Stress is Literally Killing you, Here's how and what to do

July 28th, 2021

(8 Minute Read)

The Biology and Science broken down real quick and easy: What Most are experiencing

Ever think: “I’ve been so freaking stressed out!” How about: “I wish I had more time for healthier choices.” Maybe they even were accompanied by the self-talk of: “How did my weight get this bad?”


Most of us have, and it’s ok. But what most don’t realize is these are often warning signs and symptoms of declining physical health. How you ask? It’s simpler than you think… they are all accompanied with the biological reaction of Cortisol production.


These three statements are also all part of a vicious cycle that can put you in a place which makes being happy and healthy very difficult to accomplish. Stress causes weight gain, weight gain causes stress and declining health, and then limited time compounds all of it.


It’s a snowball flying downhill growing bigger and bigger!

The cortisol cycle is deadly, and its cause and effects work together to create momentum hurting your health

How Cortisol Is Killing You

Seems a bit overblown, right? Well, if you’re someone who thinks this is an exaggeration, sorry to say its not that farfetched.


Stress spikes the powerful hormone called Cortisol. Many associate this hormone with fight or flight, and that is true, but it is also associated with a long list of health implications. From the top of your head to your feet it impacts you physically, it impacts you psychologically and the fallout can have a significant impact on you emotionally.


Here's just a few researches summarized for easy reading:

1. Cortisol can “adversely affect the function of numerous vital systems.”1

This study specifically listed:

- Cognitive Changes and Deficits

- Decreases in Bone Density

- Increased Risk of Diabetes

- Increased Abdominal Fat Storage and Obesity

- Poorly Performing Immune Systems

2. Continued High Cortisol Levels Have Shown To Shrink Your Hippocampus (part of brain)2

More notably in the second half of life. Shrinking of the Hippocampus has been linked to:

- Depression

- Increased Anxiety

- Learning Deficits

- Memory Loss

3. Elevated Cortisol Is Recognized As A “Universal” Warning Sign3

It has been shown as a precursor to various chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, cancer).

4. Chronic Stress and Cortisol Causes “Cumulative” Negative Impacts3

Meaning that the longer you do not address the issue, the harder it is going to be to get back from the damage caused.

How Cortisol Is Killing You

Seems a bit overblown, right? Well, if you’re someone who thinks this is an exaggeration, Sorry to say its not that farfetched.


Stress spikes the powerful hormone called Cortisol. Many associate this hormone with fight or flight, and that is true, but it is also associated with a laundry list of health implications. From the top of your head to your feet it impacts you physically, it impacts you psychologically and the fallout can have a significant impact on you emotionally.


Here's just a few researches summarized for easy reading:

1. Cortisol can “adversely affect the function of numerous vital systems.”1

This study specifically listed:

- Cognitive changes and deficits

- Decreases in Bone Density

- Increased Risk of Diabetes

- Increased Abdominal Fat Storage and Obesity

- Poorly Performing Immune Systems

2. Continued High Cortisol Levels Have Shown To Shrink Your Hippocampus (part of brain)2

More notably in the second half of life. Shrinking of the Hippocampus has been linked to:

- Depression

- Increased Anxiety

- Learning Deficits

- Memory Loss

3. Elevated Cortisol Is Recognized As A “Universal” Warning Sign3

It has been shown as a precursor to various chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, cancer).

4. Chronic Stress and Cortisol Causes “Cumulative” Negative Impacts3

Meaning that the longer you do not address the issue, the harder it is going to be to get back from the damage caused.

That's Not even the end of the list

This list should definitely be getting your attention. They all mention life changing issues, some of which are pretty darn scary. If you know anyone who is, or has, suffered from these health complications you recognize how beneficial it would be to avoid them.


These are just a few serious and life-threatening situations that can arise. Other less severe consequences include: disruption of sleep cycles, internal inflammation, and a disruption in the body’s ability to utilize carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

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But It’s Not All Bad News...

Believe it or not, we’re not here to be doomsday bringers. While there certainly are serious implications to having continuously high stress levels and chronically high cortisol, there are ways that you can combat it.


First though, lets go over some common misconceptions, because many use stress release strategies that don't actually help.

3 Things to avoid when stressed:

1. Alcohol 

We're not saying you can never drink it, but certainly avoid it when your stressing out.  Not only does alcohol not lower cortisol levels, but it also actively increases them. Alcohol’s toxicity is received by the body as a stressor, triggering cortisol production.

2. Smoking and Tobacco Products 

Just as the body perceives alcohol as a stressor, it also perceives tobacco as one. Actually, if you are a smoker, we highly recommend stopping. There’s many resources to support this, but a 2014 study showed that “acute abstinence” actually lowered baseline cortisol levels4… a significant win against cortisol.

3. Feel Good Foods

With an emphasis on sugar. Yes, eating that tasty treat might give you a sigh of relief and feeling of release, but it reality it's increasing cortisol levels.   Actually, if you are chronically stressed, and combine it with feel good foods, you could be setting yourself up for metabolic syndrome5.

But It’s Not All Bad News...

Believe it or not, we’re not here to be doomsday bringers. While there certainly are serious implications by having continuously high stress levels and chronically high cortisol, there are ways that you can combat it.


First though, lets go over the common misconceptions, because many have what might feel like stress release, might not actually be helping your cortisol levels.

3 Things to avoid when stressed:

1. Alcohol 

We're not saying you can never drink it, but certainly avoid it when your stressing out.  Not only does alcohol fail to lower cortisol levels, but it actively increases them. Alcohol’s toxicity is received by the body as a stressor, triggering cortisol production.

