Why care about cortisol?
Cortisol has sort of become a “buzz” word in the health world as of recent. But why should you care about it, how does it effect your body and what can you do to control it?
Cortisol gets a bit of a bad rap these days, I’m constantly listening to commercials on the radio or television about how cortisol is to blame for your weight gain. etc. While that
is actually pretty accurate, you really need to understand cortisol’s role in your body, so you can understand that high cortisol levels are a result from the root cause of too much stress.
The truth is cortisol is not a bad hormone, we absolutely need it for our daily functions. Cortisol is released by your adrenal gland in response to physical and mental stress. It has three main jobs: raise blood sugar (to help you with “fight or flight”), raise blood pressure, and modulate immune function. Cortisol helps fight inflammation after injury, so without proper cortisol a body is a risk of developing chronic inflammatory bowels diseases or auto immune disorders. So there you have it, cortisol is your friend, providing it’s levels are not constantly spiking or remaining high throughout the day.
Now you might be wondering, well then how does high cortisol make me fat? If your cortisol remains high over time it can be linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, increased belly fat, depression, insomnia, and poor wound healing. The truth is fat cells in the belly have four times more cortisol receptors then your fat cells anywhere else. So now you know what’s responsible for that that muffin top around your mid section.
Normal cortisol levels begin to rise at about 4 am and are at their peak at 8:00 am. From that point on cortisol levels begin to drop throughout the day until they are at their lowest by bedtime. However in our modern lives we encounter stress throughout our entire day. All day long our cortisol levels may be rising because of that stress. Any physical or mental activities that cause stress can keep our cortisol levels chronically elevated. Some stress might be fleeting and cause a “fight or flight” type of response, which will only have a short term effect on your cortisol level. But things like continuous psychological stress, such as a highly demanding job, problems at home, traffic and financial issues could lead to continually elevated cortisol. That is when cortisol turns bad and could lead to serious health consequences mentioned above (and that muffin top).
So what can we do to avoid our cortisol levels getting and remaining unusually high? It’s pretty simple, the best thing you can do to keep your cortisol levels in check, is to find balance. Which is what I’m all about, balance is the key to healthy living. So here are four tips to help keep your cortisol levels where they should be throughout the day.
- Get exercise everyday to manage stress. The exercise doesn’t have to be hard core. Yoga, walking, hiking, stretching, enjoying team sports with you friends, all have dramatic effect effect on you body and can help reduce stress.
- Meditate– I think this is fairly self explanatory. Daily meditation can dramatically decrease stress therefore preventing spikes in your cortisol levels. There is no right way to meditate. For me a 2-mile walk with my dogs is my meditation time.
- Get plenty of sleep– Focus on getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to help in maintaining healthy cortisol levels.
- Add Adaptogens– Adaptogens are phytonutrients, unique plants that have been studied for their abilities to act as metabolic regulators and can help combat the stress we encounter daily. You can find adaptogens in a number of products, but the nutritional cleansing program I follow is full of adaptogens for the exact reasons I have mentioned above, to fight stress and reduce you risk of storing visceral fat.
You now have a little better understanding of cortisol and it’s role in your health. So stop stressing, enjoy the little things, and remember your health is counting on it.