How Diet Impacts Estrogen
Research shows that conventional animal products contain high amounts of estrogen. These can lead to estrogen dominance. In essence, hormones have been used for decades to accelerate animal growth. Synthetic estrogen and testosterone are the most common, unfortunately. Whether you’re struggling with too much or too little estrogen, prioritizing organic food is beneficial. Additionally, extremely processed foods, alcohol, and saturated fats can contribute to estrogen woes.
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Natural Ways To Lower Your Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is a stress hormone the adrenal glands release. It helps your body deal with stressful situations, as your brain triggers its release through the sympathetic nervous system the fight or flight system in response to many different kinds of stress .
While the short-term release of cortisol can help you run quickly from danger, when cortisol levels are too high for too long, this hormone can hurt you more than it helps .
Over time, this can lead to an array of health issues such as weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, insomnia or difficulty sleeping, mood irregularities, and low energy levels (
This article discusses 11 ways to help naturally lower your cortisol levels.
What Is Cortisol How Is It Related To Chronic Stress
Cortisol is the bodys primary stress hormone. It is produced by the adrenal glands, then released when the body is dealing with stressful situations or imminent danger .
It is important to keep stress levels under control because the prolonged presence of psychological stressors can lead to an overproduction of cortisol. While the body needs cortisol to manage stress, too much cortisol can lead to a chronic stress response. This can impact various organ systems in the body and have negative effects on the immune system, digestive system, mental status, metabolism, and overall health.
Studies have shown that moderate to high levels of cortisol can increase the risk of chronic disease, including heart disease and diabetes. It can also lead to weight gain and obesity, interfere with sleep, cause brain fog, and impaired immune responses against infection.
Besides external stressors, a rare but serious disease called Cushings syndrome can result in very high cortisol levels in the body.
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Relieve Stress With Adaptogens
For thousands of years, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda have used adaptogenic herbs ginseng, rhodiola, ashwagandha, eleuthero, and others to relieve stress.
Adaptogens can be a good way for some people to bring their cortisol back to a healthy pattern, says Trindade. Some are very well-researched and can make a big difference, no matter what type of adrenal issues youre dealing with.
Adaptogens not only reduce stress levels, but also help restore cortisol levels to their natural curve. These herbs support the adrenal and pituitary systems, helping them operate more efficiently. With those systems functioning properly, cortisol is more likely to be released when it should be, instead of spiking up and down.
How To Test Your Cortisol Levels
A blood, saliva, or urine test can be done to measure your cortisol levels. Depending on the cause, your GP might sometimes arrange a cortisol test, most commonly using a blood test.
Cortisol blood test
A cortisol blood test is usually done in the morning when your cortisol levels tend to be at their highest. Cortisol levels tend to fall as the day goes on, reaching their lowest point at night before bed.
Cortisol urine test
A cortisol urine test involves collecting all of your urine over the course of a day. This can help to show how your cortisol levels change throughout the day.
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Natural Ways To Lower Cortisol
In many cases, the brain and adrenal glands can regulate cortisol on their own. When stress has gone away, the body will stop making cortisol and the levels will return to normal.
However, people with chronic stress, certain medical conditions, or who take certain medications can have cortisol levels that are higher than usual. They may want to try some techniques for lowering cortisol, such as:
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
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Foods That Increase Cortisol In Your Body
Cortisol is the hormone that promotes stress in the body, and learning to avoid foods that increase cortisol levels can have an positive effect on your stress levels. In fact, after removing these foods from my diet, I found my anxiety, depression and obsessive tendencies seemed to disappear. Not to mention, my health improved dramatically. Exclude these foods that increase cortisol as soon as possible and youâll kick your stress to the curb in no time, without any pills needed!
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What Happens When Cortisol Is High
Over the last 20 years, studies have increasingly revealed that moderate to high cortisol levels may lead to an array of health issues, such as :
- Chronic disease. Long-term increased cortisol may increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and other chronic diseases.
- Weight gain. Cortisol may increase appetite and signal the body to shift metabolism to store fat.
- Lack of energy/difficulty sleeping. It can interfere with sleep hormones which may impact sleep quality and length.
- Difficulty concentrating. Also referred to as brain fog, some people report trouble focusing and lack of mental clarity.
- Impaired immune system. Increased cortisol can hamper the immune system, making it more difficult to fight infections.
- Cushings syndrome. In rare cases, very high cortisol levels can lead to Cushings syndrome, a rare but serious disease.
Elevated cortisol levels can be caused from many underlying issues such as overactivity or cancer of the pituitary or adrenal glands, chronic stress, and medication side effects .
