You’re Not Sleeping Well
Cortisol levels are supposed to drop at nighttime, allowing your body to relax and recharge. But if your cortisol levels are too high you might notice that, even if you’ve been tired all day, you get a second wind right around bedtime. Too much stress can cause you to toss and turn all nightâand feel tired again the next day.
Signs You Have Way Too Much Cortisol
We all know stress is bad for us, yet many of us wear it like a badge of honor. See if this sounds familiar:
Dude: OMG, Im so stressed out! Im working 14 hour days and havent used my vacation days for two years now, but hey sometimes you just gotta keep your eye on the prize, right? Hey, you still seeing that guy? Dudette: Nah. We tried to make it work, but it was such a headache. Relationships are just too stressful. Plus, who has time for a relationship when youre on a deadline and youve got the boss lady to impress?
You know the drill.
Many of us are stress addicts. We claim to want inner peace, but if life gets too peaceful, we go seeking our next hit of our drugs of choice cortisol and epinephrine. Its almost as if being stressed makes us feel important, valuable, and useful. What we forget is that were already worthy souls deserving of love and a sense of worth, simply because we are all little sparks of divinity, shining our lights on the planet.
What Supplements Can Help Improve Cortisol Levels
- Ashwagandha: This ancient herbal supplement may improve resistance to stress and reduce cortisol levels when taken daily.
- Rhodiola: This adaptogen has been used for centuries to treat anxiety and fatigue. Itâs thought to help users better respond to stressful situations.
- Lemon balm: While more research is needed, some studies indicate that lemon balm can alleviate stress and anxiety while boosting cognitive function.
- Chamomile: Many people drink chamomile tea before bedtime for its calming, gently sedative properties.
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Beware Of Unsupported Claims
In recent years, the diet industry has tried to capitalize on findings from studies about cortisol and weight gain. Perhaps youve come across advertisements promoting dietary supplements claiming to lower cortisol and enhance weight loss. Most medical professionals advise patients to avoid these products as no independent studies published in respected, peer-reviewed medical journals have shown that these supplements have any value in cortisol reduction or weight loss.
Overall, its important to remember that theres no miracle cure for elevated cortisol. Exercise, eating right and relaxation are the best methods for lowering these harmful hormone levels that have risen in response to stress.
Adrenal Function And Illness
Ive been following the research for decades, and a number of studies have shown that all of the different kinds of life stressors, including high job stress, divorce or relationship struggles, and bereavement lead to decreased immune function and increased vulnerability to viruses and infections. And when stress is chronic and adrenal function suffers, the problem can get even worse.
Every year, when winter comes creeping in, I see a flurry of resources dedicated to how we can support immune function and ward off viruses. There is so much good advice out there that conventional medicine rarely offers, including boosting levels of key nutrients that we may be lacking, especially in the winter months .
Theres one thing I dont see mentioned nearly enough. What is it? Supporting adrenal health! Adrenal fatigue is, in my experience, one of the most common reasons the immune system is struggling.
An immune system problem related to adrenal fatigue can mean more frequent viruses and infections, and a harder time recovering from them. It can also lead to an increased likelihood of developing certain kinds of chronic disease .
Finally, if adrenal fatigue is interfering with immune system function, its a pretty solid bet that other areas of your health including hormonal balance, mood regulation, and metabolism are out of whack too.
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How To Decrease Cortisol With Supplements
Changing your diet is a long-term strategy for reducing cortisol, but you might want to jump-start your efforts with supplements to get results faster.
Fortunately, theres an entire group of supplements that specifically work to minimize the negative effects of stress.
These unique substances, known as adaptogens, are herbal remedies that increase your resilience to mental, physical, and environmental stress.
They work by reducing the stress hormone cortisol while strengthening function of the adrenal glands.
Adaptogens neither stimulate nor sedate, but instead act like a thermostat, bringing your body into a balanced state known as homeostasis.
Here are the main adaptogens that have been found to effectively reduce cortisol:
Not sure which supplements to start with?
Its always wise to make sure youve got your essential nutrient needs met first.
Confirm that you have adequate intake of vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Next, Id suggest starting with ashwagandha.
This traditional Ayurvedic remedy excels in stress reduction and decreases cortisol significantly more than many other supplements.
The Health Problems Created By A Lack Of Sleep
First and foremost, you can think of cortisol-induced sleep loss in terms of:
- Acute sleep debt, which is the amount of sleep you’ve missed out on in the past 14 days relative to your sleep need
- Chronic sleep deprivation, which refers to restricted sleep over a prolonged period of several months or years
In the short term, acute sleep debt downgrades every aspect of your life that matters, from your cognitive functioning to your immune system to your social relationships.
Over time, acute sleep debt progresses to chronic sleep deprivation, in which a new host of health problems arrive, courtesy of your bodyâs persistently high cortisol levels. The long-term effects of sleep insufficiency are well-documented in scientific literature, particularly in the form of metabolic health issues such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
As if the direct impacts of sleep loss itself aren’t distressing enough, you also have to contend with the additional health issues that too much cortisol instigates.
