Is Cortisol A Stress Hormone
Cortisol is widely known as the stress hormone. However, it has many important effects and functions throughout your body aside from regulating your bodys stress response.
Its also important to remember that, biologically speaking, there are multiple different kinds of stress, including:
- Acute stress: Acute stress happens when youre in sudden danger within a short period of time. For example, barely avoiding a car accident or being chased by an animal are situations that cause acute stress.
- Chronic stress: Chronic stress happens when you experience ongoing situations that cause frustration or anxiety. For example, having a difficult or frustrating job or having a chronic illness can cause chronic stress.
- Traumatic stress: Traumatic stress happens when you experience a life-threatening event that induces fear and a feeling of helplessness. For example, experiencing an extreme weather event, such as a tornado, or experiencing war or sexual assault can cause traumatic stress. In some cases, these events can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder .
Your body releases cortisol when you experience any of these types of stress.
How To Balance Cortisol Levels And Relieve Your Symptoms Of Chronic Stress
Cortisol is essential to health. Our bodies normally produce cortisol throughout the day in a cyclemore in the morning as we wake, less in the evening to prepare us for sleepto support our daily physical and emotional well-being. But when cortisol levels become higher or lower than normal for prolonged periods, that wellbeing can be severely compromised.
When were chronically stressed, our bodies maintain excessive levels of cortisol throughout the day. After months or years, elevated cortisol can cause serious problems across the bodys many systems. It can also lead to a suppressed HPA axis, formerly known as adrenal fatigue, where one can produce too little cortisol, which brings its own set of challenges and may require a variety of therapies to resolve. But by learning how to balance cortisol levels naturally and seeking the right care when needed, you can enjoy a calmer and healthier life.
Scale Down The Stress Levels
Stress management is the other half of the equation when solving the question of how to lower cortisol naturally for optimal wellness. It can be as simple as spending time in nature or reading a book to lower stress.
For the most part, science recommends mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques like progressive muscle relaxation â tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups â and diaphragmatic breathing, which features deep breathing exercises.
You may also wish to try mind-body interventions like tai chi and qigong to promote relaxation and lessen tension. A 2018 systematic review also advocates for regular physical activity against stress. According to the review, staying fit means youâre more likely to reduce your cortisol and heart rate reactivity. You will also experience less anxiety, more calmness, and a better mood. Not to mention, exercising has the added bonus of encouraging weight loss, which, for the overweight, can aid with getting sufficient sleep. Just make sure you donât work out right before you sleep.
Other stress-reduction techniques you may wish to try:
No matter which stress reduction tactics you choose, itâs imperative that you prioritize them in the latter half of the day. Perhaps you can fit in a workout session before dinner and segue into your evening wind-down afterward. Because everyoneâs wind-down routine looks different, the “Evening routineâ habit in the RISE app lets you build it the way you want.
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Who Is More Likely To Have Cushings Syndrome
Cushings syndrome most often affects adults, usually aged 30 to 50,1 but can also occur in children. Cushings syndrome affects about three times as many women as men.2 In people who have type 2 diabetes and blood glucose levels that stay too high over time, along with high blood pressure, Cushings syndrome may be the cause. People who take medicines called glucocorticoids, which are similar to cortisol, also can develop Cushings syndrome. This type of Cushings syndrome is called exogenous. More than 10 million Americans take glucocorticoids each year,3 but its not known how many of them develop Cushings syndrome.
How Does My Body Control Cortisol Levels
Your body has an elaborate system to regulate your cortisol levels.
Your hypothalamus, a small area of your brain involved in hormonal regulation, and your pituitary gland, a tiny gland located below your brain, regulate the production of cortisol in your adrenal glands. When the levels of cortisol in your blood fall, your hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone , which directs your pituitary gland to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone . ACTH then stimulates your adrenal glands to produce and release cortisol.
In order to have optimal levels of cortisol in your body, your hypothalamus, pituitary gland and adrenal glands must all be functioning properly.
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How Is Cushings Disease Treated
There are a number of treatments available for Cushings disease. The best treatment option for each patient will depend on his or her specific case.
Treatment may be as simple as making healthy lifestyle changes, or may require regular medication to lower cortisol levels, surgery to remove a tumor , or possible radiation therapy.
Healthy Lifestyle Changes to Treat or Prevent Cushings Disease
Cortisol is responsible for regulating the bodys metabolism and deciding how the body processes and uses nutrients for energy. When cortisol levels are too high, this has a direct and significant effect on the metabolism.
Changing your diet in the following ways can help reduce cortisol levels and reverse symptoms:
- Reduce your sodium intake: Sodium can raise blood pressure and worsen Cushings disease symptoms. Try to limit or eliminate fast food and processed food to better control sodium intake.
- Lower your blood sugar: People with high cortisol levels often have high blood sugar too . High blood sugar can lead to a number of health conditions that coincide with Cushings disease , which can amplify symptoms and lead to even higher cortisol levels.
- Lower your cholesterol: High cholesterol is another symptom of Cushings disease. Its best to try to avoid foods high in fat, and opt for foods high in fiber, like legumes, fruits, and vegetables to help lower cholesterol and ease symptoms associated with high cholesterol .
