Cortisol, the “Evil” Stress Hormone

Cortisol and weight gain:

The other night I was having a conversation with a client who is struggling to lose weight and she stated that her cortisol levels are too high. This is a common problem for many of us.

As she and I were talking I realized that cortisol has its benefits

I got to thinking about why our cortisol rises, situations in which we might need what that hormone has to offer us. What is it about stress that would cause this need for a hormone that stores fat and keeps us awake at night? SURVIVAL!

I laughed and said to my client “Skinny people do not make it on Survivor” she laughed and agreed, yes that fat storage has its place in times of great physical stress such as famine, drought, and threat to our psychical survival.

Why does our body react to emotional stress the same way it would physical danger?

Our bodies cannot distinguish between a physical threat of harm and an emotional one, to the body it is all the same, your mind perceives ALL STRESS as if you are in danger and must prepare to survive, it really is that simple.

Lets take a look at the Pros and Cons of this “evil” hormone:

The following article has a lot of information on cortisol and its physical effects on the body http://www.fitness4her.com/the-pros-and-cons-of-cortisol-the-key-to-fighting-belly-fight/

Cortisol is a hormone in the body that is secreted by the adrenal glands and provides for the following functions:

  • Proper glucose metabolism

  • Regulation of blood pressure

  • Insulin release for blood sugar maintenance

  • Immune function

  • Inflammatory response

  • A quick burst of energy in times of fight or flight.

  • Heightened memory functions.

  • Boosts the immune system.

  • Lowers sensitivity to pain.

  • Helps to maintain homeostasis in the body.

Often referred to as the stress hormone because of the high levels of cortisol released in the bloodstream when the body is enduring a great amount of stress, too much cortisol can cause problems with your health such as:

  • Increased belly fat which is associated with a greater amount of health problems.

  • Impaired cognitive performance.

  • Suppressed thyroid function.

  • Blood sugar imbalances like hyperglycemia.

  • Decreased bone density.

  • Decreased muscle tissue.

  • High blood pressure.

  • A lowered immune system.

  • Higher levels of cholesterol.

In the first list you will see that it helps to maintain homeostasis, regulates blood sugar, improves immune response and other things that are beneficial to survival. The second list are the unfortunate side effects of cortisol when it is not needed for survival.

So how do we minimize cortisol resulting from stress?

The article goes on to describe several ways to help minimize the negative effects of cortisol:

The key to keeping cortisol production at a healthy level is relaxation.  As a matter of fact, proper rest is vital to the body’s well being. Getting 8 hours of sleep rather than 6 can mean a reduction in cortisol of up to 50%. Other ways of reducing cortisol are:

  1. Meditation and prayer can cut cortisol by as much as 20%.

  2. Listen to some of your favorite music to cut cortisol by nearly 65%. Fill your iPod with some new tunes and take a walk to lower stress and reduce belly fat.

  3. Sip black tea. As it turns out, enjoying an afternoon tea has many health benefits such as reducing cortisol by about 45%.

  4. Attend church or other religious service and reduce cortisol by 25%.

  5. Do something nice for someone to reduce cortisol levels by 20%.

  6. Go for a massage. Let a professional work out the kinks of built up stress and stiffening of the muscles. It can reduce cortisol levels by 30%.

  7. Hang out with a fun loving friend. Someone you can laugh with and enjoy your time with, you’ll reduce cortisol by up to 39%.

  8. Have a romp in the bed with your lover. Increased stress and cortisol can boost your sex drive, so why not take advantage and enjoy some love-making, you’ll reduce stress and cortisol levels, while burning about 70 calories in about 30 minutes.

  9. Exercise regularly. By maintaining your exercise program, you’ll regulate cortisol levels and reduce stress and help to lower blood pressure.

  10. Put stress in its place. Life’s challenges are sure to follow us but we can take charge of how we handle them and not let them control us. Enjoy life and preserve your health and happiness.

In Summary:

Cortisol is necessary for human survival, unfortunately stress can trick the body into believing it is under physical threat causing it to produce more cortisol than is needed. Meditation, massage, exercise, and learning to control your stress can help you to reduce cortisol naturally.

Yours in Health and Wellness,
Kristeen Smart AKA Kristeen Kish
CAMTC Certified Massage Therapist

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Postpartum Massage

Recently I massaged a woman who was only two weeks postpartum

My first thought was about her comfort and I offered her a breast cushion, my next thought was about precautions post pregnancy…

In my last post I wrote about prenatal massage and the changes experienced in pregnancy. Following child birth some of those same conditions still apply.  Relaxin, the hormone that loosens ligaments is still present and can remain present in the body up to four months after discontinuing breast feeding, so her joints, especially the SI joints may still be causing her discomfort. The coagulating hormones that poses a risk for deep vein thrombosis during pregnancy may still be present for up to four weeks or more following child birth so deep tissue work is not advised during that time and specifically to be avoided on the back of her legs.

