What is Cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone created by the adrenal glands in your kidneys, then released into the bloodstream. Just like testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, melatonin, and DHEA, your body like to keep the balance of each hormone under its control, and does not like big shifts in change.
“Almost every cell contains receptors for cortisol and so cortisol can have lots of different actions depending on which sort of cells it is acting upon. These effects include controlling the body’s blood sugar levels and thus regulating metabolism, acting as an anti-inflammatory, influencing memory formation, controlling salt and water balance, influencing blood pressure and helping the development of the fetus.” (source)
Most importantly, the biggest impact that cortisol is most well known for is the ability to influence 2 things; Your Sleep and Stress Levels.
Can I Control How Much I Have?
Throughout the day, your adrenal glands act like toll bridge booths, regulating the amount released to take on some of its duties. Cortisol follows what is called a diurnal rhythm, meaning your levels peak (the most) in the morning just before sunrise, and hitting its lowest levels a few hours after falling asleep. That is why usually productivity, cheeriness, and energy are usually is its highest in the morning, then decreases as the day goes on (aside from just “feeling tired” from exercise or using your body, this hormone plays a big part in those feelings).
That being said, there is absolutely the ability to influence cortisol to rise and fall with your habits, emotions, and overall bodily health.
Too Much Cortisol…
Having too much cortisol is much more common than having too little; so be sure to read to the end of this article for some of my recommendations to regulate your levels of cortisol to improve longevity naturally. But before just skipping to the ending, wouldn’t it make the most sense to know some signs and symptoms to look out for? Your body is a great fortune teller and communicator. The hardest part of that is knowing what to look for, and how to address it; today, I will share with you how.
In the most severe case of heightened cortisol, the development of Cushing’s Syndrome, which is rare unless you load the body with steroid medications for asthma, eczema, or arthritis.
Don’t WebMD diagnose yourself, but here is a link for more information on Cushing’s syndrome if you or someone you know has been dealing with those medications and want to find more information.
Over-Production of certain hormones causes there to be a decrease in the production of others. The ones I listed above are all adrenal hormones, so if one hormone is hogging the toll booth gate of your Adrenal Glands, the others won’t be able to get by and hit the bloodstream-highway. Here are some symptoms and feelings that you might feel with elevated levels of cortisol;
My Muscles and Strength Won’t Seem to Progress
“You’re losing interest in strength training because you’re just not seeing the gains. If you really go for it the delayed onset soreness affects your other training for days.
DHEA and testosterone are essential for long term muscle building projects, and over producing cortisol will always lead to low levels of both because they are produced from the same precursors. It makes perfect sense to favor the stress response over building new lean muscle. Your body doesn’t need new muscle if you might not even survive the day.” – Christopher Kelly, Nourish Balance Thrive
Lack of Lust
Your sex hormones can pay the price for that toll booth blockage, decreasing potential sex drive (the notorious “I’m just too tired” or “going through the motions” feeling), and for pre-menopausal women can create irregular monthly periods.
Since your body is designed to decrease its levels as the day goes on, having consistently elevated cortisol can impact how soundly you sleep each night; high cortisol means low melatonin, the sleepy time hormone.
Sad Poopies and an Upset Stomach
When I say sad poopies, I don’t mean you are bawling your eyes out while sitting on the toilet (but if that sound like you, maybe cortisol isn’t your only thing to worry about?). Your stomach and intestinal health can be referred to as ‘your second brain’. So anything that could be causing distress in the body, your digestive system will send off warning signs like cramping, diarrhea, excessive bloating or gurgling, and other unpleasant sounds and feelings. Those sounds come from improper digestion, something is causing it to not go the way it planned.
Chronic Over-Production of Cortisol…
Can lead to chronic-digestion inefficiencies, and can even cause a lowering of your immune system by the impact it has on your gut microbiome. But before you run to your local drug store and start popping melatonin pills to try and offset this balance, that would be the equivalent of throwing a band-aid on a battle wound. Determine the root cause of the issue and go for that first, rather than trying to treat the symptoms of a larger, underlying issue…it will be much better for you in the long run!
Before you run to your local drug store and start popping melatonin pills, Pepto Bismol, and Viagra – although it’s one hell of a shopping list – try and offset this balance by paying attention to the times of day, and how frequently you have these feelings. Determine the root cause of the issue and go for that first, rather than trying to treat the symptoms of a larger, underlying issue; that would be the equivalent of throwing a band-aid on a battle wound….it will be much better for you in the long run!
Too Little Cortisol…
Although it is somewhat easy to send a sharp rise in cortisol, the same does not hold true for having too little. Your body will feel residual effects from a decreased level of cortisol because of the adrenal hormone imbalance. Now don’t be too alarmed, the symptoms are not directly damaging to your body like a big drop in blood pressure, severe dehydration or an emergency event; the effects might be small it’s hard to notice. But be on the lookout for some of these behaviors and expressions your body shows;
Low Energy Contributing to Sugar and Carbohydrate Cravings
A drop in cortisol can most certainly lead to a drop in energy. But what happens when you feel like its time for a pick-me-up? That’s right, time for a snack, of course! With lunch barely finishing digestion, you find yourself rummaging for snacks, energy bars, nuts, crackers…basically anything you can get your hands on. Eating to relieve symptoms is usually a no-doubt weight gaining endeavor, and is an easy habit I think everyone has fallen into in their lives. So I urge to simply question yourself if you are really hungry, or just filling some other void.
Ways to Regulate Your Cortisol to Improve Your Longevity
The only real way to test for low/high cortisol is through blood samples and a testing kit. If you have $180 to spend on that service, here is a link to that option. If you don’t have the luxury of 200 bucks lying around (like most of us), a good alternative is to use tactics that have been proven to regulate cortisol and adrenal gland function. I encourage you to add one of these into your routine, either as a supplement or a habit you create, to be proactive with achieving a balance of this hormone:
“They are harmless plants with no side effects. They increase the general capacity of the human body to adapt to stress and they increase resistance to disease…They have a “normalizing” effect on the imbalances caused by physical or emotional stress. Examples of physical and emotional stress would include depression, anxiety, noise and occupational tension, biological stress from infection, chemical stress from alcohol, salt and environmental toxins and even changes in external conditions such as high altitude, extreme climate or irregular day rhythms.”
Basically, these fancy plants called Adaptogens are a risk-free approach to rid your body of stress and create a better ‘normal’. Here are a few examples;
Ashwagandha: Shown to increase energy and mental alertness during the day, and also been proven to help you sleep better at night. Ashwagandha has also been shown effective in assisting adrenal function, helping you overcome adrenal fatigue and chronic stress; two big precursors to cortisol imbalance
Rhodiola: It reduces the effects your body feels from prolonged fatigue and exhaustion. It is a highly reliable way to improve symptoms of stress and fatigue both related to exercise or not.
Holy Basil: This is not the same basil you might grow out in your garden. Also known as Tulsi, Holy Basil can be, and has been used to lower elevated cortisol and regulate blood sugar.
Beginning and ending each day through reflection and positive thinking can heal the body in many ways. I can’t tell you how journaling should make you feel (as long as it is not forced), but if done consistently and with an open mind, I think is the best remedy to free boatloads of stress from within your body. if you want some more direction with how to get started journaling, please message me and I can share some questions I’ve learned to help open up great responses and release emotions.
Remember, your body is pretty good at regulating cortisol on its own when big external stressors are absent, so please don’t stress about that…Seriously, stressing about how your stress levels effect cortisol is not the best method here!