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Cortisol And Sleep Cycles
Sleep isnt a steady state. Your body goes through various stages of sleep each night.
Non-REM sleep has 3 stages.
- Stage 1. This stage lasts a few minutes as you drift from being awake to being asleep.
- Stage 2. Your bodys systems relax further, your core temperature drops, and your brain waves are slower. You spend about 50 percent of your sleep cycle in this phase.
- Stage 3. This phase is also known as slow wave sleep. Its when your heart rate, breathing, and brainwaves are slowest.
REM sleep is the part of your sleep cycle when you have vivid dreams.
A sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes, and during that time you move through these four stages of sleep.
Most of your deeper slow wave sleep happens in the first half of the night, while REM sleep happens more during the second half of the night.
Researchers have found that when the HPA axis is overly active, it can disrupt your sleep cycles, causing:
- fragmented sleep
- shortened overall sleep time
Those sleep disturbances can wreak further havoc on your HPA axis, distorting your bodys production of cortisol.
How Do You Moderate Cortisol Levels
If you are experiencing high cortisol levels over time, its important to know that there are a number of treatments available that can help lower high levels of cortisol. Of course, the treatment will depend on your individual circumstances, including the cause of Cushings syndrome. Some of the most common treatments used to moderate cortisol levels may include:
- Reducing corticosteroid use
- Specific medications
If you are experiencing signs or symptoms of Cushing syndrome, its important to know more. This can be done by taking a trip to the doctor or from home with an at-home lab test.
LetsGetCheckeds at-home Cortisol Test can measure adrenal performance or stress with online results available within 2-5 days and access to our medical experts every step of the way.
You should consider taking the test if:
- You constantly feel run down
- You are body-building competitively
- You are presenting with symptoms of Cushing syndrome
- You have Cushing syndrome
- You are presenting with symptoms of Addison’s disease
- You have Addison’s disease
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How Does Cortisol Affect The Menstrual Cycle
Stress can make your periods heavier, show up late, or stop altogether.
The main reason why stress affects your menstrual cycle is because of hormones. The release of stress hormones, or cortisol, can suppress normal levels of reproductive hormones, potentially leading to abnormal ovulation, anovulation, or amenorrhea.
What Are Corticosteroids
If your body does not produce enough cortisol, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids for you. Corticosteroids are synthetic versions of cortisol that can be used to treat a variety of conditions including:
- inflammatory conditions
- Addisons disease
- skin conditions
Some people take anabolic steroids to build muscles, without a doctors prescription. This is risky. Anabolic steroids are different to corticosteroids.
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What Is Cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone that plays a central role in your bodys stress response. This article answers questions on what cortisol does to your body and what happens when the cortisol levels in your system spike.
Cortisol is a hormone produced in your body by the adrenal glands. It regulates several mechanisms by acting as a messenger between different organs like the skin, muscles, and tissues. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is responsible for your bodys fight or flight response when stressed.
Chemically, cortisol belongs to a family of compounds called glucocorticoids and plays a vital role in many physiological functions. Cortisol is widely regarded as the most important human glucocorticoid that either regulates or supports a wide variety of critical cardiovascular, metabolic, and immune functions in your body, such as:
- Maintaining your bodys blood pressure and blood sugar levels
- Keeping a check on your metabolism by supporting the utilization of macronutrients like fats, carbohydrates, and proteins
- Regulating the circadian rhythm
- Monitoring your bodys stress response
- Reducing inflammation
The effects of cortisol on bodily functions are so vast that almost all the tissues in your body have glucocorticoid receptors. Although the adrenal glands are responsible for producing and releasing cortisol, it does this through a response mechanism that includes the hypothalamus and the pituitary glands .
How Does It Work
Your hypothalamus and pituitary gland — both located in your brain — can sense if your blood contains the right level of cortisol. If the level is too low, your brain adjusts the amount of hormones it makes. Your adrenal glands pick up on these signals. Then, they fine-tune the amount of cortisol they release.
Cortisol receptors — which are in most cells in your body — receive and use the hormone in different ways. Your needs will differ from day to day. For instance, when your body is on high alert, cortisol can alter or shut down functions that get in the way. These might include your digestive or reproductive systems, your immune system, or even your growth processes.
Sometimes, your cortisol levels can get out of whack.
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Can You Improve Cortisol Levels Through Diet
- Water: Dehydration can cause cortisol spikes.
- Whole grains: These support the microbiome better than refined grains.
- Probiotics and prebiotics: Found in foods like yogurt, kimchi, and foods high in soluble fiber, these are linked to improved gut health and, by extension, mental health.
- Green tea: The L-theanine in green tea can have a calming effect.
- Legumes and lentils: Their high fiber content supports a healthy gut and regulates blood sugar.
