Cortisol chaos!

Ageing and menopause can have a really profound effect on our metabolism. Everything just starts to slow down a little and the first sign is usually a few extra kilos on the hips and tummy area.

At first, it’s not too much of an issue and we may be able to get on top of it by going for an extra walk or being more vigilant about what we eat, but we may soon realise that lifestyle adjustments are not enough and no matter what we do, the weight continues to creep steadily upwards.

Firstly, don’t panic!, secondly, don’t give up and thirdly, ask for help! If it is a hormone imbalance, then knowing what you are dealing with will make it much easier to resolve.

Begin with a full blood work up with your healthcare provider. This will identify what stage of menopause you are in, and make sure to ask that the test includes your cortisol markers. Cortisol is a steroid hormone released by the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and when cortisol is elevated, we experience heightened anxiety or stress. Cortisol is lowered when we are in a relaxed state and therein may lie your answer.

As women we tend to take a lot on. We look after our partners, our children, elderly parents, many of us are still working, and trying to find time for ourselves amongst the busyness can seem impossible some days.

We may think we are coping well, but when these stressors begin to compound and our cortisol remains high (in flight or fight mode), common symptoms include weight gain, low energy, mood swings, high blood pressure, and poor sleep. 

The most obvious and frustrating symptom is weight gain because cortisol can increase appetite and signal the body to shift the metabolism and store fat.  While we are stressed, we also don’t make the best food choices, and tend to reach for highly processed foods, sugar, alcohol, and coffee. Cortisol switches off our digestion and the food we consume isn’t metabolised but rather stored for later use. Lesson here is to not eat when stressed and not while on the run. Always take the time to sit, digest and enjoy your mealtimes.

So how do we go about stabilising our cortisol? The solution sounds simple, but it is also our mindset that needs to change. We cannot be everything to everyone, so the sooner we acknowledge our limits, the better our health will be. Here are some recommendations:

  • Prioritise your sleep. Getting the right amount of sleep helps the body to heal.
  • Shoulders back, stretch and take some deep breaths to calm the mind.
  • Have fun and laugh. Children laugh about 150 times per day and adults only 6. Laughing releases endorphins that make us feel good and lowers cortisol.
  • Gentle exercise like Yoga, Pilates, Swimming and Walking are ideal.
  • Learn to recognise stressful thinking and find ways to resolve it.
  • Don’t make poor food choices while stressed, reduce alcohol and caffeine dependence.
  • Get a pet, walking a dog or sitting with a cat can be very therapeutic for the nerves.
  • Prescribed herbal tonics and supplements can help restore balance and reduce symptoms.

Ongoing, elevated cortisol levels can cause chronic health issues. These can all be avoided by establishing the root cause of your health issues. Menopause hormones can fluctuate for many years and combined with high cortisol, should be addressed first and foremost with lifestyle changes. We are not designed to live in a heightened state of stress and our bodies will only cope with so much. Learning to recognise the signs early can save a lot of tears and hopefully an increase in dress size too!

 

 

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