Past due bills are piling up on your dining room table.
You’re buried under an endless workload with impossible deadlines.
Two of your three kids are sick.
Your spouse didn’t empty the dishwasher this morning.
Your car broke down on the way home from work.
Stress – everyone experiences it in some form or another every day. Even on that much-anticipated resort vacation, your mind is whirring with the endless to-dos that await back home.
For all the agony stress causes, it is a normal human function. However, the body’s stress response system was designed for a different kind of stress—running from wild animals and roving uncharted lands in search of food—the stress of early man. The chronic stress of modern living often initiates the same complex response system that allowed early man to survive when food was scarce and his life was on the line, depressing multiple physiological functions to shuttle energy exclusively to crucial systems.
Impossible work deadlines or a flat tire on your car are hardly situations of life or death. Yet, your body responds by raising levels of cortisol (also known as the stress hormone), which suppresses immune response, increases fat stores and slows your metabolism to conserve energy. When the stress ends, ideally these responses would shut down, but the work never ends, does it? Nor do all the other little things that seemingly assault your body and mind day in and day out.
It is this endless stress that can trigger long-term activation of the body’s stress response system, sending your health and quality of life into a downward spiral. High cortisol levels can affect anyone at any age and impact the body’s production of other hormones. Stress, dietary factors, poor sleep and disease can all cause cortisol levels to skyrocket, leading to hormonal imbalance that affects multiple aspects of your body’s function.
Anxiety, depression, digestive upsets, weight gain, and problems with concentration, memory, and sleep are just some of the issues that can result from chronic stress. These lifestyle issues aren’t the only outcomes—stress can also lead to heart disease if left untreated. You may not be able to turn off stress, but you can learn to manage it. If stress has already taken over your life and your health, don’t wait to talk to a doctor—there are solutions.
Dr. Michael F. Lee, MD, OB/GYN, is the Medical Director of BodyLogicMD of Miami, Florida, and a Board-Certified OB/GYN. He specializes in hormone balance and functional medicine, including treating high cortisol levels.
In a telephone interview, Dr. Lee said that there are lots of reasons for elevated cortisol, but the most common one is stress. Stress can be emotional, physical or dietary.
"Stress causes cortisol to be released from the adrenal gland," Dr. Lee said. "Chronic stress will secrete too much cortisol."
Emotional stress can result from bad situations, but surprisingly, also from good ones. Physical stressors can be trauma, inflammation, infection, and even exercise. Dietary stress can be caused by blood sugar fluctuations, whether they be too high or too low. A poor diet, or going too long without eating, are examples of dietary stressors.
Who hasn't suffered from stress, mood swings, poor concentration, insomnia or fatigue at some time or another? Many individuals have struggled with depression, low sex drive, metabolic syndrome and thyroid issues. Health conditions such as these can cause the body's recuperative abilities to falter and are often a result of hormone imbalance.
Dr. Lee treats hormone imbalance, including high cortisol levels, with hormone replacement therapy and supplement regimen that generally helps patients feel better within a few weeks.
He continues to monitor hormone levels throughout the treatment process using blood, saliva and urine testing two to three times a year. Stress is an inevitable part of life, making consistent monitoring of cortisol and other hormones an integral component to a healthy lifestyle.
Chronic stress puts your health at risk http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
Cortisol: Why “The Stress Hormone” Is Public Enemy No. 1 https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1
Interview with Dr. Michael F. Lee, June 16, 2015
Reviewed July 5, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN