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The Stress Hormone Cortisol and Blood Sugar

In our fast-paced modern world, stress has become a prevalent factor impacting our daily lives. One of the key hormones involved in the stress response is cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands. Both high and low levels of cortisol can impact our health in many ways. Brain fog, trouble focusing and concentrating, weight gain, hormone imbalances, digestive problems and blood sugar are just a few common symptoms that are affected. The intricate relationship between stress, cortisol levels, and blood sugar regulation plays a crucial role in maintaining our overall health and well-being. In today’s article, we delve into how stress affects cortisol production, the impact of cortisol on blood sugar levels, and the role of the adrenal glands in this complex relationship.

How Cortisol Affects Blood Sugar Levels

Adrenal Glands and The Stress Hormone Cortisol

Stress is the body’s natural response to any perceived threat or challenge, whether physical, emotional, or psychological. When we experience stress, the adrenal glands, situated on top of the kidneys, release cortisol into the bloodstream. Cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone,” plays a vital role in mobilizing energy, regulating metabolism, and managing the body’s response to stressors

Cortisol also promotes inflammation throughout the body, the more inflammation throughout the body the more the adrenals pump out cortisol and other hormones like steroid hormone. This becomes a vicious cycle. As cortisol and steroid hormone production happens, the cytokines will suppress your pituitary gland. (The area of the brain responsible for releasing TSH as well as many male and female hormones)

Elevated Cortisol Effects On Blood Sugar Imbalances

One of the primary functions of cortisol is to regulate blood sugar levels in the body. When stress triggers a cortisol release, the hormone signals the liver to produce more glucose (sugar) for immediate energy use. This process, known as gluconeogenesis, elevates blood sugar levels to provide a quick energy source to cope with the stressor. However, prolonged or chronic stress can lead to persistent high levels of cortisol, resulting in constant fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

How Cortisol Imbalances Affect Your Health

The delicate balance between stress, cortisol, and blood sugar is essential for overall well-being. Chronic stress and prolonged elevation of cortisol levels can disrupt this balance, leading to potential health concerns. Persistent high cortisol levels can contribute to insulin resistance, a condition where cells become less responsive to insulin, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels. This insulin resistance can increase the risk of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular issues.

Blood Sugar Spikes? It might be Your Adrenal Glands

Stress, Cortisol Levels, and Low Blood Sugar

In a stressful situation, your cortisol regulates glucose levels in your body by using protein stores through a process called gluconeogenesis in the liver. Gluconeogenesis is a process wherein our body increases our blood glucose levels using non-sugar sources such as protein. This process can help your sympathetic nervous system in a fight or flight stressor. But if this increased level of cortisol is maintained for a long time, our bodies will be constantly producing glucose causing higher blood sugar levels.

Studies suggest that this process can make our bodies more susceptible to diabetes mellitus or type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease or heart disease.(*) This is because cortisol counterbalances the effect of insulin or in other terms, cortisol promotes insulin resistance in our body. This insulin resistance persists when our body’s cortisol levels are chronically increased. (*) If this happens, our pancreas, the organ responsible for insulin secretion, will not keep up with the high demand for insulin. This would result in higher blood glucose levels, our body will not get the sugar it needs and it will be a never-ending cycle.

What Adrenal Fatigue and Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia) Have in Common?

Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, can be a dangerous condition for many people. Both chronic stress and adrenal fatigue syndrome can contribute to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Adrenal stress hormones like epinephrine, nor-epinephrine, DHEA, and the main stress hormone, cortisol, play a vital role in blood sugar regulation. This hormone should be evaluated by any person suffering from depression, diabetes, and chronic fatigue. Some of the symptoms of hypoglycemia, such as irritability and nervousness, brain fog, and headaches, may sometimes be the effects of poor adrenal function as a primary problem rather than of the low blood sugar itself.

Understanding The Connection Between Blood sugar, Insulin and Cortisol

I believe everyone who suffers from diabetes (high blood sugar/low blood sugar), depression, or hypoglycemia, should have their adrenal glands tested. Without proper testing, you may be put on medications that you may not need.

Sugar Craving and Adrenal Stress

Sweets May Satisfy Your Sugar Cravings, But it Also Causes Blood Sugar Imbalances and more Stress to the Adrenal Glands. Adrenal fatigue leads to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When this happens the liver has problems in converting glycogen (the form in which blood sugar is stored) into glucose which is the only effective form that is used by the body. Since the stress hormone cortisol is responsible for this function, low cortisol levels compromise the sugar levels, leading to imbalances.

