What we talked about at the Stress Wellness Workshop
STRESS – a common word that is so misunderstood and frequently under rated. Our September Wellness Workshop was called ‘What’s stress got to do with it’. This was so very tongue-in-cheek because I know that the stress hormone, cortisol, is frequently the underlying issue with the range of conditions I have the good fortune to work with. So why do so many people ignore their stress response? When are we going to start taking stress seriously? And how do you know if stress is an issue for you?
The far-reaching world of cortisol
Cortisol is a stress hormone* that is produced when your body or mind perceives a threat. It works with adrenaline and noradrenaline to get your body pumped for ‘fight or flight’ aka run or punch. As you can imagine there’s a lot of energy required for ‘fight or flight’ and cortisol helps out by ‘stealing’ energy from the parts of the body that aren’t vital to you get you out of trouble. These parts include the digestive and immune systems and the thyroid and sex hormones. This list is nothing to be sneezed at as they are cornerstone to great health.
So the question is, which came first the cortisol or the…
- Gut – constipation, diarrhoea, aches, pains, bloating, flatulence…
- Thyroid – brain fog, low mood, anxiety, fatigue, weight gain…
- Poor immunity – frequent colds, flus, gut bugs, hay fever, sinus pain…
- Autoimmune condition – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, SLE, AS, MS…
- Period, menopausal or libido issues
- Weight gain
* [Think of hormones as (chemical) messengers that turn your body functions on or off or up or down based on what your brain decides your body needs at a particular moment in time. The ability of the hormone to raise and lower is important but the ability to return to a state of balance is the key. It’s when that balance doesn’t happen that things start to awry.]
Stress, its not all in your head
One of the misconceptions I encounter is that stress is just about what you’re thinking. Sure stress is emotional but know that stress is also physical. This snapshot of stressors results in cortisol being released in an effort to protect your body. What happens if you have many of these turned on at once? How long can you have these stressors turned-on until you run out of cortisol and what’s the implication of that? I’d suggest the implications are serious and mustn’t be overlooked.
So how do you know?
When everything is going strong, cortisol is released in a slow and steady pattern over the day. It should rise in the morning and slowly drop as the day goes on. The pattern helps us wake and helps us sleep. Gaining an understanding on the ups-and-down of your cortisol is the beginning to understanding if cortisol excess or deficiency is the key to your health puzzle.
Salivary cortisol testing provides an easy means to test your cortisol across the day, and much less painful than range of blood tests. The salivary cortisol testing is not just easier on the body but also provides a more accurate reading. This is because saliva only shows the active/functioning (unbound) form of the hormone. Blood tests, on the other hand, include both active and inactive (bound) hormone and therefore it’s difficult to know how strong the cortisol response really is. Blood saliva can be a good starting place but don’t take it as the last word on your cortisol levels if you believe stress could be the cause of your ill health. We naturopaths at Vibe frequently use salivary cortisol testing and can work with you to bring your cortisol back in balance.