Insulin and Cortisol: the Relationship

High blood sugar means that your are on your way to diabetes or may already have it. However, the condition can be reversed. The earlier you take action the greater the chance to get back to healthy blood sugar levels.

Read about reversing high blood sugar safely   >>>

It is a well known and much discussed fact that stress may cause insulin resistance. Lets see how that happens. When a person feels stressed adrenal glands produce cortisol, one of major stress hormones. The roles of cortisol in the body are numerous, but one of them is stimulating the release of glucose into the blood and so counteract the work of insulin. In fact, another proof that starving is also a stress for the body is that cortisol is also secreted in response to blood sugar levels getting too low.

Normally, a certain concentration of cortisol is present in one's blood stream. However, increased cortisol levels maintain elevated blood glucose levels in multiple ways and impair the ability of insulin to enable glucose absorbtion by the body's cells resulting in insulin resistance.

Historically, the increase of blood sugar due to cortisol was supposed to be short-term, just enough to provide the ancient people with extra energy to avoid or act in the situation of an immediate threat or fear, like running away from a predator, hunting, having a fight or escaping a natural calamity. Then cortisol gets back to normal. In fact, a short term stress is even useful as it increases one's resistance to stress. In addidtion, resolving the issue successfully (solving tasks, escaping danger, winning, passing exam, etc) gives the feel of satisfaction and so motivates for personal development and achievements.

However, today many people are exposed to the effects of continously raised cortisol being under constant stress due to work, financial or family issues, the need to make complicated choices, responsibilities, and other factors we owe to the complexity of the modern world, its developement and competition rates and also the development of abstract thinking. The list of stressful factors and events also increased, including emotional stress and fear of failure and the unknown.

A continous stress may have a very abrupt start as a reaction to a new negative factor, then a person seems to get accomodated to the new conditions (this period is known as plato) but the stress and the work or cortisol continue in the background, sometimes for years, resulting in what is called emotional burndown and negative impact on one's health, including insulin resistance, even if a person adheres to a healthy lifestyle.

How Cortisol Raises Blood Glucose and Stimulates Insulin Resistance

There are several ways cortisol gets extra glucose for the stressed body, and, if that happens for a long period, causes insulin resistance due to continuosly high glucose levels .

  • Cortisol signals the liver to release the glucose stored in the form of glycogen, supplies for fasting periods, into the bloodstream. In normal conditions, this happens when your blood sugar falls below 0.001%, the production of insulin stops and instead the pancreas starts producing glucagon which tells the liver to release glycogen supplies. More about insulin-glucagon homeostasis is here.

  • Cortisol stimulates muscle catabolism. Cortisol triggers breakdown of muscle proteins to provide extra energy. This is an abnormal way of getting blood glucose under a severe stress and a reason why stressed people often observe loss of mucsles.

  • Triggers the breakdown of adipose tissue cells (fat).

There are also multiple ways the continuos action of this hormone interferes with the work of insulin:

  • Inhibiting production of insulin by the beta cells of the pancreas
  • Hampering insulin signal to the mucsle and so imparing glucose uptake
  • Impairing the ability of the liver to store the glucose. Storing surplus glucose in the blood stream in the form of glycogen for later use in fasting periods is one of the functions of the liver. Cortisol triggers the release of free fatty acids into the bloodstream which relults in fatty liver unable to store glycogen. That's the reason why a person under a continuos stress feels feeble and lacks energy and yet can put on weight.

People with lowered insulin sensitivity of those with an impaired function of the pancreas are more exposed to the risks of cortisol-related insulin resistance because their pancreas is unable to secret enough insulin to compensate for the action of cortisol. As a rule, obese people are in the risk group.

This type of insulin resistance resulting from the effect of cortisol is not related to a person's lifestyle aspects like practicing sports or diet and sometimes results from adrenal deseases. However, one should keep in mind that moderate phycical actitivies can alleviate stress and its effects. Just be aware that a seriously stressed person should approach workouts with caution and avoid heavy physical exercises because they may aggravate the stress and its effect on one's health being a stress all by themselves. Walks, swimming, dancing or yoga are the best choices.

High blood sugar means that your are on your way to diabetes or may already have it. However, the condition can be reversed. The earlier you take action the greater the chance to get back to healthy blood sugar levels.

Read about reversing high blood sugar safely   >>>