blog Apr 05, 2024

All my fellow 50+ ladies out there, you know first hand the numerous physiological and hormonal changes that happen and how they can significantly impact health, well-being and all areas of life. One such factor that plays a crucial role yet often goes unnoticed is the level of cortisol, widely known as the stress hormone. While cortisol is essential for managing stress and helping your body respond to life’s challenges, chronic elevation of this hormone can lead to a host of health issues, particularly for those of us over 50.

Without a doubt, the most visible and most complained-about effect of elevated cortisol levels is weight gain, especially around the abdomen. This type of fat distribution is not only aesthetically concerning but also significantly increases the risk of developing metabolic syndrome - a cluster of conditions that occur together, heightening the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. The conditions include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, hormonal imbalance, excess body fat around the midriff, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. Women over 50 need to be particularly vigilant as they are naturally at a higher risk due to hormonal changes associated with menopause.

Chronic high cortisol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium, leading to bone density loss. This process accelerates the onset of osteoporosis, a condition where bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue. Given that women over 50 are already at an increased risk of osteoporosis due to declining estrogen levels, elevated cortisol can further exacerbate this risk. Additionally, excess cortisol contributes to muscle protein breakdown, leading to muscle weakness and wasting, which can impair physical stability and posture, while increasing the risk of injuries and later, falls. Decreased muscle mass also negatively affects metabolism and the how or if the body burns fat rather than stores it.

Elevated cortisol levels and chronic stress also work to suppress immune system making the body more susceptible to infections and disease resulting in an overall decreased quality of life. Immune suppression is concerning at any age, but is magnified when compounded with menopausal symptoms and hormonal imbalance that tend to occur around the mid-century mark.

Mental health is not often thought associated with cortisol, but the implications are profound. As we've learned, elevated cortisol is chronic stress which in turn can lead to anxiety, depression, brain fog, lack of focus, and mood swings. For women navigating the psychological effects of menopause and aging, elevated cortisol can intensify these challenges, impacting quality of life and overall physical and mental well-being.

High cortisol levels can wreak havoc on sleep patterns. Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or failing to achieve deep restorative sleep translates not only to lack of physical and mental energy, it plays a key role when it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Without proper sleep, your body cannot properly metabolize the food you're putting in, and tends to store fat rather than burn it.

Elevated cortisol can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones in the body, exacerbating menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. These effects can severely impact daily functioning and quality of life for women over 50, highlighting the need for cortisol management especially during this period.

The link between chronic stress, elevated cortisol, and cardiovascular disease is something else to consider. High cortisol increases risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including increased blood pressure & cholesterol, elevated blood sugar levels, and the buildup of arterial plaque. Given that heart disease ranks high on the list as one of the leading causes of death among women, understanding and managing stress and cortisol levels is a must.

Cleary cortisol levels affect many aspects of women's health and I'm sure you'll agree it's important to address any issues at hand in an effort to bring levels back down and restore health. The best way to do this is to start focusing on simple things you can do for your health that you can keep doing consistently, not just for a moment in time.

Food is your foundation. Eating small, frequently meals with protein every 3-4 hours throughout the day stabilizes blood sugar. When blood sugar is stable, hormones can balance as well.

Intentional /exericse every day. Regularly moving your body, using resistance, and/or small bursts, helps build back muscle and also helps break that cycle of chronic stress, which results in lower cortisol levels.

Stay hydrated. Every function your body and brain does requires water to make it happen. Replacing juices, alcohol, and multiple coffee refills with water helps flush out toxins and improves mental focus and clarity.

Bring down stress. Stress exacerbates any and all conditions, disease, illness and takes away from your daily enjoyment of life as your mind is always preoccupied with the stressor du jour. Take the time to start your day device free with some deep breathing, meditation/prayer and feel the difference in stress levels as it becomes a daily practice.

Fill your gaps. We all have gaps in nutrition. Soil is depleted, food is picked green and transported, sprays, herbicies, etc., are something else for your body to deal with in the midst of extracting nutrients, it's just the way it is today. In order to get enough nutrients from just food, you'd need to eat almost 15 servings of fruits and veggies per day, 24/7/365. I think it's safe to say very few of us are doing this, so we have gaps that need filling.

Even if medical intervention is necessary, or you're already heading down that path, start by identifying where you are with your six “plates” - nutrition, exercise, water, stress, sleep, filling your gaps – and choose one to start. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen. Take it from someone who just turned 56. Your 50's can be your best decade yet.

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