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Understanding Cortisol: The Impact on Stress, Sleep & Weight

If ever you get blood work done because you are overstressed and burnt out, I highly recommend having your cortisol levels checked. Please note that a standard blood panel done by your health care provider does not measure cortisol levels. This is a special test, that often times you will have to request. I will include some favorite online testing services at the end of this article. So why is cortisol important? And why does more than half of Americans have out of wack, or high cortisol levels?

Let’s dive in….

Cortisol is a  steroid hormone that is produced by your adrenal glands, which are two little organs that sit on top of your kidneys. When stressed these 2 organs secrete an increased amount of cortisol, and puts you in a fight or flight space of stress.

What is important to know is that cortisol levels have a rhythm throughout the day. Levels are their highest at 7:00am, which help you get out of bed, and continue to drop off throughout the day. They are at their lowest between 2-4pm. This might be part of the reason why you hit that mid day slump of low energy. Cortisol is then replaced by melatonin as the evening goes on, which in turn helps with sleep. However, if you remain stressed, or in the fight or flight space then most likely cortisol levels remain high throughout the day and even into evening, thus suppressing the natural melatonin production. This would then result in difficulty sleeping. The difficulty sleeping may in turn may not allow for the natural increase of cortisol in the morning, which means that you might feel like a sloth getting out of bed. So let's say that life isn't necessarily super stressful, but you are a mom getting up in the middle of the night with babies, or sick kids, or you are waking up due to hormonal imbalances and fluctuations. This break in sleep affects the natural cycle of melatonin and cortisol just like regular stress. Don't even get me started on the effects that blue light has on our circadian rhythm. It can all be a vicious cycle.

Cortisol also affects blood sugar. If you are living in a constant stress situation then most likely your bodies digestion is also not what it should be. I mean, how can you eat a balanced meal, or even feel hungry if you are being chased by a tiger? Remember, the body can’t identify the source of stress. It just knows it as it is. So now we have a down regulated appetite, which in turn throws off blood sugar regulation. This can and will result in unnecessary weight gain, and stubborn weight that will not budge even with real foods and exercise.

So, how do you fix it? I wish that I had a magic tool that would erase stress, but I don’t, and unfortunately no one does. Even if you medicate to manage your stress, but you remain in a stressful situation you are simply suppressing it, which from a homeopathic standpoint means that you are driving it deeper into your system.

The bottom line is that you have to adopt stress management techinques that help you to process your stress. Meditation, prayer, tapping, breath work, exercise are all extremely helpful tools. Avoiding stress triggers as much as possible as well. Don’t watch murder mystery shows on Netflix if you are feeling stressed. Unfortunately, misery likes company, so sometimes when in those states that is all the brain can identify with so those shows are the ones that seem appealing. Try to fight against that, and go for Disney, or some other show that is a bit more light hearted, but better yet, meditate, go for a walk in the fresh air, breathe deep, pray.

Let’s talk remedies. Again, homeopathy is very individualized, so I prefer not to give remedy suggestions unless you are seen by me. So let's explore herbs and other supplements. Lemongrass is a great herb for supporting the overall nervous system, and Ashwagandha is the king of all herbs for the adrenal glands. I am also a huge fan of Bach Flower Rescue Remedy for managing stress. Making sure that you are taking a very good whole food vitamin is also going to be key to ensure that you are getting the nutrients that you need.

So folks, it really boils down to self care. Whether it be that you have to make some hard decisions about your life/lifestyle in order to get yourself out of fight or flight then that might be necessary. If you are unable to change your situation I encourage you learn how to manage your stress, which always begin and end with taking care of you! Identify where in your life you can make subtle, simple changes that can better your sleep, for example, like wearing blue light blockers at night, or better yet create a bedtime routine that does not involve tech. So, do what you can as long as it doesn't feel like you are adding more stress onto your already stressful pile. If you need further assistance, and you would like a homeopathic consult to best manage your cortisol levels please reach out!

My fave at home testing company:


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