Counteracting the Effects of Chronic Stress
So who has elevated cortisol levels? Lots of people. But to narrow it down, the Type C Self-Test included in the Introduction provides a convenient and fairly reliable gauge of a person's exposure to stress and, consequently, of his or her risk for elevated cortisol levels. We have used this very same Type C Self-Test in a number of research studies in my Utah nutrition clinic, and the results we've seen track almost identically with more extensive psychological surveys as well as with measures of salivary cortisol.
So take the Type C Self-Test to determine whether you're a Strained Jane, a Stressed Jess, or a Relaxed Jack. Discovering this basic information is a first step in figuring out what you can do to counteract the effects of chronic stress. As mentioned earlier in the chapter, there are numerous approaches for doing so. For example, many forms of stress management exist, and there are many fine references available on that topic (see the Resources section at the back of the book for a selected listing). This book takes the view that although stress-management techniques have been around for decades, very few of these regimens have made a large impact on the health or well-being of the average person. Why is this true? Are the techniques ineffective? No, many of them work perfectly well—if you can put them into practice. For the vast majority of people, however, wedging another stress-management tool into their already busy lives does little more than add further stress. I know that some stress-management gurus will disagree with me, but from a purely practical point of view (from my position as a nutritional biochemist and an educator), most people can't be bothered with traditional approaches to stress management. Many of us can't even be bothered to exercise or eat the way we know we should—both of which could go a long way toward reducing the detrimental effects of stress on our bodies.
So what else can we do? Lots! Reading The Cortisol Connection is a good start. First we lay the foundation: Chapters 2 through 6 flesh out the relationship between modern lifestyles, stress, cortisol (the primary stress hormone), HSD (a fat-storing enzyme), testosterone (an "antistress" hormone), and a wide range of health problems. Next, the book focuses on presenting ways to counteract stress and the damaging effects of cortisol. The focus begins in Chapter 7 with an introduction to the SENSE lifestyle Program. SENSE stands for the five key methods for dealing with stress: Stress management, Exercise, Nutrition, Supplementation, and Evaluation.
A prominent focus of this book is upon the use of natural dietary supplements. Specifically, Chapter 8 outlines the supplements that are known to effectively and safely influence the stress response—from general relaxation to specific modulation of the hormones and enzymes involved in cortisol metabolism. Each supplement is described in terms of the scientific and medical evidence for its effects on increasing or decreasing cortisol exposure. Recommendations for safety, dosage levels, and what to look for if you decide to use the supplement are also provided. This information-rich chapter can be thought of as sort of a handbook of supplements for cortisol control. Some readers will prefer to use it as a reference they can consult as needed, while others will read it straight through to gain as much knowledge as possible about the different options they have for controlling cortisol.
Chapter 9 brings all of the information together in a detailed discussion of the SENSE lifestyle Program. There you will read about real people who have used various aspects of SENSE to literally transform their lives (making "sense" out of them, so to speak).
The Cortisol Connection includes several case studies of individuals who have experienced benefits from using diet, exercise, and nutritional supplements to control their cortisol levels. Perhaps you will relate to one or more of them as experiencing some of the same stressors and life situations as you do—and perhaps some aspects of their approach to cortisol control will help you come up with your own cortisol-control plan.