Today I have some practical tips to manage cortisol, symptoms to be aware of, and the top lifestyle mistakes we make affecting our stress hormones, weight, and happiness.
Cortisol is produced in the adrenal cortex in response to stress. It plays an important role in regulating vital endocrine functions, such as;
- Blood sugar regulation
- Energy production
- Blood pressure maintenance
- Regulation and kidney function
- Fat building
- Muscle building and protein synthesis
- Inflammatory processes
- Immune system function and healing
An important function of cortisol is to make the thyroid work more efficiently. Having an optimal amount of it, not too high and not too low, is crucial for normal thyroid function – and vice-versa.
Factors that affect cortisol levels
According to studies, decreasing your sleep from 8 hours to 6 per night can significantly increase your cortisol and insulin levels in just a week!
Repeated intake of caffeine over a day can cause a marked increase in the level of cortisol.
Alcohol stimulates the HPA axis by suppressing the nerve cells responsible for inhibiting HPA activity. As a result, the HPA axis activity gets elevated, resulting in higher cortisol levels.
External stresses affect us in the same way, be it a pressure job, juggling a million things and not getting down-time, or dealing with big life evets (think weddings, deaths, financial hardship)
Internal and disease factors are another form of stress that can trigger cortisol, such as autoimmune diseases.
Knowing if you have HIGH or LOW cortisol requires a 3-point salivary cortisol test. As you may have noticed, many symptoms overlap, so guessing isn’t an option.
If you know which bracket you are in, here are some top tips to help regulate your cortisol. If you don’t know, click here to book a consult and take the first step to better stress hormones.
Do this if you have HIGH cortisol
- Increase omega 3 foods in the diet, such as salmon. It reduces inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.
- Drink Green Tea. L-theanine in green tea can cross the blood brain barrier and promote relaxation. Ironically, the l-theanine seems to counteract the caffiene and reduce cortisol levels.
- Have a glutamine rich diet – glutamine helps protein synthesis, immune function, gut barrier repair, and managing cortisol levels in the muscle. Foods include bone broth, meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, and can be purchased as a supplement.
- Fruit and Vege – fresh produce rich in vitamin C helps lower cortisol.
- Exercise for no more than 1 hour. Promotes the production of serotonin and dopamine.
- Breathing exercises. Breathing centers the mind, and relaxes the nervous system rapidly. Use mindfulness, focus on the in and out breath, and feel into your body.
Do this if you have LOW cortisol
- Eat 1.5 grams of high quality protein per kg of your body weight every day.
- Omit poor versions of salt, and introduce 1 teaspoon of natural salt to the diet daily – eg Himalayan or Celtic sea salt.
- Exercise in the morning only. Cortisol should be highest 60 minutes after waking, so to train your body, do some exercise 45 minutes after waking, ideally in the sunshine.
- Drink licorice tea – unless you have high blood pressure.
- Increase vitamin C rich foods in the diet.
- Have a set night routine – and stick to it!
- Get sunshine a few times through the day.
- Work with an integrated practitioner who understands the role of natural and conventional treatments to get you feeling well again.
It’s easy to tell you to sleep at a more regular time, lose weight for health, and eat a healthy diet.
But the reality is that it usually is really hard to correct these lifestyle factors!
Sleep disruption can be really hard to correct, and is often the result of several factors, including nutritional deficiency, poor diet, digestive symptoms affecting bioavailability of nutrients in the diet, and other hormone imbalances.
The only way to distinguish what is causing what is with pathology targeting sub-optimal function in the body’s systems.
General GP testing is designed to discover disease states. However, symptoms are usually present for many years before a disease develops, and functional pathology is designed to find these imbalances before they become a serious disease.
The benefit of discovering the imbalance early is that is usually reversible, resulting in you feeling healthy, and not needing future medications or surgeries – and THAT is a great thing!