I don’t know about you, but typically when I hear the word “cortisol” it’s often being used in a negative way than not. You are most likely wondering why this may be the case. For starters, understand that cortisol is THE stress hormone.
Let’s talk cortisol, shall we?
First off, what is cortisol?
Besides cortisol being THE stress hormone. Cortisol is made in the adrenal cortex of the adrenal gland.
Cortisol can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, memory formulation, and help reduce inflammation. Cortisol belongs to a group of hormones called glucocorticoids. As a group, these hormones are involved in the regulation of metabolism in the cells, and they also help us regulate various stressors on the body. Cortisol, also known as hydrocortisone, cortisone and corticosterone are all glucocorticoids. Cortisol is a steroid-based hormone and is synthesized from cholesterol.
On the other side of things; too much of anything is never a good thing. When your body is in fight or flight mode, there is a physical reaction. This physical reaction is cortisol being released. When too much cortisol is released, then it will begin to build up in the blood stream which is when negative side effects occur. These negative side effects occur from the prolonged levels and higher levels of cortisol. Typically, higher levels of cortisol are associated with chronic stress. This type of stress can be cognitively; including mental and emotion stress and/or physical stress that is reflected by the body’s actions.
Now let’s discuss ways to lower cortisol levels:
Eat Whole Foods
Focus on decreasing inflammation—> anti- inflammatory diet
Aim for low processed foods, high in antioxidants, fiber, & essential nutrients is the key to balancing hormones. By doing this not only decreases cortisol but also can help in adrenal support, which is another hormone allowing you to reach a desired weight, boosting energy throughout the day, and getting enough adequate sleep at night. Poorly managed blood sugar levels can produce elevated cortisol levels because this leads to producing more glucose in the body.
This doesn’t mean 7 days out of the week, 2x per day. This means getting on a consistent routine AT LEAST 3-4x per week & if you can get to do more, great!! Just remember, more isn’t always better. The key is to avoid overtraining & overexerting yourself, which in time increases cortisol levels! Been there, done that and it only becomes a setback. As I’ve said above just because you’re doing MORE doesn’t mean it’s benefiting you. I personally have a passion for exercise and my training so this one is tough for me to keep reminding myself, I need to take some rest days. Some rest days become active rest days; low intensity cardio, yoga/ stretching, or even an outdoor hike. Trust me, I know how good it feels as those endorphins are being released during a cardio sesh!
*Temporarily during exercise cortisol levels are being increased along with adrenaline production, but afterward it generally helps lower it back down. This cycle helps your body handle stress & gives your autonomic nervous system it’s “own workout” getting it use to the stress & relaxation responses.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Besides water, sleep may be the most important if you ask me. This one can be hard for a variety of reasons. If you are currently battling with high levels of cortisol levels, “getting plenty of sleep” is easier said than done. High cortisol levels can make it hard TO rest, TO sleep. So first we must find ways to be able to calm the mind before bed. BUT on the other hand, if you don’t have a hard time sleeping, but you have a hard time getting enough sleep—then making sleep a priority is going to be your action.
Cortisol levels naturally rise during early morning hours and then drop as the day goes on, at its lowest right before bed. (People who have high cortisol production usually will experiment the opposite: high levels at night, fatigued right when they wake up!) This then explains over activity of adrenal glands!!! Which then is tied to adrenal fatigued coming from hormonal imbalances & stress…. A wholeee other topic. AIM for 9 hours of time IN BED. You know how it goes, scrolling on the phone, getting caught up in a tv show, etc. I suggest all electronics are away in bed, make it a rule and follow it (I bet you’ll get at least 30 minutes of sleep or maybe even an extra REM cycle 😉 Nine then turns to eight hours, eight turns to seven because of tossing and turning, and seven turns to 6 because of unexpected interrupts. Accordingly, to my Fitbit watch I use every night to track my sleep cycles state that it is typical to see 10-30 awake times each night! “Some of these moments are so short, you may not even remember them.”
Back to that “aim for 9 hours of sleep,” basically because that’s not even the REAL, true number of “adequate sleep we are getting” perhaps only about 4-5 of those hours are quality sleep. Remember quality over quantity here.
Reduce & Manage Stress
Chronic stress is linked to every health problem out there. It affects most, if not all of us. Stress impacts health by sending chemical signals all throughout the body. Stress is never going to go away fully so we must find ways to reduce it and to cope with it. The known natural stress relievers are mindfulness mediation, deep breathing exercises, massage/acupuncture, or even enjoying outdoors/ nature. I realize reducing stress may be harder than nutrition or anything else. But think of ways that are best to start accommodating in your everyday life that will help you cope with your daily stressors. For example, maybe leave a book by your bed that you can grab rather than your cell phone, get a journal and start seeking gratitude daily, how about finding something that you enjoy; puzzles, coloring, reading etc..
Using natural herbs/ supplements
Herbs/ supps can help naturally lower cortisol levels by helping balance hormones, reducing inflammation due to their strong antioxidants within, reduce antibacterial effects, naturally help antidepressant effects
- Licorice root
- Holy basil
- Medicinal mushrooms, including Resishi and Cordyceps
*I personally don’t take herbs on a daily; but the two most popular ones recently are Ashwaganda and Licorice root.
- Opti-Greens 50
- Opti-Reds 50
- Core-21 (its expensive because of the adequate serving size but hey IT WORKs, fantastic for nightly ritual)
I have found that using CBD has helped my able to focus more throughout the day (mind of an ADHD) which assists in decreasing anxiety levels as well. Read my Blog Post—“EVERYTHING you need to know about CBD!” for more information.
As far as the Opti greens and Opti Reds has helped me; digestion & gut health along with massive improvements with my inflammation and recovery.
Here is a list of some causes of elevated cortisol levels:
- High sugar, high- glycemic diet with lots of processed foods
- Too much intake of caffeine & alcohol
- Not consuming enough micronutrients of carbs/fats/ protein leading to high blood pressure, hunger & weight gain
- Not consuming enough fiber, making it harder to balance blood sugar
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Blood sugar imbalances; hyperglycemia
- Suppressed thyroid function
As you’ve just read above there are some causes of cortisol we can control and some that are out of our control. This blog post is to discuss ways in which we can aim to lower our cortisol levels if we are in full control of doing so without any major contradictions.
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