Being chronically stressed is literally killing you

The body’s stress response to a sudden crisis is to release a burst of cortisol and other adrenal hormones. When facing an emergency, this “fight or flight” response can help you survive. However, when the stress is chronic and unrelenting, it can negatively affect your health.

The link between chronic stress, aging, and mortality

Chronically heightened levels of the steroid hormone cortisol are associated with a higher risk of disease and mortality, and exposure to the hormone mimics the physical and mental effects of chronic steroid overmedication.

After analyzing facial photographs, researchers posit that having chronically high cortisol can even make you look older. Excess cortisol can minimize the telomeres, or the “caps” at the ends of chromosomes that prevent them from getting tangled with each other. Another worrying conclusion is the fact that shorter telomeres are linked to shorter lifespans.

Chronically elevated cortisol levels are also linked to a higher mortality risk. Research shows that women with high cortisol levels were about 82 percent more likely to die compared to other women with normal levels. Meanwhile, in men, the heightened risk was at 63 percent.

Additionally, high cortisol levels put added stress on the heart and this may increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by at least five times. The risk is present even among individuals who didn’t have previous risk factors for heart disease.

Excess cortisol can also increase the risk of developing various health problems such as:

  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Neurodegenerative illnesses (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease)

High cortisol levels also increase the risk of obesity since the hormone produces stress-related food cravings and excessive abdominal fat while it decreases muscle and bone mass. Sometimes, excess cortisol may also cause excess fat and fluids to accumulate in the face. This results in a swollen “moon face” effect similar to a symptom of steroid overmedication.

High cortisol is also associated with loss of cognitive function. Research shows that high levels of cortisol are connected to the shrinking of the hippocampus, or the center of memory in the brain.

Natural ways to manage stress and lower cortisol levels

Try some of the stress management methods and natural remedies listed below to reduce your cortisol levels.

  • Amur cork tree bark (Phellodendron amurense) and magnolia bark – The combined bark of these two trees can help lower cortisol and alleviate anxiety. Amur cork tree bark may help manage cortisol-induced food cravings. Meanwhile, magnolia bark contains honokiol, an active ingredient that can outperform diazepam (Valium) when controlling anxiety, minus the negative side effects and addictive potential of the prescription drug.
  • Blueberries – When you’re stressed, eat blueberries. These berries have antioxidants and phytonutrients that can improve your body’s response to stress. These compounds can also help fight stress-related free radicals.
  • Lychee fruit and green tea – Research shows that a lychee fruit-green tea combination can help decrease cortisol levels. Lychee fruit has polyphenols that can reduce oxidative stress and minimize cortisol. However, the body can’t easily absorb lychee’s many long-chain plant compounds. Researchers have discovered that adding green tea catechins can help reduce polyphenol size and triple the bioavailability (the extent to which nutrients can be absorbed and used by the body). Green tea also has the amino acid theanine that can help control cortisol levels. A 2010 study published in Nutrition Research and Practice also revealed that oligonol, a combination of polyphenols from lychee nuts and green tea, can help reduce cortisol and inflammatory cytokines like interleukin-6.
  • Roseroot/Golden root (Rhodiola rosea) – Roseroot, which is commonly used in Russian traditional medicine, is an adaptogenic herb that interacts with the brain-adrenal gland system. The herb helps reduce cortisol production. It can also help boost immune system function, improve mood, and help manage anxiety and depression. (Related: The mental and emotional benefits of expressing gratitude: It reduces stress and promotes psychological and physical well-being.)

Cortisol is a useful tool when used for the body’s fight-or-flight stress response. But to deal with excess levels of the hormone, consult a knowledgeable (integrative or functional) medical practitioner who can suggest a suitable treatment plan for your condition.

You can read more articles with effective tips on how to manage stress naturally at

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