Further, existing chronic disease may lead to higher cortisol levels, causing a chicken or the egg type of scenario .
Therefore, its best to work with a qualified health professional to establish the root cause of your health issues. Along with this, you may want to introduce some effective lifestyle habits that may help you better manage your cortisol levels. Here are some recommendations:
Holistic Approach To Lower Cortisol
Our team of functional medicine specialists have the knowledge and experience to help you lower your cortisol naturally while rebalancing your adrenal hormones. Our comprehensive treatment plan includes guidance for eating a healthy diet and some lifestyle modifications to lower your stress levels. These will help to help restore your health and for sustainable weight loss.
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How To Balance Your Cortisol Levels Naturally
Cortisol has a bad reputation.
Commonly known as the stress hormone, its produced, in part, by the adrenal glands when were under pressure and perceive a threat. The pituitary gland determines how much hormone the adrenals should release to help us fight or flee.
This alarm system works beautifully until it doesnt.
In todays fast-paced culture, many of us are overworked, under rested, and under pressure from too many obligations, and the alarm never stops.
Its this state of chronic agitation that triggers cortisol function to run amok, contributing to a host of problems: insomnia, excess belly fat, anxiety, and extreme fatigue, to name just a few. Its no wonder cortisol has gotten a lot of bad press in the health media.
Yet without it were helpless.
The hormone isnt produced solely in response to stress chronic stress just puts it into overdrive. Normal levels are critical for maintaining steady energy throughout the day. And cortisol orchestrates the performance of other key hormones, like estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid.
Functional-medicine practitioner Sara Gottfried, MD, author of The Hormone Reset Diet, calls cortisol the control system for hormones. Its getting your blood pressure up only when it needs to be up, she explains. It raises your blood sugar only when you most need it. It modulates your immune system.
The Best Adrenal Supplements
Bringing your cortisol level to appropriate levels is a major goal of using adrenal supplements. Both high and low cortisol levels bring on the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Initially, when you experience stress, cortisol levels increase. However, as adrenal fatigue worsens, the level of cortisol in your body decreases. Some adrenal supplements work to lower cortisol levels while others work to increase these levels. Thus, it is also important to consider your current cortisol levels and state of adrenal fatigue when choosing adrenal supplements.
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How To Reduce Cortisol Naturally
Dr. Lin stresses that a big-picture approach is key to maintaining healthy cortisol levels and feeling less stressed. These go-to strategies are good for the body and the mind.
Exercise benefits health from head to toe. So its no surprise that it helps with stress relief, too, possibly by reducing cortisol levels. Studies show, for instance, that exercise can bring down cortisol levels in the elderly and in people with major depressive disorder.
Almost nothing beats a good nights sleep. When youre not sleeping well, you tend to be more anxious, irritable and stressed, Dr. Lin says. Like exercise, sleep is important for health in all sorts of ways including managing stress and keeping cortisol in check.
Sleep deprivation may increase cortisol levels. The increased cortisol can impair memory, contribute to weight gain and even accelerate the aging process. In other words: Dont skimp on shut-eye.
Spending time in the great outdoors is a great way to lower cortisol and calm your brain. The practice of forest bathing essentially, hanging out in the woods and breathing the forest air can reduce cortisol levels and lower stress.
When it comes to de-stressing, cortisol is just one piece of the puzzle, Dr. Lin adds. No one food or pill can deliver you to blissful calm. But healthy choices can set your body up for low-stress success.
Limit Alcohol And Caffeine
Excess consumption of alcohol and caffeine have been shown to increase stress hormones, so their consumption should be limited.
Coffee is definitely good for brain health. There is a lot of research showing it is very healthy and can be protective against dementia.
However, it can also disrupt sleep and make people anxious. I used to not be able to handle any coffee at all. But now that Im healthy, I can handle it just fine. I drink one cup of Kicking Horse coffee most mornings.
But if youre struggling with high cortisol and chronic stress, I wouldnt recommend high doses of caffeine.
Its been shown to directly stimulate the adrenal cortex, release cortisol into the bloodstream and increase stress hormone levels .
One study found that caffeine increased cortisol by 30% in just one hour, and regular consumption can double your cortisol levels .
So limit it as much as possible.
An alternative solution is to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of drinking coffee.
The coffee fruit doesnt contain caffeine, but it does contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.
