Cortisol, Weight Gain, Fatigue, Insomnia, Disease – the Connection

Remember this important fact: Everything within your body is interconnected. This means that every system interacts with all other systems in some fashion, insomuch if one hormone is out of whack, it will create a snowball effect so that your entire system can, over time, get out of sync. Without core harmony and balance, disease will occur, and cortisol is one of those hormones that can quietly, yet deeply destroy your core harmony.

When you are stressed cortisol rises. As cortisol rises your immune system is stimulated. When the stimulation becomes chronic, that’s when the trouble appears. The excessive activation of the stress response in the brain and in the endocrine system (hormones) creates disease because the body’s balance of temperature, blood pressure, blood sugar and other functions are disrupted. Rising cortisol affects your insulin, another valuable hormone when in balance. However, if insulin production rises, it perpetrates a whole series of disorders and illnesses, even to death, as in diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia, kidney disease, obesity and much more. Cortisol balance is key if you want to be healthy and free of disease.

Dr. Mark Hyman, a leader in the Take Back Our Health movement, says this in his book entitled “The Blood Sugar Solution”: “Stress plays a dramatic role in blood sugar imbalance. It triggers insulin resistance, promotes weight gain around the middle, increases inflammation and may ultimately cause full-blown diabetes.” He further states: “Stress hormones play a critical role in diabesity. Chronic stress increases the production of cortisol…chronically elevated cortisol causes increased blood sugar and cholesterol, depression and even dementia, and promotes the accumulation of belly fat that we so commonly see in patients with insulin resistance or diabetes.”

Cortisol is located in your adrenal glands, two small glands found right above your kidneys in the back of you. The adrenals are your stress regulator. If you’ve been around me for a while or read my articles, you know that adrenal fatigue is one of my areas of expertise. I experienced this disorder for many years but no one could give me an answer as to what was wrong with me, not even when I frequented alternative health professionals. However, I was determined to heal, so I undertook my own research to find answers. It took some years to find my answers, but as a result of that research, I not only healed my own body, but have helped many others heal theirs. New findings continue to surface that further assist in healing this imbalance, all of which serves to help us heal faster and more fully.

Normal cortisol is highest in the morning up until noonish, then begins its decline until evening when it reaches its lowest point so you can sleep. It then begins to rise around 4 am in preparation for your awakening to greet a new day and experience revitalized energy. (There is a salvia test that depicts the range of cortisol accurately, often a good choice to have done if you suspect this issue so you know exactly what is going on with your cortisol levels) But many times cortisol numbers are flip-flopped, as was in my case. This meant I had a great deal of problem sleeping more than a few hours each night due to nighttime elevated cortisol, making me fatigued all through the day. On top of that, my early morning cortisol was below normal, making the fatigue even worse. Many of you reading this have or are experiencing this right now; anything less than 7 hours of restful sleep is not enough sleep, and could be an indicator of out of balance cortisol levels.

So what happens for many people? They grab coffee, perhaps multiple cups to get going, and maybe use additional coffee or other stimulants to help throughout the day. When evening comes, they either have trouble falling asleep or difficulty remaining asleep, so opt for sleeping pills or alcohol, neither of which really solve the problem since that type of sleep doesn’t offer the REM deep sleep needed for restoration. A vicious cycle has been established and many people continue this pattern for many years, perhaps having periods of time that are better than others, but never really feeling great.

Without sleep your body cannot properly repair, so the immune system becomes weakened, followed by digestive dysfunction, and a host of other functional disruptions. Without proper sleep along with the continuation of stress, another hormone gets out of balance – insulin. Much has come to the foreground recently about the detrimental effect of imbalanced insulin on our health. It is not just lack of sleep that interferes with proper insulin utilization, but the immense level of high fructose corn syrup, sugar, processed and nutritionally “dead” foods consumed on a daily basis. We have an epidemic of obesity in our world due to the American diet that has slowly crept across the globe and is literally affecting people in most countries of the world.

The rapid rise of diabetes and prediabetes is expected to touch 1 out of every 2 people in a few years, taking the #2 spot for the cause of death over cancer. But even cancer has its roots in insulin imbalance, as does high blood pressure, high cholesterol and all heart disease. And it all begins with out of balance cortisol that appears in our life due to our stressors.

