Cortisol is known as our “fight or flight” hormone. It provides quick bursts of energy, improved memory and immunity, increases heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar. If you are visibly scared or put in a stressful situation, what’s the first thing you notice about yourself: sweaty palms, increased heart rate, nervous jitters, heavy breathing and so on. You can thank cortisol for that.
But what about stress that’s not so apparent? When you live in a constant state of high stress, your body doesn’t know the difference. With this steady stream of cortisol, your blood pressure rises, blood sugar elevates and metabolism slows. More importantly, prolonged surges of cortisol can suppress the immune system, cause muscle wasting and decrease bone formation. And eventually, when your cortisol levels can’t keep up with the amount of stress it’s trying to manage, Adrenal Fatigue can happen.
The adrenal glands are responsible for releasing cortisol. After releasing cortisol over and over again due to sustained circumstances of high stress, the adrenal glands become sluggish. When this happens, a collection of symptoms occur known as Adrenal Fatigue.
It’s important to understand what you can do to naturally reduce your cortisol levels.
You may ask what does food have to do with our fight or flight hormone, right? Studies have shown that nutrition can influence cortisol for better or for worse and many inflammatory-causing foods is a huge trigger for cortisol release, primarily sugar.
Contrary to sugar, there are also certain foods that can lower your cortisol levels.
- dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa (dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants which reduce oxidative stress (comparable to rust in the body) and cortisol
- citrus fruit
- black tea, green tea
- water (dehydration increases cortisol levels)
There are a number of vitamins, minerals and adaptogenic herbs that have been shown to reduce stress and cortisol levels and improve memory and overall brain health.
These are the ones I take:
This goes without saying that chronic episodes or night after night with little sleep can alter your thought processes, cause a lack of clarity and even decrease your response and reaction time.
Cortisol production should gradually decrease through the day, until it reaches its lowest levels late in the evening, when you are ready for bed. However, if your cortisol levels do not decrease in the evening, because the stress response is triggered and doesn’t shut off cortisol production, it can lead to real issues. So, get some sleep! 😉
My favorite sleep aide especially when it’s stress-related is this.
Exercise balances hormones and reduces stress by releasing endorphins. But be mindful of over-exercise which can have the opposite effect and actually raise cortisol levels. Research shows that prolonged aerobic (cardio) exercise can increase cortisol levels. Keep your workouts shorter, less than 30 mins, but with higher intensity.
More and more research is showing that laughter has a powerful effect on our health with research finding that laughing and having fun significantly reduces cortisol levels. Studies have even shown that laughter improved the short-term memory of older adults, and simply anticipating humor decreased their cortisol levels by nearly 50%.
- Meditation and Prayer
- Bubble Baths
- Essential Oils
Let me know if stress is an issue for you and if these tips help!
In case you missed it, be sure to check out the other posts in the Weight Loss for Women Over 40 Series: