Stress is one of the more important risk factors affecting health in this country today. It contributes to insomnia, anxiety, obesity, heart attack, type 2 diabetes, ADD and a whole host of other miseries that don’t have serious sounding disease names. Lets start by talking about how this happens- how stress works and doesn’t work in our bodies and the changes it can trigger.
Cortisol hormone is our primary stress hormone. This makes it sound bad and it is not. Cortisol helps us to adapt to stress by improving our ability to think or fight our way out of a stressful situation.
- Short term physiologic increases in cortisol hormone give us increased access to stored blood sugar, more energy, better mental alertness, less inflammation, improved vision and a whole host of other benefits.
- Long term increases in cortisol hormone can cause insomnia, anxiety, difficulty focusing, irritability, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, reduction in immune function, poor digestion, and the list goes on.
- Short term physiologic decreases in cortisol hormone make us tired, and fairly foggy brained (think the day after staying up all night or the feeling that you are about to get sick).
- Long term decreases make us feel like we want to sleep all the time, but can also make it hard for us to sleep at night. Low cortisol can reduce motivation, and excitement and so is sometimes confused with depression; our pain levels can increase and we can have much greater levels of general inflammation, sluggish digestion, muscle weakness and fatigue.
Cortisol hormone acts as an anti inflammatory (cortisone and prednisone and their derivatives are both medications that are patterned after cortisol hormone)- when it is in balance it keeps us from feeling most of the normal wear and tear that our bodies experience.
In its most severe manifestations non-physiological Cortisol increases can cause PTSD and cushings disease.