What are the stressors that create this imbalance? Worry, finances, job dislike, relationship issues, eating fast food or processed food (anything in a package or box has preservatives) squeezing in too much in 24 hours, no relaxation time, trying to control everything your way, lack of exercise, snacking in the evening, not enough sleep, chronic pain, prescription meds, and the list could go on.
Basically, anything that has a negative impact on your body and life becomes a stresser. You cannot escape stress…everyone experiences it, but the key is in how you respond to it, and whether or not you make wise choices or make choices with the intent of emotional gratification. On my website,, there is a free e-Book download available called Stress Free Living.

We mentioned that cortisol and insulin are hormones, but you have many hormones in your body, all of which are vitally important for your well-being. If one hormone is out of balance, I can guarantee it will affect other hormones, and pretty soon the chain reaction creates havoc with your thyroid, DHEA, sex hormones, etc. So basically, sexual issues that include loss of libido are most probably related to the cortisol imbalance and insulin resistance. Normal, healthy men and women do not lose their sexual interest or capability because they are aging, but because their hormones, beginning with cortisol, have become imbalanced and set off a negative chain reaction in their body.

Digestive issues are always part of cortisol elevation, things like gas, bloating, constipation, IBS and other gastrointestinal conditions, even acid reflux. People reach for over the counter “band-aids” for a quick fix, but the problem isn’t fixed usually. So the problems continue to surface, perhaps in another area of concern, and often prescription meds are accepted for relief. But the cure occurs in realizing the core problem and balancing cortisol by reducing and eliminating stressors.

Changing your diet is a no brainer since dietary choices play a significant role in health in every way. They are the fuel that feeds us throughout the day, and if you put garbage in, the result is garbage. Garbage doesn’t include the nutrients needed to repair the body or maintain health. So it means throwing out all the whites – white flour, white sugar, white salt – and incorporating fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, lean meat, beans, and a limited amount of whole grains. It also means you must stop eating fast food, preservative-laden foods, anything with high fructose corn syrup or high sugar. Try actually cooking your own food, utilizing stir-frying and steaming as well as raw foods as optimal choices. Include all kinds of vegetables, especially the dark green ones for their minerals and vitamin content.

Learn to calm yourself. This is essential if you want to control your rising cortisol levels. This includes taking time for yourself, whether it be going for a walk, a massage, taking a nap, sitting in a sauna or whatever. Learn to take deep breaths to relax your body and incorporate meditation into your daily routine. Never use the excuse that you don’t have time, because it is simply your choice of priorities, but if you don’t make time to calm yourself, your cortisol will continue to elevate and disease will find you.

There are supplements that can help with stress and lowering cortisol, but each one of you is a unique individual with a different body, so creating a standard protocol is impossible. It is necessary to address each person’s needs according to their symptoms, lifestyle, body type and commitment to change. However, there are a few supplements that are known to assist in stress adaptation. They are a comprehensive multivitamin /multimineral complex, vitamin C, magnesium and a complete B-complex. Although magnesium glycinate is regarded as the preferred form, those who tend toward constipation should use magnesium citrate. Although other supplements may be needed, they have to be individualized. Often herbal formulas, amino acids, and supportive supplements are utilized. Your health practitioner can help you with sorting out what is necessary for your individual needs.

You may be thinking this will be impossible to make these significant dietary and lifestyle changes because it means undoing much of what you presently do and replacing so much with new things. Realize it may take some time to implement and will definitely take some commitment for the changes, but think about your life right now: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to feel good every day, sleep well every night and feel energetic each morning, lose those unwanted pounds and literally enjoy your life? What good is anything else if your health is sub-optimal and disease looms over you like a dark cloud? Yes, it will take time and effort, but won’t it be worth it in the long haul?

One of the key ways to view all of this is to focus on what you will gain, not what you will need to give up. I’m sure you understand that where your thoughts focus is what you create in your life, so it only makes sense to focus on all the benefits you will experience in this process of change. Be sure to connect with others who are on the same path because humans can be cruel and sometimes people, even those close to us, don’t understand what we’re doing and scoff at or demean our efforts. So make the decision to get healthier and stick with it; you will be the one who shines with health and vibrancy!

Note: A great book to help you understand this subject more fully is “The Cortisol Connection” by Shawn Talbott, PH.D.

Note: Next month I will discuss Diabesity, the insulin resistance with elevated blood sugar I mentioned in this article; it too is a killer as it is linked to elevated cortisol and all major diseases.

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