Do you know what cortisol is? Do you know how it can make you gain weight? Lose weight? Feel depressed?
To start, cortisol is the stress hormone, necessary for humans to be alive, but also associated as a side effect of chronic stress. If you’re wondering how to feel less stressed, you’re wondering how to lower your cortisol levels.
In this article, we’ll tell you all about cortisol and how to maintain proper levels of it.
What Is Cortisol
Cortisol is a naturally occurring hormone. Think of it as if the chemical compound that raises the alarm should your body ever need one. It’s produced by your adrenal glands which are right on top of your kidneys. Cortisol is released into the bloodstream where it plays multiple roles.
Cortisol can help the body respond to stress or danger. This is known as the fight or flight response. This is the “alarm” we talked about earlier. Whenever you’re going through a stressful situation like something at work going wrong or coming into contact with someone in an alleyway, you’re body releases cortisol to help you better deal with the problem. But other lifestyle habits raise cortisol levels such as stimulant intake from coffee, energy drinks, pre-workouts or simply even working out.
It can also help increase your body’s ability to metabolize glucose. This is why certain cortisol-related diseases are primarily associated with weight gain. More specifically, Cushing syndrome, a disease associated with an overabundance of cortisol, is associated with excessive weight gain and belly fat.
Cortisol is also important because it helps keep your blood pressure in check and it can reduce inflammation. It also affects your sleep patterns and your body’s energy levels.
Cortisol is such an important hormone but it’s also important that you do not have too much or too little of it in your system. Unfortunately due to the fast-paced world we live in and the constant bombardment of stimulus from the world around us… many people live with elevated cortisol levels. Which when this happens for prolonged periods of time it can lead to weight gain, feeling wired and tired, poor sleep, poor performance in the gym, and even more serious diseases. Because the consequences of having a cortisol imbalance are serious, it’s important you understand why your body is creating cortisol and how to lower your cortisol levels if necessary.
What Makes Your Body Produce Cortisol
Your adrenal glands may make cortisol but it’s your hypothalamus and pituitary gland that regulate your cortisol production. They monitor your blood cortisol levels and tell your adrenal glands whether or not they need to start producing more cortisol or less. Essentially, the adrenal glands work to maintain balance in your system.
A state of perpetual stress tends to nullify the balancing processes, and the body tries to adapt to the imbalance… which can potentially worsen the conditions.
Depending on whether you have too much or too little cortisol, symptoms can include:
- Weight gain
- Fragile skin
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Irregular menstruation
- Abdominal pain
- Low energy
- Low libido
Some stressors that can result in cortisol and the “fight or flight” response include:
- Underlying disease
- Poor diet
- Poor sleep
- Unhealthy relationships
- Suppressed emotions
- Emotional stress
- Rough times at work
- Alcohol consumption
If you’re chronically stressed, the chronic cortisol production keeps the body in that “fight or flight” mode constantly, rather than allowing the body to resume typical bodily functions.
As stated above, it is more common these days for someone to have too much cortisol than not enough. But I want to make it clear that cortisol is not the bad guy, having the wrong amounts is what leads to negative consequences.
How to Lower Cortisol
Although most people are worried about having too much cortisol, it’s more important to maintain proper levels than anything else. Generally speaking, you can do that by following some simple steps.
Maintain your cortisol by:
Eat a healthy diet
Keeping your body weight under control will help you maintain the proper levels of blood cortisol. Not only that, but your diet is one of the easiest ways to lower cholesterol, improve skin health, and improve overall health. So not only are you better maintaining a healthy cortisol level, but you’re also improving your overall health. Make sure to drink plenty of water as well!
Use relaxation techniques
One of the biggest triggers of cortisol production is stress. Not only does stress cause cortisol production, but it causes people to exercise less, overeat, and generally feel bad about themselves. This combination can cause a variety of physical and emotional health issues. Even if your cortisol doesn’t increase dramatically, this combination will produce a similar result to high cortisol levels. Whether it’s meditation, a massage, or general mindfulness, practicing good relaxation techniques will help reduce stress in your life.
Get more sleep
A lack of sleep has a similar cascading effect that poor eating has. The less sleep you have, the more junk you’ll crave for energy. The less sleep you get, the less likely you’ll workout that day. Also, people always feel better when they get the proper amount of sleep which reduces stress. To avoid these negative side effects, make sure to aim for at least 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night.
A few ways to optimize sleep include:
- Being as physically active as possible during your waking hours
- Keep a regular bedtime as often as possible
- Avoid caffeine at night
- Turn off screens well before you’re settling in for the night
- Try white noise and silencing your phone to begin limiting distractions before bed
Laughter has a similar effect as meditation. Laughter helps you relieve stress and feel better about yourself, ultimately helping you maintain your cortisol levels within a healthy range. So watch your favorite hour of stand up or go hang out with some friends. Either way, your body will thank you. Laughter truly is the best medicine.
Exercise releases feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. These hormones will help you feel better throughout the day which means you’ll eat better, sleep better, and feel less stressed out. Word to the wise hear though, hammering out long durations of cardio or doing really intense workouts would not be beneficial if your goal is to lower cortisol levels. Instead, I would look at being more efficient with your gym time. doing a 20-30 minute weight lifting workout that consists of supersets. Then for cardio, just a casual walk around the block would be a good place to start.
1st Phorm Can Supplement Your Efforts To Maintain Your Cortisol Levels
As you can see, maintaining proper cortisol levels has more to do with general self-care then it does anyone magic bullet. Nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress release, and relaxation all play a synergistic role in keeping your cortisol in-check.
As you pay more attention to your body and stress levels, you’ll begin to recognize and alleviate stressful times. Focusing on your mental and physical state makes you the boss of them, rather than they’re the boss of you.
1st Phorm can help supplement your current efforts to live a healthy life. 1st Phorm does this by giving you the protein, energy, and nutrition you need to workout and keep going. One of my favorite products that we make is Core-21 which is an evening product to help your body naturally lower cortisol levels. This can lead to better relaxation, an easier time falling asleep, reaching deeper REM sleep, and overall helping to improve your sleep quality while lowering cortisol levels.
No matter what your fitness goals are, whether it’s how to lower cortisol levels or not, 1st Phorm can help you achieve them.
Come, check out our supplement line today.
*This post was written by Will Grumke. He is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, NASM Certified Weight Loss Specialist, NASM Certified Behavioral Change Specialist, and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer