject as a result of that pin point of light.
How to normalize cortisol levels
The first step in getting cortisol under control is to get your stress load under control. Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help the body respond favorably to stress at the physiological level. Adaptogens deliver mild and unnoticeable shocks that condition your physiology to respond to major stresses in a favorable way.
One of the best adaptogens for handling stress and anxiety is rhodiola, an herb that reduces fatigue and restores normal mental and physiological functioning in people who have adrenal fatigue. Rhodiola first gained attention when it was chosen by Russian cosmonauts to improve their endurance, concentration, and strength during space missions. Studies of highly stressed individuals have demonstrated improvement with rhodioloa. Rhodiola creates a sense of well being and reduces the harmful effects of cortisol.
Other adaptogens, plants endowed with the power to enhance system-side function in humans, are astragalus and schizandra.
Bio-identical cortisol is available by prescription as a last resort for adrenal exhaustion. It needs to be taken religiously four times every day to be effective.
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