Medications to Treat Cushings Disease
Keep Cortisol Low At The Right Times
As youâve learned, timing is everything when regulating your cortisol rhythm. You want it high to jumpstart your day and low later on to welcome sleep more effortlessly.
If you already experience an out-of-whack cortisol rhythm, we feel you. Anyone caught in the vicious cycles of sleep loss, chronic stress, and circadian misalignment often feels at a loss about the starting point for reducing their cortisol levels. Before you resort to medical interventions, good sleep hygiene and stress management techniques are your best bet when deciding how to lower cortisol volume.
Thatâs where the RISE app can help. It features 16 science-based habits tied to your unique chronobiology to help you make wise sleep-related choices. This, in turn, keeps you circadianally aligned and your sleep debt low to ward off cortisol overload.
Need more proof that this is the only app you need to feel and function at your best? 80% of RISE users feel the benefits within five days in terms of improved productivity, performance, and well-being.
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Cut Out Caffeine Or Consume Less
A 2005 study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that caffeine increases cortisol secretion even in people at rest. Because caffeine can stimulate cortisol production and increase blood pressure, Krista King, MS, RDN, of Composed Nutrition, offers a solution to lower cortisol: “Try doing a caffeine reset. Gradually you have each day by swapping it out for a caffeine-free or lower caffeine alternative.”
How Do Doctors Treat Cushings Syndrome
Treatment depends on the cause and may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or cortisol-reducing medicines. If the cause is long-term use of glucocorticoids to treat another disorder, your doctor will gradually reduce your dosage to the lowest dose that will control that disorder. Sometimes disorders that doctors treat with glucocorticoids can be treated with a non-glucocorticoid medicine instead.
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Reset Your Circadian Rhythms
We all know good sleep is paramount to good health. One reason sleep matters so much is that it involves the fluctuation of and connection between melatonin and cortisol, two hormones directly related to stress and overall bodily health. Practice healthy sleep habits by sleeping and waking at the same time each day, striving for at least 7 hours of uninterrupted rest, and limiting electronics use in the hour before bedtime. Also try to get plenty of sunshine in the morning and at midday to further stabilize your bodys circadian rhythms.
Phosphatidylserine As A Cortisol Supplement
The supplement phosphatidylserine has a positive effect on your mind and memory and can help reduce cortisol production.
One small study found that phosphatidylserine supplements of 600 mg a day can lower cortisol levels after intensive exercising. This can be an effective way for athletes or people who enjoy regular intensive exercise to avoid the effects of too much cortisol.
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Brain And Skull Base Tumors
Cushing syndrome is a hormonal disorder in which the body has been exposed to high levels of cortisol for a long period of time. Treatments are available and depend on the cause of this disorder. Possible treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, and medications.
Cortisol is a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress it fluctuates throughout the day according to the bodys circadian rhythm. Cortisol performs many essential functions, such as raising blood glucose, maintaining blood pressure, and suppressing inflammation. However, a chronic high level of cortisol has detrimental effects on the body and can lead to Cushing syndrome.
Although it is produced by the adrenal glands, cortisol is regulated by the pituitary gland in the brain. The pituitary secretes adrenocorticotropic hormone , which travels to the adrenal glands and stimulates them to grow and produce cortisol. Too much ACTH can cause high levels of cortisol in the body and, in turn, Cushing syndrome.
Cushing syndrome is divided into two categories, according to the cause of the disorder:
Most often, Cushing syndrome can be attributed to an exogenous source, that is, glucocorticoids. Rarely is Cushing syndrome caused by an endogenous source, that is, by a tumor or by overactive adrenal glands.
How Is Cushings Disease Diagnosed
If you suspect that you may have Cushing disease, schedule an appointment with one of our experienced endocrinologists in Orlando to ensure that you get the proper testing done.
Your doctor may perform a physical exam to assess for signs of Cushings disease, discuss your current medications and health history, and order a series of lab tests. The right lab test for you will depend on your specific case. These may include any of the following tests:
- MRI of the pituitary gland to assess for tumors
- Urine test to measure cortisol levels
- Saliva test to measure cortisol levels
- Low-Dose Dexamethasone-Suppression Test : This test requires the patient to take a small dose of cortisol late at night and have blood drawn the next morning to measure cortisol
If test results show that Cushings disease is present, the next step will be to uncover the source of high cortisol. This may require further testing, which often includes a petrosal sinus sampling. With petrosal sinus sampling, we test adrenocorticotropic hormone levels directly from the veins to determine where ACTH is being secreted from.
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Symptoms Of High Cortisol Levels
According to research done by the Genetics Learning Science Center, the long-term danger of having high cortisol is that it activates the fight-or-flight response, which temporarily shuts down normal reproductive, digestive and immune functions. The body targets these systems for shutdown because it doesnt need them for immediate survival.
Sensory nerve cells pass the perception of a threat, or stress, from the environment to the hypothalamus in the brain. This signals the pituitary and primary adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. If this cycle goes on for too long, someone becomes more susceptible to all sorts of illnesses, infections and hormonal problems.
