Cortisol: What Is It and Why Is It Important?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal cortex, located on top of both kidneys. Your pituitary gland, located in the brain, determines how much cortisol is released; this can vary from one person to the next. We all get a shot of cortisol at the beginning of each
morning between 6 and 8am. It is designed to give us the energy we need to start the day. Naturally, and if in balance, it is suppose to decrease by the end of the day, to induce relaxation and sleep. If we continue building cortisol throughout the day, we stay fatigued, stressed, and the relaxation never comes. We start all over the next day adding to our existing levels of cortisol, which are typically stored in the belly, abdomen area.
Cortisol has undergone a lot of research in the last five years as the hormone often is blamed for visceral weight gain in the abdomen.
The benefits of cortisol include blood pressure management, reduced inflammation and a stronger immune system. This stress-fighting hormone converts protein into fuel when you're under physical or psychological stress. Once your brain no longer perceives a situation as threatening, your cortisol levels return to normal. But if they never stop producing, it triggers a cascade of chronic storage and inflammation, and literally starts doing what it was created to prevent.
Cortisol has its benefits, but ongoing, long-term stress can make your adrenal glands produce too much of the hormone when your "fight-or-flight" response is constantly triggered. Excess cortisol and other stress hormones can leave you open to numerous health complications, including obesity, heart disease, difficulty sleeping, depression and memory problems. Stress management — eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly and making an effort to relax and enjoy relationships you have with others — can help get cortisol levels under control.
Cortisol is responsible for maintaining the health of and proper communication between every cell in your body. When it is in a healthy rhythm, cortisol is suppose to give us energy to get our day started. It naturally allows us to wind down into a rest-and-repair phase, at the end of the day, if in balance. When this natural "diurnal" cycle is disrupted, we can end up with:
Sleep problems (insomnia, waking in the night, waking up tired in the morning)
Elevated bad cholesterol
Anxiety and Blood sugar and metabolic problems (including sugar cravings, metabolic syndrome, PCOS, and diabetes)
Decreased memory, focus, and willpower
Immune system imbalances leading to more frequent infections, reactivation of old viruses, allergies, inflammation, and even autoimmune disease.
So resetting your cortisol rhythm, which is what we're really getting at when we talk about "resetting our adrenals," is one of the most important steps we can take to feel in balance in our lives now and ensure our health for the long term. Resetting your hormones and decreasing cortisol doesn’t take a fancy diet, or program, it just takes consistency with the following:
Sleep. Getting quality sleep, developing a consistent sleep pattern.
Eating the right foods, at the right time.
Not exercising too much, intense exercise, believing more is better. Intense exercise increases cortisol and inflammation, so it is important to do HIIT, but alternate with restorative cardio, strength building and muscle conditioning.
A low carb diet actually increases cortisol, so getting a balance is important. And eating your last meal 3 to 5 hours before bed, with healthy carbs, is key. It is important not to leave large windows between meals, preferably, smaller, quality meals, no more than 4 hours apart. This helps keep blood sugar in balance and cortisol in check. SKIPPING MEALS IMPACT CORTISOL PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION. Eat clean, anti inflammatory, but balanced protein, veggies/fruit and healthy fats. Limits on all sugar intake are crucial, as this will cause cortisol to spike.
Decompressing after work, even for 15 minutes, doing something relaxing and joyful is important.
Avoid caffeine late in the day. This includes chocolate.
Restorative Exercise, mixed with a short sessions of HIIT. Burn training, teaching our bodies to burn fat, but distribute cortisol in a healthy manner.
Take necessary/supportive supplements.
Intense or endurance exercise causes your body to release cortisol in response to the stress. This is a delicate dance with aging because we need some (short) HIIT to build HGH, human growth hormone, but too much can be counter productive. So we need the intense with appropriate recovery between reps. So, we do not need to do more than 8 total reps of HIIT, whether that is sprinting, or doing body strengthening moves.
Chronic stress is detrimental to reducing cortisol
Prolonged stress leads to hyper physiological levels of cortisol. This alters the effectiveness of cortisol to regulate both the inflammatory and immune response because it decreases tissue sensitivity to cortisol. As the human body heals, inflammation becomes a response to stress.
IMPORTANT: Taking an Epsom Salt Bath before bed releases cortisol, and relaxes muscles, and improves blood flow.
If you find yourself with an expanding waistline, and stress is out of control, contact Healthy U, and let's get started towards the healthy life you deserve. Cortisol is a common issue, preventing great health and weight loss. But it can be reversed. There is ALWAYS a way.
Here's to your health🌿❤💪