“Cortisol is a steroid hormone, in the glucocorticoid class of hormones, and is produced in humans by the zona fasciculata of the adrenal cortex within the adrenal gland. It is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration.” Wikipedia
The fact that this statement is on Wikipedia gives a clue to the extent of the disconnect which exists between some long standing and well understood basic principles of biology, and much of the popularly promoted health advice (and other information) provided today in relation to diet and lifestyle and the many ways it can impact upon well-being.
Although it’s easy for it to be overlooked, the significance of the above assertion in relation to general metabolic health is potentially vast. It may just be a short paragraph, yet when you read between the lines, it can begin to tell many different stories.
For starters, it speaks reasonably clearly to the fundamental relationship between blood sugar and stress. It would probably not be difficult to conclude, after a quick glance at the above, that what it is suggesting is that when blood sugar starts to run low, increasing amounts of cortisol tend to be released within the body; thus, one could say, more stress means more cortisol. Unfortunately it can also be accurate for one to similarly say that more cortisol often comes to mean more stress.
It’s true that the connection between increasing levels of cortisol throughout the system and the progression of many disease states or conditions is, on its own account, reasonably well accepted.
The statement being examined here however, also points towards a discussion regarding the relationship between low blood sugar and the release of various other inflammatory stress related substances (for example, estrogen, serotonin, endotoxin) all of which help to further promote stress engendered degeneration and disease.
Whether it is intended or not, the above paragraph has implications with regards to the increasing secretion of adrenalin in the face of decreasing levels of blood sugar availability.
When stress of any kind increases, blood sugar requirements start to rise, and glycogen (the storage form of blood glucose) begins to be diminished.
This then typically leads to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, causing the release of adrenalin, which in and of itself has a variety of potential effects.
One such effect is part of an attempt by the body to release whatever glycogen remains in storage as a means to providing the sugar needed and being demanded by the cells.
Adrenalin also promotes the release of cortisol, helping to raise blood sugar levels by means of the breakdown of muscle as well as other valuable tissue.
As well as this however, adrenalin promotes the release of free fatty acids out of storage in order to provide an alternative source of fuel when stress is high and when sufficient sugar for the provision of energy has become unavailable.
The degree to which this type of scenario can feed into the stress and disease promoting potential of chronically increasing amounts of both cortisol and adrenalin (as well as numerous other stress related substances) depends a great deal upon the composition of the fat stored in the body.
The more polyunsaturated it is, the more inflammatory are its effects, and the more its release under circumstances where stress is increasing (and blood sugar is diminishing), can fuel a kind of vicious cycle of rising stress and stress substance release.
Where this can then lead to, is an increasing level of awareness of the possible implications (arising out of a closer study of the statement at the beginning of this discussion) regarding the importance of consuming the preferred type (as well as sufficient quantities) of fuel for the replenishment of glycogen stores, as well as for the provision of a stable blood sugar supply.
In many ways, this could easily then be the beginning of a conversation about the undeniable connection between stress, thyroid function (as well as overall energy metabolism), and how all of this can be impacted upon by today’s increasingly popular belief systems promoting more and more the idea of sugar restriction.
It would then make sense to go on to talk about many of the concurrent and interrelated consequences of the suppression of thyroid metabolism (resulting from stress of any kind including that which is fueled by sugar restriction) such as rising levels of bacterial endotoxin secretion and increasing production and circulation of estrogen and serotonin, and the manner in which escalating levels of these and other inflammatory substances go on to exacerbate the stress and disease promoting effects of already low blood sugar and high cortisol.
In light of the above discussion one might begin to perceive some of the potentially harmful implications of many well known diet methodologies which encourage rapid weight loss via a chronically low sugar (or low carbohydrate, often low calorie) diet.
A significant proportion of the weight loss which comes from the application of approaches such as these stems from the wasting of muscle and other tissue (which occurs naturally as a result of increasing cortisol as well as adrenalin levels), as well as the rapid rate of release of fat into the blood stream.
Although it is understandable that this might be an appealing idea in some ways, the longer term results which very often ensue (particularly in the light of commonly increasing levels of polyunsaturated fat stored in the tissues), play into the promotion of many of the factors which go on to cause chronic issues with stress and inflammation, eventually increasing the development of disease.