Some clues that may signal youre living with high cortisol levels include:
- weight gain, especially around the abdomen/stomach
- a puffy, flushed face
- higher susceptibility to infections
Treatment Of Cushing’s Syndrome
Treatment of Cushings syndrome depends on the underlying cause of excess cortisol but may perhaps include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or the use of cortisol-inhibiting drugs. If the cause is iatrogenic, from long-term use of glucocorticoid hormones to treat another disorder, the physician will gradually reduce the dose of the externally administered steroid to the lowest dose adequate for control of that disorder. Once control is established, the dose of glucocorticoid hormones may be given on alternate days to lessen side effects for the patient.
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How To Lower Cortisol Levels Its More Than Reducing Stress
Contrary to popular misconception, learning how to lower cortisol levels isnât solely about naturopathic remedies. For example, supplements like ashwagandha, prebiotics, probiotics, and magnesium are revered for their cortisol-regulating properties. While these substances may or may not work, your goal shouldnât be to keep your cortisol load low all the time.
The thing is, your body requires high cortisol concentrations at the right times and low cortisol levels at other times . This keeps yourself in circadian alignment such that you feel and function at your best.
Ahead, we explain how a healthy cortisol rhythm works so you have a better idea of when and how to lower your cortisol levels when you need to. Itâs all about making this hormone work for you instead of against you.
S To Get Your Cortisol Levels Under Control & Turn Down The Stress
Do you find yourself overly stressed, tired and even notice weight gain despite not changing your diet or workout frequency? Your cortisol levels may be out of whack. More specifically, they may be too high.
Cortisol is often called the primary stress hormone because its one of the main hormones we release when were under any sort of pressure and our evolutionary-based fight or flight response kicks into gear. Although most think of cortisol as a bad thing such as contributing to acne, weight gain or high blood pressure theres actually a lot more to cortisol levels than just our stress response and its unwanted symptoms. We need it to live.
While producing cortisol is a necessity for life and helps keep us motivated, awake and responsive to our environment, maintaining abnormally high circulating cortisol levels can become dangerous and contribute to long-term problems. Long-term use of corticosteroids and chronic stress are two of the biggest contributors to high cortisol. Chronic, high cortisol production is tied to symptoms and ailments including weight gain, anxiety, sleep disorders, hormonal imbalances and fertility problems, in addition to many other problems.
The good news is there are many natural ways to get your cortisol levels in check. For instance, adaptogen herbs are known to lower cortisol, and thats just the tip of the iceberg. Read on for more ways to lower high cortisol levels naturally.
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Whats The Difference Between Cushings Syndrome And Cushings Disease
Cushings disease is a type of Cushings syndrome. Cushings disease is caused by a benign tumor located in the pituitary gland that secretes too much ACTH , which in turn increases cortisol.
Out of patients with Cushings syndrome, Cushings disease accounts for more than 70% of cases in adults and about 60% to 70% of cases in children and adolescents.
But Don’t Hit The Gym Too Often
By contrast, that same study from The Journal of Endocrinological Investigation showed that moderate- to high-intensity exercise provokes increases in circulating cortisol levels. In other words, when it comes to exercise, more may not be better. A separate 2012 study confirmed that long-term cortisol exposure was significantly higher in endurance athletes.
As clinical psychologist Candice Seti, PsyDa.k.a. The Weight Loss Therapistput it, “Skipping the second trip to the gym and taking it easy can also be good for reducing cortisol levels. that over-exercising can actually lead to an increase in the hormone. This, in turn, can lead to slower weight loss.”6254a4d1642c605c54bf1cab17d50f1e
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Listen To Music And Dance
Music is actually healing and can have a calming effect on the brain.
Numerous studies show that music can relax you, especially before a stressful event, by significantly lowering stress hormones. It can also reduce the spike in cortisol during the stressful situation .
Music can be even more relaxing when combined with non-strenuous dancing.
Regular dancing has also been shown to greatly decrease cortisol levels .
The book The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living goes in more depth about the practice.
Lastly, deep breathing exercises can help you manage your stress hormone levels.
Diaphragmatic breathing consciously breathing from your diaphragm has been shown to encourage the bodys natural relaxation response and reduce cortisol .
I use the EmWave2 device every day to reduce stress and make sure Im breathing optimally. I wrote about it before here.
How Cortisol Functions In The Body
While many people are concerned with lowering the amount of cortisol in their body, the truth is that a healthy balance of this hormone is necessary for optimal healthand can actually be lifesaving in the right circumstances. Thats because cortisols main job is to help fuel your bodys fight or flight response. When you encounter a dangerous situation, your adrenal glands release cortisol into the bloodstream. Your blood pressure rises, enabling your fight or flight response and prepping your body for immediate action. Your blood sugar also increases to provide immediately available fuel for your muscles. After the threat passes, your cortisol levels go back to normal and homeostasis returns.
The trouble comes when constant stress causes our cortisol levels to remain elevated above a natural baseline. This can cause a variety of symptoms that can be quite uncomfortable and compromise your quality of life.
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