Most everyone has heard of cortisol, but you may not realize the far-reaching impacts chronically high levels of cortisol and adrenaline can have within the body. Did you know high levels of stress hormones can cause weight gain? Anxiety? Depression?
The impacts of high cortisol can be pretty detrimental when we don’t keep our stressors, and in turn, hormones in check - which is why we are going to cover what tends to cause us to produce high cortisol, it’s pros and cons, and most importantly, how to manage and lower our cortisol levels!
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that the body produces from cholesterol in the two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney. Like we’ve talked about in past blogs, cortisol is a beneficial hormone, when it is produced in the proper amounts. It regulates energy by assisting in the selection of the proper amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, or fats the body needs to meet the demands we place on it.
Cortisol also helps regulate blood sugar, metabolism, reduces inflammation, and controls salt and water balance within the body. This is why when stress gets high, we often retain water weight and can appear ‘bloated’ due to cortisol working to regulate balance. All of these functions make cortisol a crucial hormone to protect our health (Source).
But as we all know, too much of a good thing can turn into a bad situation, and cortisol is no exception.
When the body experiences over-production, or chronic production, of cortisol and stress hormones, we run into a host of issues. Chronically elevated cortisol can hinder our metabolism, and it can even contribute to metabolic syndrome and reduce our ability to lose body fat when dieting because it increases the likelihood to consume high-calorie foods (1).
Like we said, the adrenal glands produce cortisol and adrenaline, but the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland regulate that production (aka the HPA Axis). They act as our ‘alarm system’ of the body, constantly scanning for problems that may arise to pull us into ‘fight or flight’. They work to balance the systems, and with chronic stress, you essentially numb that balancing act and then the body works to adapt to imbalance. Some symptoms to watch out for of chronically high (or low) stress hormones include:
So what causes high cortisol, and ultimately result in the above symptoms?
I bet we can all relate to far too many of those things on that list. Acute cortisol production keeps us healthy and safe, chronic cortisol production is where the problem comes in.
Sometimes it can seem like managing stress is a lost-cause with how many things we have going on in life today, but there are actually quite a few easy things you can implement to lower your cortisol levels.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
There are a lot of vitamins and nutrients that your body needs to help function under high stress times, and without proper intake of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein sources - we make it even harder for our body to manage the cortisol. Keeping a healthy diet is also important for maintaining a healthy body weight, which in turn often results in more balanced blood sugar and blood cortisol levels.
Get Better Sleep
We’ve talked about this quite a bit before on the blog, but when we don’t get adequate sleep, it not only contributes to high cortisol levels, but also causes higher hunger hormone levels, dysregulated blood sugar, and you become more likely to store body-fat.
There are tons of ways you can improve sleep, which we’ve talked about in detail in our Circadian Rhythm blog, but some easy ones are getting into bed at the same time each night, stopping caffeine at 12pm each day, remove blue light and screens 1-2 hours before bed, and get more regular sunlight and movement during the day!
Utilize Relaxation Techniques
Many people think of meditation as the only ‘relaxation’ technique, and although meditation is a great self-awareness tool to work on mitigating stress and reducing it’s impact, there are also other easy ways to relax.
Supplementing for Stress with Top Notch
There are quite a few nutrients and vitamins that can become depleted when we are stressed, so supporting those that help buffer stress within our body is a great start.
Stress can unfortunately be a big roadblock when it comes to our goals and progress either in the gym or with our body-composition, so ensuring you’re managing your stress and cortisol levels should be a top priority.
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