02 Nov What is Cortisol?
If fight – flight comes to mind when you think of Cortisol, you are right. Think of it as nature’s built-in alarm system. It’s your body’s main stress hormone. It works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation, and fear. Designed to protect you, cortisol is an important hormone. So, what is cortisol?
Your adrenal glands are triangle-shaped organs that sit at the top of your kidneys and are responsible for releasing cortisol.
Cortisol plays an important role in your body.
· Manages how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
· Keeps inflammation down
· Regulates your blood pressure
· Increases your blood sugar (glucose)
· Controls your sleep/wake cycle
· Boosts energy so you can handle stress and restores balance afterward
How Does It Work?
Located in your brain, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland can sense if your blood contains the right level of cortisol. If the level is too low, your brain adjusts the hormones it makes. Your adrenal glands pick up on these signals. Then, they customize the amount of cortisol they then release. Another way the body was so brilliantly created to work in harmony. Cortisol receptors, which are in most cells in your body receive and use the hormone in different ways depending on your day-to-day needs. For instance, when your body is on high alert, cortisol can alter or shut down functions that get in the way. These might include your digestive or reproductive systems, your immune system, or even your growth processes. When there is a stressor it’s like calling 911. All the resources needed go to that emergency and everything else gets put on hold. This is a natural response to an acute situation, however when there is chronic stress, your cortisol levels can get out of balance causing adrenal burnout not to mention those areas on hold losing much needed attention.
Too Much Stress
After the pressure or danger has passed, your cortisol level should calm down and go back to what we call homeostasis (balance). Your heart, blood pressure, and other body systems will get back to normal.
But what if you’re under chronic stress and the 911 button stays on indefinitely? It can derail your body’s most important functions. It can also lead to several health problems, including:
Anxiety and depression
Memory and concentration problems
Problems with digestion
Trouble sleeping Weight gain – especially around the abdomen
Too Much Cortisol
Ongoing elevated cortisol could also be a nodule (mass) in your adrenal gland or a tumor in the brain’s pituitary gland which can trigger your body to make too much cortisol. This can cause a condition called Cushing syndrome. It can lead to rapid weight gain, skin that bruises easily, muscle weakness, diabetes, and many other health problems.
Too Little Cortisol
If your body doesn’t make enough of this hormone, you have a condition doctors call Addison’s disease. Usually, the symptoms appear over time. They include: Changes in your skin, like darkening on scars and in skin folds Being tired all the time Muscle weakness that grows worse Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting Loss of appetite and weight Low blood pressure.
Balancing High Cortisol Levels in Your Body
Experiencing chronically high levels of cortisol or chronically low levels of cortisol isn’t normal for anyone and as you see can cause autoimmune conditions. It’s something the body should be able to combat on its own. If it can’t regulate cortisol levels by itself, that means there’s something larger in play that needs to be looked at.
The good news is there are a variety of things you can do to help the body learn to balance cortisol levels, which can help you.
Lowering Cortisol Levels Through Your Diet
Eating a healthy diet is necessary for a ton of reasons, including regulating cortisol levels. This means lowering your sugar intake, avoiding processed foods, and reducing caffeine intake which can overwhelm adrenals. Replace bad fats with healthy fats and replace a high-sugar or simple carb diet with complex carbs and limit your sugar intake to 25 grams a day for women and 35 for men. For more info visit https://sandijstar.com/blog/ for several articles on nutrition.
You should also make sure you’re eating enough protein, whether it’s from animals or plants as proteins are the building blocks we need for cellular growth and repair as well as muscle growth and toning. Protein is a macronutrient that plays a crucial part of the processes that fuel your energy and carry oxygen throughout your body in the blood. Your immune system also depends on healthy proteins.
Lowering Cortisol Levels with a Better Sleep Schedule
Ensuring you maintain a healthy and consistent sleep schedule is important for both physical and mental health. A good night’s sleep will help you relax and rejuvenate for the following day not to mention it’s a time our body does its healing. Restful sleep balances your body in a variety of ways, including cortisol levels.
If you have trouble sleeping or suffer from poor sleep quality, make sure you have the right environment for it. Keep the room dark and cool, stay away from your mobile device, avoid caffeine and heavy food before sleeping, exercise regularly, and use a sleep mask if needed.
Decrease Cortisol Levels with Deep Breathing Exercises
Have you ever caught yourself shallow breathing or holding your breath under stress? It’s important to know just as sleep relaxes and rejuvenates the body, deep breathing can help you achieve it during the day. That’s because it helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system — which is responsible for relaxation and digestion response while relaxed.
An easy to remember form of mindfulness-based stress reduction is the box breathing technique, which is when you breathe in for five seconds, hold for five seconds, breathe out for five seconds, and then hold for another five seconds. Repeat as needed.
I can’t stress enough about managing stress and having balance in life. A study was done over the last few years with the pandemic and found chronic stress influenced disease by 80%. Stress is healthy if it is short term and if we manage it well. Make sure you have a healthy support system and take time to take care of yourself. Take time for downtime. I’m a big advocate for honoring the body and what it’s daily needs are.
Reduce Cortisol Levels with Adrenal Adaptogens
Apoptogenic herbs are non-toxic plants that are known to help the body respond to everyday stressors. They have the innate ability to adapt and balance the body’s needs.
Some of the most important adrenal adaptogens include Asian Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Rhodiola Rosea, Schisandra, and Reishi mushrooms. You can also add green tea to your diet, which contains L-Theanine.
We have a fantastic Sleep & Stress Support Plan that includes adaptogens and supporting nutrients for sleep and stress support. Learn More at www.sandijstar.com/shop
Spend Quality Time Outdoors & With Nature
Another way you can help the body restore, regulate, and balance cortisol levels is via exposure to nature. Most of us spend so much of our time indoors, in front of screens, but little do we know that spending time outdoors is necessary for the mind and body. I call it grounding and it has some amazing benefits. Walk barefoot outside on grass or on the beach and you’ve just done grounding.
The best ways to do this are through sunlight exposure. Sunlight exposure to the skin is also necessary for the natural production of Vitamin D. Keep in mind if your liver is not in optimal health, you might not be processing Vitamin D naturally. If taking a Vitamin D supplement which is quite common as most labs I see, people are in the low range, make sure it also has Vitamin K which helps it uptake into the cells where its needed