2. Smoking and Tobacco Products 

Just as the body perceives alcohol as a stressor, it also perceives tobacco as one. Actually, if you are a smoker, we high recommend stopping. There’s many resources to support this, but a 2014 study showed that “acute abstinence” actually lowered baseline cortisol levels4… a significant win against cortisol.

3. Feel Good Foods

With an emphasis on sugar. Yes, eating that tasty treat might give you a sigh of relief and feel of release, but its actually increasing cortisol levels. Actually, if you are chronically stressed, and combine it with feel good foods, you could be setting yourself up for metabolic syndrome5.

5 Healthy solutions to stress

So we have one suggestion which we feel stands above all the rest (outside of reducing alcohol and tobacco), but before we get to that, we have a few simpler suggestions:

1. Seek Nutritious Foods 

A bit broad, and probably closer to common sense, highly nutritious foods host a variety of vitamins and minerals that help both directly with healthy cortisol response, and the organs related to it.

2. Find Time To Laugh and Talk 

Often associated with de-stressing, but rarely prioritized and actively sought after. Make sure you put yourself in positions and around people often that make you smile and who will willingly listen about your worries, concerns and difficult life situations.

3. Avoid Toxic Relationships

When we say toxic, we mean one that has you thinking negative often and stressing about everyday life unnecessarily. This works hand in hand with our previous suggestion of finding relationships that make you smile and laugh.

4. Get a Pet 

As long as its conducive to your lifestyle, many people report deep happiness from forming relationships with furry friends.

5. Exercise (but not too much)

Exercise will help form a well-functioning internal cortisol on/off switch. However, too much can stress your body past the point of typical recovery. This is always different person to person, so be sure to push yourself but then see how your body reacts.

5 Healthy solutions to stress

So we have one suggestion which we feel stands above all the rest (outside of reducing alcohol and tobacco), but before we get to that, we have a few simpler suggestions:

1. Seek Nutritious Foods 

A bit broad, and probably closer to common sense, highly nutritious foods host a variety of vitamins and minerals that help directly with healthy cortisol response, and the organs related to it.

2. Find Time To Laugh and Talk 

Often associated with de-stressing, but rarely prioritized and actively sought after. Make sure you put yourself in positions and around people often that make you smile and who will willingly listen about your worries, concerns and difficult life situations.

3. Avoid Toxic Relationships

When we say toxic, we mean one that has you thinking negative often and stressing about everyday life unnecessarily. This works hand in hand with our previous suggestion of finding relationships that make you smile and laugh.

4. Get a Pet 

As long as its conducive to your lifestyle, many people report deep happiness from forming relationships with furry friends.

5. Exercise (but not too much)

Exercise will help form a well-functioning internal cortisol on/off switch. However, too much can stress your body past the point of typical recovery. This is always different person to person, so be sure to push yourself, then see how your body reacts.

The Ultimate Solution - Our number 1 from experience

In our experience and opinion, mindfulness, meditation and Yoga are the best solution to stress and cortisol management. Yes, we have suggested this to plenty of people who immediately sounded uninterested. But we’ve convinced many of them, and continue to suggest it because it is just hat helpful.


Many find the practice to be much more rewarding than just for forgetting the stress of the commute home or having to take the kids somewhere after. It often can help many find a positive shift in behaviors and even personality.


But the concept and the practices are quite extensive, and we will save that discussion for another article you can find here.

The Ultimate Solution - Our number 1 from experience

In our experience and opinion, mindfulness, meditation and Yoga are the best solution to stress and cortisol management. Yes, we have suggested this to plenty of people who immediately sounded uninterested. But we’ve convinced many of them, and continue to suggest it because it is just hat helpful.


Many find the practice to be much more rewarding than only forgetting the stress of the commute home or having to take the kids somewhere after. It can help many find a positive shift in behaviors and even personality.


But the concept and the practices are quite extensive, and we will save that discussion for another article you can find here.

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References

1. Yiallouris, A., Tsioutis, C., Agapidaki, E., Zafeiri, M., Agouridis, A. P., Ntourakis, D., & Johnson, E. O. (2019). Adrenal Aging and Its Implications on Stress Responsiveness in Humans. Frontiers in endocrinology, 10, 54. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2019.00054


2. Lupien, S. J., de Leon, M., de Santi, S., Convit, A., Tarshish, C., Nair, N. P., Thakur, M., McEwen, B. S., Hauger, R. L., & Meaney, M. J. (1998). Cortisol levels during human aging predict hippocampal atrophy and memory deficits. Nature neuroscience, 1(1), 69–73. https://doi.org/10.1038/271


3. Lee, D. Y., Kim, E., & Choi, M. H. (2015). Technical and clinical aspects of cortisol as a biochemical marker of chronic stress. BMB reports, 48(4), 209–216. https://doi.org/10.5483/bmbrep.2015.48.4.275


4. Wong, Jordan A et al. “Cortisol levels decrease after acute tobacco abstinence in regular smokers.” Human psychopharmacology vol. 29,2 (2014): 152-62. doi:10.1002/hup.2382


5. Kuo, Lydia E et al. “Chronic stress, combined with a high-fat/high-sugar diet, shifts sympathetic signaling toward neuropeptide Y and leads to obesity and the metabolic syndrome.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences vol. 1148 (2008): 232-7. doi:10.1196/annals.1410.035