Dr. Laura: Long Term Effects of Cortisol and Stress

Cortisol is released in a daily rhythm, but also in response to stress. Ever wonder what are the long term effects of cortisol (stress) in the body?

picture from  philosophytalk.org

Long term danger can be perceived in the form of anything that takes away our freedom, feeling unloved, feelings of insecurity, projecting into the future something that is not true, as if it were and  fear-based memories for future survival so as to avoid any repeat of traumatic events.

Cortisol is not all bad, it has some daily and life-saving functions. The problems lies when the body gets stuck in fear gear, cannot return to its natural state of homeostasis and subsequently has difficult with rest and digestion.

Normal Cortisol Function

Cortisol hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is released twice a day with blood levels peaking in the morning, and rising slightly again in mid afternoon.

Throughout the day, cortisol:

  • Helps provide energy; maintains blood glucose
  • Suppresses nonvital organ systems to provide energy to the brain, nerves and muscles
  • Is a potent anti-inflammatory hormone
  • Prevents widespread tissue and nerve damage associated with inflammation

Short Term Stress Response

In response to a moment of physical or emotional shock or trauma, the body releases three main chemicals: epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. In the short term, these chemicals trigger a series of events in the body to promote survival including anti-inflammatory actions and activation of energy to flee from the danger. Short term response has a clear purpose to better outcome (safety, life).

Once the epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol are released into the blood flow,

  • heart rate increases
  • blood pressure increases
  • respiration rate increases
  • arteries vasoconstrictor & release sweat.
  • pupils dilate
  • Pro inflammatory response so as to destroy antigens, pathogens, or foreign invaders; adrenoreceptor antagonists have been shown to inhibit stress-induced inflammation and cytokine production by blocking the proinflammatory effects of norepinephrine.

Long Term Cortisol Danger

Body’s release

When the brain feels you are in danger on an ongoing basis, cortisol release goes into overdrive. This can be things that threaten our survival like financial concerns, relationship problems, too many commitments, feelings of bitterness towards others, anger, resentment, being unhappy with yourself, lack of faith, hope, love, fear of loosing something you treasure… the list can go on.

Basically the body gets stuck in some type of survival mode. It is then difficult to re-establish to its natural balance.


Long term medications that end on “-sone” are often producing similar effects to cortisol in the body. These are drugs that suppress the immune system like prednisone, hydrocortisone.

Cortisone type drugs are used to treat pain, allergic disorders, skin conditions, ulcerative colitis, arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, or breathing disorders.

Be sure to also be aware of information on cortisone drug side effects. 

  • Osteoporosis
  • Muscle wasting
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Hyper irritability
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Vascular fragility including easy bruising
  • Striae or redish stripes over the lower abdomen (thinning of the skin structures)
  • Suppressed immune system, make it easier to get infections
  • Central obesity

If you feel like you are “always on” , have difficulty digesting food or feel “tired and wired”, chances are you are running the meter up on cortisol. As you can see the long term effects are not favourable for good health.

Have Hope

Don’t give up hope, however. The first step is to recognize what is stressing you out. This is more than relationships, it can be pain, inflammation, poor diet, lack of sleep, poor coping mechanisms or genetic wrinkles.

Resolution doesn’t happen overnight but can be improved on a steady course of treatment over time.  Treatment will look at things like sleep hygiene, a healthy diet, the right amount and type of exercise,  and new perspectives on managing yourself in relationships with yourself and others.

The Last “Peace”

Need more peace in your life?  Join me at Goodness Me! on Sept 19th in a presentation on Anxiety Antidotes.



Constanzo LS. 2011. BRS Physiology Fifth Edition. Walters Kluwer|Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Philadelphia.

Hannibal KE, Bishop MD. Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation. Physical Therapy. 2014;94(12):1816-1825. doi:10.2522/ptj.20130597.

Wright H. 2009. A More Excellent Way. Whitaker House. Pennsylvania.