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Balance Your Blood Sugar
Even if you are trying to lose a few pounds you must eat about every two hours to keep your Cortisol levels healthy. You dont have to eat pizza every two hours. You can eat something very healthy and low in fat. Actually it also a great way to keep your metabolism going if you are trying to loose a few pounds.
Adrenal Fatigue And The Bodys Automatic Response
As the body goes through the initial stages of adrenal fatigue, the first call of duty is to produce more cortisol to enable it to cope. However, if the problem persists, the symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue increase in both number and severity. These symptoms include brain fog, heart palpitations, anxiety, panic attacks, low libido, food sensitivities, and even a hypersensitivity to cortisol supplements and medications.
The body responds to the adrenal glands being unable to produce sufficient cortisol by finding other avenues for producing the needed hormones. These include body organs and glands.
Once the body gets to the fourth and last stage of adrenal gland fatigue, however, the bodys systems start shutting down. Symptoms associated with this stage include memory loss, weight gain, worsening skin conditions, digestive problems, depression, heart disease, and sleeping problems. Once this stage is reached, the path to recovery is a long and laborious one.
Too much cortisol, just like too little, has a negative impact on the body.
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Treatment With Testosterone Replacement
Enhancing testosterone levels is a therapeutic option for low libido offered through the prescription drug system. The replenishment of testosterone makes this possible. In testosterone replacement therapy, the following approaches are available:
- taking medication orally
- Gel applied on the skin
- putting a pellet under the skin
- patches applied to the skin
The issue with testosterone therapy is that it requires lifelong use and has a variety of negative side effects.
What Causes High Levels Of Cortisol
Experiencing abnormally high levels of cortisol for an extended period of time is usually considered Cushings syndrome, which is a rare condition. Causes of higher-than-normal cortisol levels and Cushings syndrome include:
- Taking large amounts of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, prednisolone or dexamethasone, for treatment of other conditions.
- Tumors that produce adrenocorticotropic hormone . These are usually found in your pituitary gland. More rarely, neuroendocrine tumors in other parts of your body such as your lungs can cause high cortisol levels.
- Adrenal gland tumors or excessive growth of adrenal tissue , which cause excess production of cortisol.
What are the symptoms of high cortisol levels?
The symptoms of Cushings syndrome depend on how elevated your cortisol levels are. Common signs and symptoms of higher-than-normal cortisol levels include:
- Weight gain, especially in your face and abdomen.
- Fatty deposits between your shoulder blades.
- Wide, purple stretch marks on your abdomen .
- Muscle weakness in your upper arms and thighs.
- High blood sugar, which often turns into Type 2 diabetes.
- Weak bones and fractures.
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Sleep Hygiene Tips For Lower Cortisol Levels
- Go to bed at a regular time each night.
- Set an alarm to get you up at the same time each morning.
- Wash your bedding and night clothes regularly.
- Keep distractions, like noise, tv, and phones, to a minimum before bed.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
- Dont exercise in the evening.
- Avoid bright lights and screens before bed.
FACTShift work from early adulthood is associated with increased, prolonged cortisol levels and a higher body mass index .
Swap Intense Workouts For Gentle Exercise
The length and intensity of your workouts can have a big impact on your cortisol levels. High intensity exercise, around 80 percent of your maximal oxygen uptake, even when done for just 30 minutes significantly elevates cortisol levels. Consistent long-duration exercise can also raise your cortisol level.
When scientists studied the cortisol concentrations in the hair of endurance athletes, they found higher concentrations than in non-endurance athletes. Lower intensity workouts on the other hand, like yoga, can reduce cortisol levels by deactivating the stress response, increasing parasympathetic activity, and decreasing norepinephrine.
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Too Much Animal Saturated Fat
Saturated fats from animals have the same affect on cortisol as trans fats do. This includes too much butter, too many eggs, whole milk, meats that arenât lean and poultry that isnât lean cut. Be sure to eat lean choices of grass-fed meats and poultry, and eat eggs in moderation . Also, butter isnât the worst thing you could eat, but be sure to choose grass-fed organic butter, and only use a few tablespoons a week to be safe. As a better option, choose plant-based coconut butter or coconut oil, which is saturated but acts completely different on the body than butter. It has actually been linked to a decrease of cortisol levels.
Now, I realize many of you may love some of these foods or disagree with my advice, however the research on all of these foods is quite solid. By reducing these foods and eating more of the basics, such as fish, lean meats, plant proteins, plant fats, veggies, fruits, and whole grains and seeds, you can successfully decrease your cortisol levels and eat the stress away! What are your favorite stress-free foods? I know chocolate is one of mine, as long as I keep it in moderation!