Cortisol is one of the hormones your body releases in response to stress, and it impacts many different functions in your body.
Cortisol is often referred to as the “belly fat hormone” because too much cortisol causes you to gain weight, especially around your mid-section, affectionately known as a muffin top or spare tire. 😉 Too much cortisol also results in a variety of health issues, from frequent infections to acid reflux, heart disease, diabetes and a higher risk of cancer.
Cortisol overload is mostly associated with adrenal fatigue. You will feel physically beat up and achy at times, very tense and on edge as well as overwhelmed. Your brain refuses to comply, your memory slips and you probably have trouble sleeping. Sugar, salt and fat cravings are also pronounced, so you feel like eating a bag of sea salt potato chips and chasing them down with a giant soda.
Cortisol isn’t all bad, though; it does have some important functions in your body including helping to regulate blood sugar levels and metabolism, and keeping inflammation down.
Once your body is in cortisol overload, the quickest way to help yourself is to give yourself some me-time, or a vacation from whatever weighs on your heart and causes the stress. If you continue to drag yourself through each day, you’ll wind up at a physician’s office. Then you are sure to be given all kinds of psychoactive medications and possibly stimulants. But why would you want to start taking drugs that may be addictive or dangerous when you can ask to have your adrenals checked with a simple test? It’s called a “4 Point Cortisol Saliva Test” or something similar, depending on the lab that you use.
If you are anxious or panicky, the fastest way to help yourself is to avoid processed foods and those laden with MSG, as well as “free glutamate” foods, like fast food, junk food, cold cuts (like deli meats), and soups and broths (yes, that includes bone broth). Chinese food is also pretty notorious for using MSG, although many restaurants have moved away from it. Vegan diets can be extremely high in MSG due to tofu, seitan and other refined “plastic” foods as I affectionately call them.
Also, anxiety can be due to the medications you take. Look in your pill cabinet to see if you have any of these:
- Asthma inhalers and pills
- Estrogen-containing hormone pills, patches or shots
- Antibiotics (they deplete calming GABA hormone, which is present in the gut)
- Steroids for inflammation or allergies
- SSRI antidepressants
- Levodopa for Parkinson’s
- Decongestant pills or sprays
- Thyroid medication (if the dose is too high)
The supplements that I will now share do not cause addiction and, unlike prescription benzodiazepines, can actually lower cortisol in the body, and balance other neurotransmitters that are out of whack when you have long-term stress in your life.
Adaptogens are helpful in rescuing tired adrenals, but let’s be realistic, they can’t compensate for a hundred micro-stressors a day, a bad relationship or a horrible boss. Nevertheless, they can help with emotional quality, so ask your doctor if Siberian ginseng, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Schisandra, or Tulsi (Holy Basil) are okay for you. Each of these has a varying effect; they are not all the same. There are many other adaptogens, which help you adapt to stress.
Some items deserve honorable mention because they support adrenal health: DHEA, ginseng, turmeric, theanine, astragalus, beta sitosterol, ginger, and pantethine.
We can’t avoid stress altogether, and that’s okay! But it’s not okay to allow yourself to be taken advantage of by the people in your life. It’s within your rights to set boundaries and “just saying no” can mean saying yes to your own health and welfare! If you continue to put everyone first, above yourself, you will die young. If you are a people pleaser, stop it. You’re headed for disaster, then you’ll be useless to everyone.
Give yourself a hug, because you are enough.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.