5 Reasons to Regulate Blood Sugar

Blood sugar control is not just for diabetics! Maintain steady blood sugar and it can help you loose weight, sleep better,  balance your mood, increase your mental focus, and fend off chronic illness like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Get help now from Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND

5 Reasons to Regulate Your Blood Sugar

  1. Levels out Anxiety
  2. Helps with Weight Loss – Encourages Fat Burning
  3. Increases Mental Focus
  4. Reduces Chronic Inflammation
  5. Regulates Sleep

Blood Glucose Control

  • Glucose comes from the foods you eat. Every carbohydrate will be broken down to the smallest of sugars – sucrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, galactose.
  • Blood sugar, or glucose, is the main sugar that your body makes from the food you eat. Glucose is carried through the blood to provide energy to your body’s cells.
  • When you take in more glucose than required it is stored as glycogen in muscles and liver and then as body fat (triglycerides)
  • Hyperglycemia means high blood sugar or glucose. Insulin is a hormone that moves glucose into your cells to give them energy. Hyperglycemia happens when your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it the right way.
  • Hypoglycemia is when there is low blood sugar. This happens after prolonged absence of energy intake or insulin dysregulation.
  1. Anxiety – When your blood glucose rises quickly from a sugary drink or snack or high glycemic load meal, insulin is released to shuttle the sugar into cells, then you are left just as quickly with a low level of blood sugar. This rise and fall can affect your mood. A new word was added to the dictionary this year. “Hangry” is now a word. It means you are hungry and angry when your blood sugar is out of balance. The concept of anxiety and low blood sugar is real. The physiology of the body in both circumstances is very similar and the brain sometimes cannot tell the difference. It’s that same reason why a diabetic might have angry outbursts – their sugars are not well regulated. Help regulate the release of sugar into your blood stream with protein in your meal or fibre with your carbohydrates. That means eating whole grains, legumes or some type of soluble or insoluble fibre.
  2. Encourages fat burning. If you only take in a little carbohydrate at a time, your body has a just-in-time delivery of sugar, or energy to fuel your activity. If it needs a little boost, it will pull the extra from your cells – and result in weight loss. It’s a careful balance, however. Starve your body and it will go into a mode of preservation and shuttle any energy it gets into cells for safe storage – just like a squirrel hiding its nuts for winter. Give your body too much energy, and it will also store it in the cells as fat.
  3. Increases Mental Focus. Your brain has only one source of energy – glucose. If your blood sugar is going up and down like a roller coaster, so too will your ability to focus. Also your brain experiences sugar as a reward – it enhances the dopamine system. So sugar can be addictive if you use it as your only reward. You have 5 senses – taste is only one of them. Enhance your reward system with more than just food, try music, massage, theatre, aromatherapy, or intimate pleasures.
  4. Reduces Chronic Inflammation.  Inflammation leads to cortisol release which over time can lead to insulin resistance which leads to inflammation… a bit of a dog chasing its tail. Reduce stress to regulate cortisol release. Cortisol is released every time you encounter a stressful situation – it was meant to stimulate the physiological mechanism that pulls glucose (energy) from storage so you can go chase the tiger. Problem is if the tiger is a deadline at work and your are madly typing away…it just doesn’t burn the same energy as running and huffing and puffing. So… when you don’t use that glucose the blood sugar remains high and – for reasons we are not entirely sure –  will get re-deposited right around your waist line.  These not so lovely love handles are a contributor to metabolic syndrome and pose diabetic risk. Chronic inflammation also is a precursor to cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  5. Regulates Sleep. If your blood sugar is regulated, you will sleep better because you will not be so restless at night. Sleep time is a time of rest and rejuvenation. Too little sleep and your appetite increases, and this may put you at risk of disrupting your blood sugar balance. Eat your bigger meal at least 2 hours before bed and have a light snack with a little protein in it before you go to bed.

