Cortisol and stress response. You've heard these words thrown around all your life. But what does it mean? How does it work? So I'm going to tell you what you need to know.
So let's talk about cortisol and the stress response. So first there are two questions. What is stress and what does cortisol do? Once we understand this, then a lot of things are going to fall in place. What is stress? We could answer that in 1000 different ways. But let's just really look at the basics, stress is not a bad thing, stress is what keeps us alive. If we didn't have stress the body would have no reason to respond or really do anything. So exercise is stress just walking, the gravity of stress, It makes us function. But then there's bad stress. Then there's stress that becomes chronic that wears us down and that's the kind we're going to talk about.
So stress is anything that the body has to respond to. Anything that's a challenge, that the body has to do something to cope to adapt is a form of stress. It's also known as fight/flight. So if you have a tiger coming at you, if you have a grizzly bear. If you have a mack truck coming at you, do you need to move quickly? That's a fight/flight situation and your body responds with a stress response.
what does cortisol have to do with that? when your body has to respond with a fierce activity like run, climb a tree, fight. What's the first thing you're going to need? Its energy. Your body has to produce energy to get out of that bind. What's the fastest way to produce energy? It is sugar. It's blood sugar. So as soon as you have a stress response, your body is going to try to find ways to raise that blood sugar so that you can produce energy to save your life. That is the primary function of cortisol.
The body makes cortisol to raise blood sugar. Because in a stress response we need more energy. And once the body does that, there are a few more things that happen as a result of cortisol. Cortisol is also concerned. The stress response is concerned with survival at the moment. So healing, fixing stuff down the road is not a big deal. It's not high on the list of priorities. So inflammation, healing. The first response in healing is inflammation and the body says no let's do that later. So cortisol is anti-inflammatory. Cortisol works to down-regulate that part of the immune system that handles inflammation. And at the same time. If the body is going to raise the sugar. If the body is going to try to make more sugar.
Where does it get it? It gets it from protein primarily.It's the second-fastest way to get energy because protein can be converted into glucose. So cortisol acts to break down protein in an attempt to raise blood sugar. So again you're saying that seems awfully stupid protein and muscle that's a good thing. Right? If you have to save your life then you worry more about saving your life at this moment. because you can always rebuild the protein tomorrow or next year. So the stress response is all about survival at the moment and that's what cortisol is all is about also. So even though these things may seem destructive. They will save your life at the moment that's what the stress response is all about.
What happens then if the sugar is unstable. So this is one people talk about stress but they usually think about emotional stress and they don't so often think about the physiological response. What are some of the other things that can invoke this response? So, let's look at blood sugar. If we eat a lot of carbs, if we eat a lot of processed foods, then we're going to have a blood sugar roller coaster. If you eat lots of carbs, you're going to go up, the body's gonna make a bunch of insulin and it's going to come crashing down. You get what's called reactive hypoglycemia.
What happens when the blood sugar is too low? You get cranky, you get cravings, you get irritable, you lose focus. So the body says let's raise, let's generate some blood sugar. How does it do that? It does it with cortisol. So every time that your blood sugar drops below ideal, your body is going to make more cortisol. And what does that mean? What's the significance of that? It means every time you have low blood sugar you are creating stress, you are in a high-stress mode. Chemically you're getting all of the destructive consequences of a stress response simply by having low blood sugar. And that low blood sugar is only a result of that high blood sugar in the beginning. So stabilizing blood sugar is one of the most critical things that we can do to reduce the stress response and reduce the cortisone.
So what do we do about this? How do we balance this system naturally? You adopt a diet of whole foods. Whole natural food is the way nature made them, the way we've been eating them for hundreds of thousands of years, which means you reduce the carb. And you can also do breathing exercises because a lot of this stress is also emotional. One of the most damaging forms of stress is when we feel we have to be on the go all the time. We have this racing thought in our minds that just won't shut off. We give anything for just a break. Breathing and meditation can give you that break. You can reset that stress response in a 5 or 10-minute session of breathing and meditation. Thanks for reading.