Chronic stress, the kind most of us face every day, can lead to the development of chronic diseases. About 90% of doctor visits are scheduled because of stress-related health complaints. These include insomnia, anxiety, headaches, depression, and a general feeling of malaise. The non-stop elevation of stress hormones negatively impacts your entire body.
Cortisol is a stress hormone and has been called “public enemy #1.” In individuals with chronic stress, cortisol streams through the body all day long. That’s what makes it so dangerous. Excess cortisol leads to a host of physical health problems, including:
- weight gain
- high cholesterol
- digestive problems
- hormone imbalances
- heart disease
Many patients complain that they gain weight no matter how little they eat and no matter how much they exercise. Many problems and diseases that result in excess cortisol secretion result in weight gain. Cortisol causes weight gain!
In a random sample from North Glasgow, Scotland, cortisol excretion rates were strongly related to Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist measurements. Higher cortisol levels were seen in heavier people. Cortisol-related weight gain results in fat distribution around the abdomen, which results in an increased waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). The distribution of fat in the abdomen is more dangerous for your health than other types of fat distribution.
Stress Affects Glucose
Under stressful conditions, cortisol provides the body with glucose. It does this by tapping into protein stores via gluconeogenesis in the liver. This energy can help an individual’s fight-or-flight response to stressors. However, chronically elevated cortisol levels result in the constant production of glucose, which then leads to increased blood sugar levels.
Theoretically, this mechanism can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, although the specific link is unknown. Since a principal function of cortisol is to hinder the effect of insulin, it causes cells to become insulin-resistant. This puts the body in a general state of insulin-resistance.
Over time, the pancreas struggles to keep up with the higher demand for insulin. A patient’s glucose levels in the blood remain high and the cells cannot get the sugar they need. This is known as the metabolic syndrome diabetes.
Those with type 2 diabetes are at greater risk of stress-related disease, such as:
- increased insulin resistance
- diabetic neuropathy
- lowered metabolic control of diabetes
- coronary artery disease
Lower Blood Sugar, Lower Stress
However, you have reason to be hopeful that you can de-stress and prevent diabetes. Begin with your diet to start reducing your cortisol. A healthy diet based on whole, unprocessed foods has been shown to increase the body’s ability to fight off stress and thwart diabetes.
Be sure to include these foods and beverages, which nourish and protect the body while reducing cortisol levels:
- black tea
- chamomile tea
- dark chocolate
- green tea
- olive oil
- wild-caught salmon
Also, eat plenty of prebiotic foods. These are foods that encourage the growth of friendly gut bacteria.
Prebiotic foods include:
- mustard greens
Finally, be sure to drink plenty of water, herbal teas, and non-sugary drinks. Being dehydrated is a physical stressor that increases cortisol.
Here are six lifestyle tips to stop stress in its tracks and overcome high cortisol levels:
- Incorporate a diet high in antioxidant-rich foods like fruit, vegetables, dark chocolate, and green tea. STOP EATING PROCESSED FOODS.
- Exercise daily. It doesn’t have to be strenuous. Walking is excellent. So are exercises with strong mind-body orientations like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong.
- Start a daily meditation practice. Meditation not only reduces stress, but also helps us learn how to master our thoughts. Stress does not come from events in our lives as much as it comes from our reactions to and thoughts about these events.
- Try mind-body relaxation techniques such as self-hypnosis, biofeedback, or autogenic training.
- Look into an adaptogenic herbal remedy. Adaptogens increase your resilience to stress while supporting overall health. They promote a balance between feeling energetic and feeling calm. Examples of adaptogens include ginseng, holy basil, LessStress, and PeacefulCalm.
- Get plenty of sleep. It’s during sleep that the brain consolidates memories, repairs itself, and grows new brain cells.
The bottom line is stress and excess cortisol play big roles in developing diabetes. Preventing diabetes can done. One major key is to learn to control stress so your body does not suffer. If you do have type 2 diabetes, there is still hope. Start today to de-stress your life to help control this disease.