General over all tips to help regulate your blood sugar:

  • Physical activity to counteract the extra energy release
  • Eat only small amounts that meet your activity level, but don’t go below 50g of carbs per day – your brain and thyroid need it.
  • Eat carbs with fibre and protein to prolong release of glucose into blood stream and promote satiety.
  • Pay attention to the glycemic load of foods.
  • Mindful meditation, focused breath to deal with stress response.
  • Get a good night’s rest
  • Support blood glucose regulation with botanical medicines. Check with your health practitioner for the best fit for you with the right dose & duration.

From the heart and mind of your local naturopathic doctor, Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND. drlaura@forwardhealth.ca

Before Guelph Walks for Memories on Sept. 19th, consider these 5 steps to improve your memory and brain health.

Before Guelph Walks for Memories on Sept. 19th, consider these 5 steps to improve your memory and brain health.

Having a senior’s moment? Forgot where you put the keys? Muddling through the better part of the morning and coffee just doesn’t seem to kick start the engine anymore? Brain fog happens to those of all ages and sometimes there is something definitive we could do to provide clarity on the situation.

5 ways that could improve your memory now.

  1. Diet & Digestion
  2. Detoxify
  3. Boost Cell Power
  4. Control Stress
  5. Exercise


  1. Diet and Digestion

Did you know good digestion is key to brain function? A diet high in vegetables (6-8 cups daily) with a few fruits (1-3 a day) will provide phytonutrients and antioxidants to reduce inflammation, add fibre to keep your bowels moving & toxins excreted. Natural source of probiotics like kefir, natural sauerkraut, Kimchi, natural yogurt, raw cheese to boost not only digestion so you can better extract the nutrients from your food, but also mood and immune boosting properties. Adequate protein (0.8- 1.0g/kg) serves as the building block for many neurotransmitters-particles that send information across your brain and throughout your body. Healthy fats (fish oil, olive oil, flax seed oil, coconut, avocado), line the nerve sheaths and cell membranes helping information pass more expediently. Nerve transmission is helped with B vitamins found in whole grains and lean meat. Maintaining steady blood glucose helps stream a steady supply of glucose to the brain, its one source of energy.

  1. Detoxify

Heavy metals, pesticides, cosmetic chemicals and environmental pollutants build up in our bodies over time. A gentle detox program with hydrotherapy, botanical medicines, natural cleansing supplements and an anti-inflammatory diet will help the body rid itself of toxic burden.

  1. Boost Cell Power

The cellular powerhouse is the mitochondria. There are more mitochondria in brain cells than any other part of the body. Mitochondria use oxygen so it is important to keep a steady supply of oxygen flowing to the brain. Red blood cells carry the oxygen from our lungs through our body and brain. Great circulation is key (see exercise) and medicinal mushrooms are superb for boosting red blood cell health. Mitochondria are well served with many nutrients, however key ones are B-vitamins, Co-Q10, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, and magnesium malate. Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about what may be right for you.

  1. Control Stress

Ongoing stress leads to prolonged release of cortisol, which lends itself to insulin dysregulation (poor blood sugar control), chronic inflammation, memory lapses, fatigue and depression. Consider a lifestyle counseling, a soothing massage, a series of acupuncture treatments to reduce stress, or a lovely botanical adaptogen to help regulate the adrenal glands – the producer of cortisol.

  1. Exercise

Regular exercise will help regulate cortisol, improve your capacity to sweat and release toxins through your skin and lungs. It will mobilize and regulate your bowels to excrete the solid toxins.  It will also help you sleep better, a critical function to healing and rejuvenation. Moving your body improves lymphatic circulation so helps your immune function. Another key factor for exercise is the increased transport of oxygen to your brain. A great reason to get out and Walk for Memories in Guelph on September 19th.

If brain fog persists, see your doctor. In serious cases, it can signal an underlying neurological or inflammatory condition, such as Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, food sensitivity or diabetes. Above all, don’t accept brain fog as a simple factor of aging. With the right support, you can stay sharp and protect brain health — at any age.

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND

Please note that the above is intended for educational purposes only and does not constitute individual medical advice. Please book an appointment for your individualized medical treatment plan.