Stress & Cortisol

We are all accustomed to feeling stressed from time to time, be it work related, general fatigue, linked to a hectic home life or everyday problems.

The effects of stress are wide ranging. Stress hormones trigger back pain, weaken the immune system, increase blood sugar, promote diabetes, increase the chances of developing gum disease, decrease fertility and cause depression. In particular workplace stress can lead to serious ailments such as an increase in rates of heart disease, flu viruses, metabolic syndromes and high blood pressure.

Less than healthy behaviours result from stress, such as over or under eating or drinking more alcohol, which lead to other health problems. Stress also leads to emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue and cognitive weariness. Scientific studies suggest that stress can have a more direct effect, disrupting the body’s ability to process glucose, leading to Type 2 diabetes.

Chronic stress triggers major biochemicals such as cortisol to be released into the blood stream. This causes the digestive system to weaken and inhibits the liver from being alerted that the stomach is full. Cortisol causes an influx in blood sugar and intense carbohydrate cravings. A tongue that is red and bumpy it is a sign of cortisol overload.

Stress can slow down your metabolism by releasing anti-stress (adrenal) hormones, particularly norepinephrine.

Caffeine is one of the worse drinks you can have when stressed. It causes a further release of these anti-stress hormones. Eventually the body’s supply of these hormones is depleted, and the body is left exhausted, fatigued, and irritable.

When stressed or exhausted we often turn to sugary snacks such as chocolate, which contains more sugar than we can use in a week, causing blood-sugar levels to rise. The pancreas overreacts to this, producing an excess of insulin. This flood of insulin depresses your blood sugar severely. In response the adrenal glands release anti-stress hormones, which in turn release the sugar that is stored in the liver for emergencies.

The quick burst of energy increases insulin levels temporarily. The excess sugar is stored bringing your mood crashing down. Lastly your adrenal gland kicks in and you experience feelings of anxiety, including nervousness and sometimes even palpitations. The extreme rise and fall of insulin levels makes you hungry and more likely to choose another sugary snack.

To deal with stress, try hugging friends, family or pets. This signals the brain to release oxytocin, a hormone that boosts feelings of affection and is a buffer against stress and has even been used to treat depression.

One of the best weapons against tension is laughter which lowers levels of the damaging stress hormone cortisol which causes food cravings. Laughter reverses the constriction of blood vessels, helps protect brain cells and helps us get rid of the belly fat that cortisol causes in times of stress. It also strengthens the immune system by raising levels of infection fighting T-cells.

Protein found in beans, chicken, eggs and fish counterattack the cortisol. Also a good night’s sleep helps to eliminate the damaging stress hormone cortisol in your stomach. Lack of sleep can lead to strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, psychiatric problems, weight gain, decreased alertness, impaired memory and cognitive ability and along with the increased stress.

Try to minimise electrical devices in your bedroom especially mobile phones. Turn off the laptop/TV an hour before you intend to go to bed to allow you to unwind naturally. Chamomile tea is calming and relaxing. Warm milk at bedtime is not simply an Old Wives tale.

Avoid alcohol as it depletes your body of B-Vitamins and magnesium. B vitamins are very important especially useful when taken in conjunction with other B vitamins. Molasses, Brewer’s Yeast and wheat germ are rich in B vitamins.

Siberian ginseng helps keep you alert without increasing stress levels further. It helps support the adrenal glands which become depleted during stress.

Vitamin C helps reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress, and even lowered stress-induced high blood pressure as much as 10% when taken regularly. Orange juice lowers levels of cortisol.

Grapefruit, oranges and whey protein contain a stress busting ingredient and will help you stay calm. Whey contains alpha lactalbumin that boosts the body’s level of tryptophan, a building block of the feel-good hormone serotonin by as much as 43%. Serotonin is a brain chemical that reduces hunger and boosts our sense of well being. Low serotonin levels causes food cravings.

Foods high in tryptophan (a natural sedative) are dairy products, beef, turkey meat poultry, barley, brown rice, fish, soybeans, and peanuts.

Valerian is a natural muscle relaxant, so it also is an excellent remedy for stress induced insomnia.

A few drops of orange essential oil will calm and help to improve your mood. Lavender, rose and jasmine oils are all natural stress relievers.

Relaxing also helps you to unlock fat stores caused by the stress hormone cortisol. Chewing gum also relieves muscle tension.

A short walk reduces stress by boosting feel good endorphins in your body. Stress constricts blood vessels and lowers our immune system and ability to fight off disease. Just 30 minutes of any form of exercise, three to four times a week will keep your stress hormones down.

Deep breathing calms the nervous system, lowers blood pressure and heart rate and reduces the level of cortisol.

Magnesium has been shown to become depleted in times of stress. This is exasperated by Type A personalities who have heightened feelings of competition and aggressiveness resulting in heart conditions. This can be helped by eating magnesium rich foods such as tofu, cashews, almonds, turkey, spinach, avocados, Brazil nuts, strawberries and apples.

In our modern society, stressful occasions will inevitably crop up, when they do, take a moment to think about how important the issue is to you, is it worth affecting your health by letting the stress take hold? Will stressing help the situation? If the answers are no then let go and relax.

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About Nadia Tejani

Nadia Tejani lives in Surrey and works as a Personal Trainer specialising in weight management and obesity. She is also a Sports Massage Therapist and fitness model. Nadia runs marathons and does Olympic weightlifting and she has been competing nationally in Natural Figure (Bodybuilding) competitions since 2008. Nadia has a degree in Pharmacology and is qualified in Nutrition. She sticks to a strict clean vegetarian diet and practise what she preaches! Nadia has 3 dogs, a tiny horse and 2 pygmy goats.
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