When the body is under acute stress, the cells require even more energy, and insulin levels will have a significant increase. However, the cells’ extra energy requirement is not met because cortisol production is low. This results in even lower blood sugar levels.

Under normal circumstances, those who suffer from hypoglycemia reach for some sugar to get over this perceived energy loss. This may be in the form of a donut, cake, sweet, sweet drink, or coffee or a combination. While this quickly produces higher blood sugar levels resulting in a spike and relieving the symptoms, the action lasts for a short time of between 45 and 90 minutes. After that comes the sugar low – this is worse since it results in lower sugar levels than earlier. With these constant highs and lows in sugar levels, the body is actually in a constant state of stress, especially the adrenal gland.

Caffeine and Sugar Produce A Roller Coaster Ride You Don’t Want To Experience

blood sugar rollercoaster

It may be fun going on an actual roller coaster that takes you to steep highs and plunging lows, giving you a rush, but when the sugar levels in the body are not in balance, it can be a very exhausting ride. When people use coffee and a sugary snack to increase their energy levels, while they feel good in a short time, the subsequent low can be quite depressing.

These constant highs and lows keep you from functioning at your best and can be wreaking havoc on your health.  If you have established in your office an everyday routine, you know well that there are fixed breaks for food and snacks and these are meant to produce higher blood sugar levels, which are on the downswing at these times.

The brain is constantly at work and always requires energy to function, even more so when it is under stress. Glucose is one of the prime fuels required by the brain to do its work. However, when there are problems with the adrenals and the stress hormone cortisol, the availability of glucose is affected. Various symptoms of adrenal fatigue and hypoglycemia are caused by reduced glucose available to the brain.

Why Overeating Causes More Stress On The Adrenals.

Overeating does not help in the long run. Increased insulin secretion due to higher food intake helps in storing the extra food. But this is simply stored glucose as fat and the person becomes overweight. While it was a great method of storing food in ancient times, when food was available and not available at a certain period, constantly resulting in a cycle of feast and famine, it is not good in our modern time with easy accessibility to food.

Now food is constantly available but the body still goes through feasting and famine cycles during the day. When your blood sugar levels are low, your body is in a state of famine and wants to compensate for the low blood glucose during the next feeding cycle.

Unfortunately what all this leads to is being overweight. Hypoglycemia is one of the leading causes of gaining weight. When your blood sugar goes low, you eat more of high-calorie food, which is in turn stored as fat.

Therefore, it is all the more important to avoid the blood sugar dips so that you can keep your body mass index stable, and your energy levels constant and stay healthy.

Eating a healthy diet and healthy foods, with a low glycemic index, higher protein, and fat, and eliminating grains and other pro-inflammatory foods, at regular meal times will reduce stress in our adrenal glands and will promote long-term physical and mental health. Plus all of these are good for diabetes prevention.

Adrenal Quiz_Stress

What You Should Remember About Stress and Blood Sugar

As I wrap up today’s article there are a few things worth remembering. The intricate relationship between stress, cortisol, blood sugar levels, and adrenal gland function underscores the importance of prioritizing holistic strategies to manage stress and promote hormonal balance. By understanding the impact of stress on cortisol production and blood sugar regulation, you and your loved ones can take proactive steps to support adrenal health, mitigate the effects of chronic stress, high and lows of blood sugar, and maintain optimal well-being. Embracing a balanced lifestyle that nurtures both mental and physical health is key to fostering resilience in the face of stressors and promoting overall wellness.

Next Steps….My Adrenal Fatigue Recovery Program Is A Great Place To Start

Our Adrenal Recovery Program is a Natural Treatment for symptoms such as Fatigue, Brain Fog, Anxiety, Sleeping problems, Hypoglycemia, Weight gain, and many of the symptoms that often accompany Adrenal Gland imbalance and adrenal Fatigue.

at DrHagmeyer.com, we take a different approach to health. We focus on Functional medicine which includes Dietary modifications, nutritional counseling, and a personalized approach to restoring health.

  • To learn more about my program, I recommend that you first take my Adrenal quiz here.
  • Download my free Adrenal E-book and then depending on your Quiz results, Schedule a Free 15-minute Phone Consult to see if this program is right for you.

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