The client may be positioned prone (face down) at this time but if she has had a cesarean section it is advisable for her to wait until after the scars have healed and to speak with her physician before getting massage and to seek her doctors approval before having any abdominal massage work.

The following article by the American Pregnancy Association highlights the Many Benefits of postnatal massage

Postpartum Massage

The Benefits Of Postpartum Massage

Postpartum massage has been shown to be effective for a quicker recovery and better health. Integration of maternal bodywork may add welcome value to your healing journey and transition to motherhood.

Relaxation and Stress Reduction

Massage relaxes muscles, increases circulation and lowers stress hormones, bringing relaxation and stress relief. All body systems appreciate treatment after nine months of change, culminating with the delivery of the greatest miracle in life.

Some women prefer lighter pampering massage while others enjoy deeper techniques to work out the knots. Adding myofascial release and craniosacral therapy reaches deeper into the body for more complete healing. Any of these massage styles will bring relaxation and stress reduction.

Anxiety and depression respond very well to skilled therapy. About two-thirds of new moms experience temporary postpartum blues related to hormonal changes, new responsibilities and adjustment frustrations. Emotional support and the other benefits of massage can help during this transition.

Postpartum depression is a more serious, longer-lasting condition that affects 10-15% of mothers. Studies show massage to be beneficial for treating postpartum depression. Don’t hesitate to consult healthcare providers for assistance, including a postpartum body worker.

Pain Relief

Residual body aches from pregnancy are normal. Adding breastfeeding and childcare can intensify arm, shoulder and back pain. Massage is an effective holistic approach that relaxes muscles and relieves pain without medication. A skilled therapist may also resolve even associated numbness and tingling. Chronic or severe pain may require multiple sessions for resolution.

Hormone Regulation

Massage greatly improves postpartum hormone balance. Estrogen and progesterone hormone levels are very high during pregnancy and decrease after delivery. Prolactin and oxytocin hormone levels rise to facilitate breastfeeding. Studies indicate that massage reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Certain essential oils may also bring hormone and mood balance.

Massage also reduces naturally occurring biochemicals associated with depression (dopamine and serotonin) and cardiovascular problems (norepinephrine), supporting Mom with the challenges of motherhood.

Decreased Swelling

Body fluids need to find balance after pregnancy, in which there was an increase of about 50% in fluid volume. Massage increases circulation and lymphatic drainage to facilitate elimination of excess fluids and waste products. Tissue stimulation assists your body to shift water to the right places.

Swelling is also affected by hormones, which go through major changes after delivery. Massage helps hormone regulation, which also decreases swelling (see Hormone Regulation). Continue your high fluid intake for healing and lactation, even though you may still have swelling.

Better Sleep

Most new moms feel exhausted after labor and delivery, complicated with around-the-clock baby care. Massage will ease the fatigue, promote relaxation and assist with sleep. Studies have shown an increase in delta brain waves (those that accompany deep sleep) with massage therapy.

That is why it is very common to fall asleep during a massage. Getting enough sleep is key to postpartum recovery. Everything improves when you feel rested! Arrange some help and get regular massages for better rest and sleep. One study correlated better sleep with losing the baby fat on the tummy!

Improved Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a beautiful gift to your newborn, but can also be a challenge for some moms. Massage therapy relaxes the body, increases circulation and increases milk production. Studies show that massage increases prolactin levels, a lactation hormone.

Relaxation in the chest muscles opens the shoulders and improves lactation. New research indicates that breast massage helps relieve breast pain, decreases breast milk sodium and improves newborn suckling. Consult with your therapist about this service as work directly on the breasts may not be legal in some areas.

Her level of comfort and tolerance are as much a concern post pregnancy as they were when she was pregnant.

If at any time she feels uncomfortable with the position, pressure, or duration of the massage be prepared to make accommodations for her.

Her breasts may be tender, swollen, or engorged with milk and it is possible that she may experience a let down of her milk (leaking) during the massage. There is no risk associated with contact with breast milk.

She may be exhausted and sleep soundly through the massage, allow her to fully relax and enjoy the experience.

Yours in Health and Wellness,
Kristeen Smart AKA Kristeen Kish
CAMTC Certified Massage Therapist

 

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