Cortisol is our "stress hormone".
Our body produces it to help us deal with stressful situations, such as "running away from a threat".
When produced, Cortisol leads to an increase in blood glucose (sugar), blood pressure, a shut-down of inflammation and healing, and a shut-down of sexual functions.
This is all done "by design", since when dealing with a "threat", your priority should be to "survive": run away or fight.
So Cortisol is an ESSENTIAL hormone for human function.
HOWEVER: CONTINUOUSLY elevated levels of cortisol means all the good things that Cortisol does (increase in blood sugar, blood pressure, etc) now happen all the time, leading to serious problems.
Some of the common problems associated with continuously elevated levels of Cortisol include:
- Diabetes & fat gain
- Blood pressure
- Increase in cardiovascular / heart disease risk
- Major drop in sex hormones (testosterone & progesterone)
- Liver stress
- Reduced bone density & loss of collagen and calcium
- Cravings for sugary foods
- High levels of "bad" cholesterol
- Increased water retention
- Weakening of immune system
- Reduced neuro-regeneration: ability to repair nervous system
- Mood swings & difficulties in relationships
So what causes Cortisol to be "continuously" elevated?
Your body cannot tell where the stress is coming from, it just reacts in the exact same way: increase in cortisol in response to being "threatened".
So what causes the body to feel "threatened"? Studies have shown that a Cortisol release can occur because of a number of factors, including:
- Physical over-training (e.g. athletes who don't get enough recovery)
- Emotional & mental stress
- Foods which cause inflammation (processed foods, sugar, some grains, soy, etc.)
- Sleep quantity and quality
- Endocrine (hormonal) disruptors in most beauty and body-care products
- Lack of sufficient sun exposure
- Continuous dieting (body perceives constant absence of food as a threat
So what can we do to keep Cortisol levels in balance?
There are 4 areas to focus on, and they all deserve equal attention:
- Minimize the cause
- Stress-lowering practices
- Increase consumption of cortisol-lowering foods
1. Minimize the cause
As discussed above, there are a number of stress-related triggers which cause Cortisol to remain continuously elevated.
Of course it's easy for me to say: "just avoid those triggers"! But let's face it: none of us live in a hut at the top of a mountain (with wifi of course!). We have to face reality after all, so:
If you're an athlete (pro or amateur): make sure you don't slip into over-training. If you're not able to modulate your training yourself, get a coach. In fact, even if you have a coach, use the tools I've talked about in previous articles/videos, such as Heart Rate Variability (I use HRV4 Training), Resting Heart Rate, and Blood Glucose testing to help manage your training and keep yourself from going over the edge. If you're an athlete looking to know about about Cortisol, read this.
If you're facing emotional/mental/work/family stress: I'm never going to tell you "just don't stress". Stress is caused by 2 things: (i) not liking the outcome/result you're getting, and (ii) not feeling that you have full control over the situation. The good news is that both these issues can be addressed by learning and applying tools I talk about all the time on my blog/videos: psychology and productivity tools which help you get control back in your life, and more importantly, control of the ultimate result.
The bad news is that if I were to discuss these science-proven tools, this article will turn into a book! SO: please go to my main blog and browse through the articles and videos or attend one of my seminars, and I'm sure you'll start to pick up and apply these tools with positive results!
If you're facing health issues: (i) avoid foods known to trigger inflammation, (ii) monitor your sleep with a FitBit or an app like Sleep Cycle, (iii) switch from chemical-heavy beauty products to natural/organic products, (iv) get at least 30min/day of sunlight exposure, and (v) drink at least 2L of water per day, and (vi) don't let your body go into "starvation" mode by drastically cutting calories every day.
2. Stress Lowering Practices
Once you've reduced the stress triggers, it's time to start incorporating some stress-reducing practices, which can include:
Physical: early morning long walks, yoga, 5min of eyes closed and deep breathing scattered throughout the day, taking walking breaks every 2 hours at work, 2-3 times/week of intense exercise, going into the mountains for clean air, etc.
Mental: daily mindfulness practice (I use Headspace), daily journaling (use a guide like the 5 Minute Journal), start your day with a clear purpose for that specific day to act as your compass. I talk extensively about the psychology of motivation and inspiration in my various articles / videos, so I'm sure you'll find plenty of additional tools there.
3. Consume Cortisol-Lowering Foods
I'll keep this one simple: you need to give your body the ingredients it needs to repair the damage caused by all of the above, and this will help it lower cortisol. Foods containing such ingredients include:
- Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, rocket, rocca, etc.). Avoid pesticide-laden leaves and choose organic whenever possible.
- Grass-fed organic meats (beef, lamb, goat). These are important to give your body the essential amino acids and fats.
- Extra virgin olive oil: powerful anti-oxidant to help fight damage.
- Other important fats: avocado, raw nuts (again, choose organic whenever possible).
- Spices: cinnamon, garlic and turmeric have powerful anti-inflammatory compounds.
I won't go into detail on this since it's all in my free Supplement Guide, but some highlights are:
- B-Vitamin Complex
- GABA and Taurine (if you're having trouble sleeping)
- Curcumin and garlic
- Magnesium and Zinc
- Omega 3
- Vitamins C, D, E
So here we go: a full overview of Cortisol: we call it "stress hormone" and we automatically think bad things about it.
However it's essential for human survival. So we need to focus on keeping it balanced, just like all of our hormones.
As usual, any questions / comments please type in below.