Glucocorticoids are hormones which regulate metabolism and resistance to stress. The most abundant at 95% is cortisol which is created in the adrenal glands (just above your kidneys) when you experience high levels of physical and/or emotional stress.
So is cortisol good or bad? Because cortisol releases energy (in the form of blood glucose from your liver) to deal with a stressful situation, if it’s infrequent and brief it can really help in a situation of emotional or physical stress. It should help you to feel alert and motivated. Cortisol levels should then return to normal. Raised cortisol followed by physical activity means you can burn off the raised glucose in the blood.
But when stress is not followed by physical activity (i.e. just day to day stress), your blood sugars remain high and insulin release is triggered. Excess insulin resistance is a major driver of obesity and abdominal fat, as it prohibits fat breakdown. Hence linking excess stress to fat storage and obesity over time.
Plummeting blood sugars also trigger cortisol release (so don’t skip too many meals and keep your blood sugars constant!). Regular fasting and low energy diets can be disastrous in a stressful life. Raised cortisol can also affect thyroid hormone production affecting metabolism.
Prolonged periods of stress (internal or external) will result in ongoing elevated cortisol and exhaustion. This leaves you feeling foggy and tired instead. Ongoing cortisol release leads to muscle breakdown, immune issues, gut issues, and insulin production issues, resulting in gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, hypertension, asthma, migraines, anxiety, or depression. If the prolonged period continues for a long time they become overloaded and stop producing correct levels of cortisol and instead produce adrenaline, This can cause us to feel irritable, shaky, lightheaded, and anxious. This is called adrenal fatigue which over time can lead to pure exhaustion.
These are all things to keep in mind for your teenager as well as yourself!
Cortisol levels are high first thing in the morning and should diminish throughout the day, falling to their lowest in the evening when you sleep. We want our cortisol levels to rise and drop throughout each day. If they are high at night you might find it difficult to sleep or stay asleep. Constantly high levels over a 24 hour period is a sign that adrenal fatigue is just around the corner.
Foods that can help with cortisol levels are plenty of fibre, Antioxidant fruit and veg (bright colourful veggies and fruits i.e. berries), Vitamin C, Fatty fish and Omega 3, Soy, Cheese, Magnesium (spinach, pumpkin seeds, yoghurt, beans, almonds), B Vitamins (grains, miso, vegemite, sprouts, nuts), as well as eating regular meals.
Foods that can cause cortisol spikes include trans Fats, alcohol, vegetable and seed oils, refined foods without fibre, refined sugars, allergy / sensitive foods, surplus caffeine.
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