Cortisol, Blood Sugar, and Adrenal Health
One of the primary goals for our seasonal eating during the winter is to keep the blood sugar balanced. Especially during the winter months, it is crucial to work on preserving and increasing the health of the adrenals; controlling blood sugar is one very important way to do this.
During this time of the year, because we are not getting much energy from the sun and fresh foods, we must rely more heavily on our body’s own methods of energy production from the hormone, or endocrine system. One of the primary organs we want to support during this time are the adrenal glands, as they are responsible for producing many of the hormones that help us feel energetic.
The hormone we associate most with our ability to feel “awake” is cortisol. Cortisol is a sugar-mobilizing hormone we produce for two primary reasons: as a response to stress and when our blood sugar drops too low. Historically, stress for humans has meant “fight or flight” or as I like to put it “I have to run from the bear.” During stress, our body makes adrenaline which helps prepare us for running: our heart pumps faster and lungs open wide to help provide more blood to our brain and muscles. At the same time we are producing adrenaline, we also produce cortisol, which mobilizes sugar from storage so the brain and muscles can work extra hard, run fast, and climb that tree.
When blood sugar drops low and we start to feel fatigued and foggy, our body will also make cortisol so we can boost the blood sugar and feel clear and awake again. A diet high in refined starch and sugars has the tendency to spike blood sugar. When the blood sugar spikes, the pancreas will produce a lot of insulin which will put that sugar into our cells very quickly, which in turn will drop the blood sugar very low. Some of us know this feeling of hypoglycemia which can produce groggyness, crankiness, headache, and a desire to nap. When the body becomes hypoglycemic, the adrenals will produce cortisol to try to manage the low blood sugar.
The problem with this pattern is that, over time, the adrenals can become accustomed to producing more cortisol than is healthy for them. The combination of a stressful lifestyle and chronic hypoglycemia can fatigue the adrenals which compromises their ability to function properly. This can lead to insomnia, weight gain, extreme fatigue, and can even contribute to heart disease.
The wintertime is the ideal time to replenish our adrenals. The dark, cold weather helps us to bring our focus inward and take the time to rejuvenate our own sources of energy production. The simplest ways to do this are adequate sleep, managing stress properly, and keeping the blood sugar well regulated. The rules of keeping the blood sugar stable are:regular meals, avoiding refined starches and sugars, and focusing more on eating proteins, high fiber, and fats.