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 or you’re wondering how to lower your cortisol levels...
In this article, I'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, your 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.
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.
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 problems.
Because the consequences of having a cortisol imbalance are serious, it’s important you understand why your body is creating cortisol and how to help your body naturally 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
• Low energy
• Low libido
Some stressors that can result in cortisol and the “fight or flight” response include:
• Poor diet
• Poor sleep
• Intense Workouts
• 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 more, rather than allowing the body to resume typical bodily functions.
As stated above, it is more common these days for someone to have consistently elevated 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 learn how to reduce cortisol levels and manage them by following some simple steps.
Maintain your cortisol by:
Eating a Healthy Diet
One of the fundamental ways to keep your cortisol levels in check is by maintaining a healthy diet.
On top of that, keeping your body weight under control can help you maintain proper levels of blood cortisol. With a balanced diet, not only are you better at maintaining a healthy cortisol level, but you’re also improving your overall health.
There are even particular foods you can eat which will help regulate inflammation and cortisol.
Here's a list of foods that can aid in reducing cortisol levels:
Complex Carbohydrates: Incorporate whole grains like oats, quinoa, and brown rice into your meals. They can help stabilize blood sugar levels, preventing spikes in cortisol.
Fruits and Vegetables: Load up on a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. They are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients that combat inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which can lead to higher cortisol levels.
Lean Proteins: Opt for lean sources of protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, and legumes. Protein-rich foods help stabilize blood sugar and promote a feeling of fullness, reducing the urge to stress-eat.
Fatty Fish: Salmon, mackerel, and trout are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce cortisol levels and alleviate stress.
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are excellent sources of healthy fats and antioxidants which can help regulate cortisol and inflammation.
Probiotic-Rich Foods: Foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut contain probiotics that support gut health. A healthy gut can help regulate cortisol production.
Magnesium-Rich Foods: Spinach, kale, avocados, and almonds are excellent sources of magnesium, which can help relax muscles and reduce stress.
Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, which can combat stress-related inflammation.
A well-rounded, balanced diet is key to managing cortisol levels. By incorporating these foods into your daily meals, you can take a proactive approach to reducing stress. Just make sure to drink plenty of water as well!
Using 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.
Getting More Sleep
A lack of sleep has a similar cascading effect to poor eating.
The less sleep you have, the more junk you’ll crave for energy.
The less sleep you get, the less likely you’ll work out that day.
Also, we tend to simply feel better when we 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 quality 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.
Exercise releases feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin.
These hormones will help you feel better throughout the day which means you’ll be more likely to eat better, sleep better, and feel less stressed!
Word to the wise here though, hammering out long durations of cardio or doing really intense workouts would not be beneficial if your goal is to reduce cortisol levels.
Instead, I would look at being more efficient with your gym time ... doing a 20-30 minute weightlifting workout that consists of supersets ... then for cardio, just a casual walk around the block would be a good place to start.
How to Reduce Cortisol Levels With 1st Phorm
As you can see, maintaining proper cortisol levels has more to do with general self-care than it does any specific "magic bullet".
Nutrition, exercise, sleep, 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.
1st Phorm can help supplement your current efforts to live a healthy life and lower your cortisol levels.
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, we can help you achieve them.
So never hesitate to reach out! You can pick up the phone and talk to a real person right here at 1st Phorm HQ, every day from 6 AM to 10 PM by calling 1-800-409-9732. Or you can send us an email at any time at CustomerService@1stPhorm.com.
You can also download the 1st Phorm App – The ultimate, all-in-one tool on your journey to a healthier and happier you.
Download the app today to access expert assistance, track your progress, log your nutrition, and explore a library of workout programs for your goals.ABOUT THE AUTHOR