Cortisol is a natural hormone secreted in the body to facilitate vital bodily functions, such as glucose metabolism, blood pressure regulation, insulin level regulation, immune function, and as a response to inflammation. It has been dubbed the “stress hormone” because it is secreted at higher levels when the body is under “fight or flight” situations. Higher levels of cortisol provide us with heightened awareness and strength to tackle stressful situations, but if the body does not have a relaxation response to bring cortisol levels into check, then the hormone can prove harmful. Chronic high levels of cortisol can result in slower cognitive performance, disrupted thyroid function, lower immunity and inflammatory responses, and increased abdominal fat. Abdominal fat in high levels can be extremely harmful to health and increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and dangerous cholesterol levels. Our high stressed, fast-paced lifestyles mean some of us are constantly being pumped with cortisol, but here are some ways to reduce cortisol levels so that the hormone can do more good than harm.
Stop Drinking Caffeine
Caffeine has the ability to increase cortisol levels 30% in one hour. Caffeine artificially induces the body’s “fight or flight” instincts and also decreases DHEA, a leading anabolic youth hormone.
Cortisol levels are highest in the morning and should slowly decline into the evening (pending a not too stressful day), so a proper night sleep is important to maintaining this cycle. As you age, the level of cortisol produced while sleeping can increase 30 fold from age 30 to age 50. Not getting enough sleep, or deep enough sleep can exacerbate this. If you find you are not sleeping in a regular routine, try taking melatonin. Also naturally produced in the body, increased levels of melatonin can induce deeper and healthier sleep, keeping cortisol levels in check.
Regular exercise increase serotonin and dopamine levels, brain chemicals that alleviate anxiety and stress. Subsequently this will lead to less stress and lower cortisol levels. Exercise is also good for building muscle and increasing the hormone DHEA, resulting in an overall better sense of well-being.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Keeping blood sugar levels stable keeps cortisol levels stable. Avoid sugar and processed carbohydrates like white flour and bread. Eating more complex carbohydrates keep cortisol levels in check, as opposed to eating refined carbohydrates. The timing of meals also contributes to blood sugar levels. Eat several smaller meals throughout the day, balanced in protein, complex carbohydrates, and “good” fats like olive oil or avocado. Avoid eating large meals or gorging, as this will throw the blood sugar and cortisol balance off. Stay hydrated; dehydration puts tremendous stress on all of the body’s functions, and will trigger the release of more cortisol.
Practice meditation or other forms of methodized relaxation. Taking time to relax increases theta brain waves and reduce stress-causing alpha brainwaves. Avoid alarm clocks that are abrasive or jolting in the morning. Supplements like B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, chromium and zinc help reduce cortisol and keep hormone levels in balance. Antioxidants like vitamin C, alpha lipolic acid, and grape seed extract help remove toxins from the bloodstream and reduce stress on organs.