Most of us know that too much stress is harmful to health – but, do we know why?
Cortisol, often called the “stress hormone,” impacts the body in so many ways. Weight gain, fatigue, depression, sex drive, and overall mental function can be adversely affected by high levels of cortisol.
Really makes you wonder, why more attention isn’t paid to a hormone that can make a person fat, tired, miserable, AND take away their sex drive.
How does this work?
Well, cortisol can affect metabolic function in a detrimental way. This chemical response to stress tells the body not just to consume more calories, (especially high carbohydrate foods,)but also to store those calories, particularly in the abdomen, close to our core. The body’s natural response is to save calories in case the stress continues or recurs, and this is done by lowering the metabolic rate, which means that under stress, the body will burn fewer calories.
While we may not be able to affect the chronic stressors in our environment (pollution, traffic jams), changes in lifestyle can reduce cortisol. High levels of cortisol trigger an enzyme called HSD, which actually reactivates inactive cortisol, causing fat cells to store increasing numbers of calories.
Luckily, HSD can be down-regulated by flavenoids, which are plentiful in vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables such as berries, citrus, leafy greens and other healthy food—like dark chocolate and red wine.Flavenoids can counteract and reduce the impact of cortisol, while also increasing metabolism.
But cortisol alone makes up only half the equation—it’s the balance between cortisol and testosterone that accounts for so much of the negative effect of stress. This is true for men and women. A finely tuned balance of cortisol and testosterone is essential for managing depression, fatigue and mental function.
Two ways to begin balancing these hormones are regular exercise and plenty of sleep.
But it’s not as simple as that. Check out our mind/body programs to see more of what you can do about stress.