This piece will cover the topic of cortisol, a chemical that has far-reaching effects and is activated by stressors, such as danger or stress in general (both physical and/or emotional). We are then going to detail a couple of herbal adaptogens that are effective against cortisol and stress in general. Let’s jump into it!
Firstly, an adaptogen (if you recall from previous articles I’ve written) is an herb that assists the body in minimizing stress and its effects. It is important that you keep this term in mind, as it is a tool you will need for your herbal supply kits and naturopathic aids. Stress can take the form of emotional stress that is brought about by a dangerous, painful, or uncomfortable situation we must deal with.
Dealing with stress is normal on a daily basis. Physical stress can be brought on by illness, injury, or from rigorous and/or excessive training and exercise. For both types of stress, we must turn our focus on cortisol. What is it? Basically, cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex: part of the adrenal gland situated upon the kidneys that are also responsible for the production of adrenalin.
Since I’ve probably bored you already, let’s cut to the chase. The adrenal glands secrete cortisol (also referred to as hydrocortisone), a hormone that helps to regulate the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. “So what?” you may say. So, during times of danger, your body secretes this as part of the sympathetic-parasympathetic response to help provide you with the impetus you need to pour on the energy and speed and get away.
There’s a catch, and it returns to catabolism, a term we used in past articles to describe the process in which the body breaks down (particularly the muscles) a part of itself in order to utilize the protein and turn it into glycogen and then convert it to glucose, the primary fuel for just about all living things. When this happens to weightlifters who have gone “beyond their wall,” so to speak, the catabolism is referred to as “cannibalism,” and it occurs for every ½ hour trained beyond the wall…the max…when the body breaks down 5 to 10 grams of muscle tissue to convert it to glycogen and then to glucose to fuel the body.
That does not sound as if it’s a big deal; however, the 5 to 10 grams is fully developed muscle tissue. Also, if unreplenished? It occurs every half hour you train or exert yourself beyond your limits without replenishing your nutrients. It requires hundreds of times those amounts just to produce the muscles in the first place. The cortisol is necessary in times that a person cannot “refuel” in the form of food: it is a built-in protective mechanism that the species has to help preserve itself in times of danger, and in times of a shortage/inability to resupply.