When you examine more closely some of the physiological principles (as well as experimental science) which looks at the inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects of excessive cortisol (as well as adrenalin), you will see that the simple paragraph at the top of this page also hints at the relationship between chronic stress and blood sugar disregulation, and the development of (and susceptibility to) many inflammatory and degenerative disease states, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and many other so called diseases of ‘aging’.
The ‘diet/health industry’ on the other hand has been increasingly commonly pushing a belief system which categorically states that sugar restriction is somehow necessary for the promotion of good health. As an adjunct to this, it has become quite popular for those promoting such ideas, to use examples of short term rapid weight loss ‘success’ stories as evidence of the scientific validity of the method they are encouraging.
Unfortunately however, rapid weight loss (resulting from an increased release of fat into the blood in combination with rising cortisol and adrenalin, as well as many of the other stress related substances) is understood completely differently, when looked upon through the lens of the metabolic effects of the diseases of wasting (such as cancer or diabetes). From this point of view, it’s possible to start to see it more as a symptom of degeneration and disease, rather than necessarily being a sign of an improvement in the state of ones health.
Another thing to keep in mind in relation to much of the anti sugar propaganda coming out of the media (as well as being repeated by health practitioners) is that it is generally misinterpreting and misrepresenting the significance of the sugar content in what are often referred to as ‘high sugar foods’, whilst at the same time ignoring the many toxic ingredients that are in fact causing a large part of the harm being witnessed.
Very often, such products are filled with large quantities of the inflammatory polyunsaturated fats (as well as other toxic and poisonous ingredients) which have been consistently and scientifically demonstrated to cause interference with blood sugar regulation, as well as directly contributing to the excessive secretion of cortisol and adrenalin (and many other substances of stress) thereby interfering with thyroid function and overall metabolic performance, promoting many symptoms of degeneration.
The belief system that sugar is a harmful and addictive substance, although extremely prevalent, contradicts basic physiology in many ways, and is backed up by very little in the way of legitimate experimental evidence.
Much like long held views with regards to cholesterol rich foods and foods high in saturated fats, such ideas help to pave the way for the promotion of more and more of the cheaply produced highly profitable products responsible in many ways for increasing the number of people affected by a variety of disease states, far less common before their introduction.
It is important to understand that white sugar or sucrose is basically no different to most of the sugar which is found in fruit. It is crucial for providing fuel for energy as well as for protection against stress (and from increasing stress hormone release). When it is removed from the diet, this can be one of the main factors setting off a cascade of interrelated, harmful and eventually destructive physiological changes.
As stated earlier, when glycogen stores run low in the face of stress of any kind (as well as becuase of a limited intake of simple sugars like sucrose, fructose and lactose etc), cortisol immediately rises in order to convert valuable muscle (as well as skin, glandular and organ tissue) into the sugar you need for your brain and some other organs to function and to continue living.
This process comes with a price that may not be immediately apparent in terms of the way you look or even how you immediately feel and this is partly due to some of the short term, symptom and pain reducing (as well as immunosuppressive) effects of the substances which rise in response to stress.
There is plenty of clear scientific evidence, however, which points to the ways in which such a state (particularly when it becomes chronic), often eventually leads to highly destructive results. The above paragraph from Wikipedia, when read with these things in mind, could be enough information (as a starting point) to help encourage a more rational approach to understanding the causes of stress and disease and applying preventative or treatment methodologies which are more likely to promote improvement and recovery.
Although this is far from being a comprehensive discussion in relation to what can be a very detailed and complex subject, my hope is that it helps to pave the way towards a more rational understanding of the true nature of sugar and its importance in the maintenance and recovery of good health.
A diet removing the polyunsaturated fats, with sufficient protein and nutrients from milk, cheese or gelatinous meats, and plenty of sugar from sweet ripe fruits, fruit juice, white sugar and honey, is one possible logical approach to protecting against stress by improving blood sugar regulation and thyroid function, reducing reliance upon cortisol and many other related defensive and inflammatory substances.
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Vitamin A decreases pre-receptor amplification of glucocorticoids in obesity: study on the effect of vitamin A on 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 activity in liver and visceral fat of WNIN/Ob obese rats