- Healthy fats: Eating healthy sources of polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3s, is linked to better mental health. Fatty fish, seeds, and nuts offer high levels of healthy fats.
- Dark chocolate: The flavonoids in dark chocolate can reduce stress reactivity in the adrenal glands.
Maintaining A Good Bedtime Routine
A good bedtime routine can be a useful tool for getting longer and higher-quality sleep. This may involve a combination of relaxing activities that help a person unwind, such as:
- bathing or showering
- reading a book or audiobook
People should get into the habit of turning off all screens and relaxing before heading to bed. For example, it may help to turn off phones and any other potential distractions.
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Development Of Medical Testing
A number of advances introduced mostly in the 19th century, allowed for more objective assessment by the physician in search of a diagnosis, and less need of input from the patient. During the 20th century the introduction of a wide range of imaging techniques have made a huge impact on diagnostic capability. Other developments in the field of genetics, medical biochemistry, and molecular diagnostics have also played major roles.
What Tests Will Be Done To Diagnose Cushings Syndrome
Your healthcare provider will likely order several tests including:
Once your healthcare provider has confirmed that you have Cushings syndrome, the next step is to determine why. Often it is medication or a tumor. If youre on glucocorticoids, that is probably the cause, and your healthcare provider will likely decrease the dosage. If youre not on glucocorticoids, that indicates there is a likely a tumor in your adrenal glands, pituitary gland or elsewhere. Your healthcare provider may recommend the following imaging studies to reveal the location of the tumor:
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What Is Cortisol You Ask
Scientifically speaking, cortisol is a glucocorticoid produced in the adrenal glands located at the top of your kidneys. The hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical axis regulates your body’s cortisol secretion .
The primary roles of cortisol include:
- Promoting alertness when your body’s fight-or-flight response is activated by a stressor
- Influencing your sleep-wake cycle to help you meet your sleep need
We will go into the specifics in the following sections. All you need to know now is that cortisol has its own circadian rhythm. When your cortisol rhythm is properly functioning, your body produces this stress hormone in the right amounts at the right times. This is beneficial and necessary for your overall health. But too much cortisol over prolonged periods triggers a never-ending cycle of elevated cortisol levels and sleep loss that sets you up for various health problems, as you will see.
Will I Need To Do Anything To Prepare For The Test
The preparations will depend on the type of test you are having. Be sure to follow all the instructions that your provider gives you.
Stress can raise your cortisol levels, so you may need to rest before your test. A blood test will require you to schedule two appointments at different times of the day. Before a saliva test, you may need to stop using certain medicines. Let your provider know about all medicines you use, including skin creams. But don’t stop using any medicines without talking with your provider first.
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What Does Cortisol Do To My Body
Almost all tissues in your body have glucocorticoid receptors. Because of this, cortisol can affect nearly every organ system in your body, including:
- Integumentary system .
More specifically, cortisol affects your body in the following ways:
Optimum cortisol levels are necessary for life and for maintaining several bodily functions. If you have consistently high or low cortisol levels, it can have negative impacts on your overall health.
Common Symptoms Of High Cortisol Levels
According to Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms associated with excess cortisol levels can include:
- Rapid weight gain mainly in the face, chest, and abdomen
- A flushed and round face
- High blood pressure
- Anxiety, depression, or irritability
- Increased thirst and frequent urination
You may also experience more body hair growth or have trouble sleeping . Among women, symptoms of high cortisol can include a decreased sex drive and menstrual cycle irregularities.
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What Are The Health Impacts Of Excess Cortisol And Sleep Loss
As long as there is insufficient sleep, your body remains stranded in the fight-or-flight state, in which your SNS is floored into a perpetual state of overdrive. The strain placed on your body by this persistent force of sympathetic activation leaks out in all manner of health issues, triggering a domino effect of health damage.
What Are The Signs Of High Cortisol
1st Aug 2022 4 min read
Cortisol is a stress hormone thats produced by your body. Its essential for your health, but too much cortisol can cause problems, ranging from anxiety to diabetes. When high cortisol causes symptoms and conditions, its known as Cushings syndrome. Here’s how to spot the signs of high cortisol, how to test your levels, and what you can do to lower them.
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Adrenal Fatigue Cortisol And Immune System Function
Since we often call cortisol the stress hormone, it can be easy to be fooled into thinking it doesnt impact other areas of our health. But nothing could be further from the truth! Cortisol is actually crucial when it comes to regulating the immune system!
Lets start by taking a basic look at how the immune system works. When the body detects an intruder called a pathogen the immune system gets to work on attacking it and protecting us from it. This involves creating inflammation, in part to signal that defense and repair is necessary.
It is this inflammatory response that leads to those common cold symptoms like a stuffed up or runny nose, sore throat, or a fever.
Because of its many links to chronic disease, we often think of inflammation as a dirty word. In truth, inflammation is an absolutely essential component of a healthy immune response. But it cant be left to run wild something must regulate it to keep it from becoming excessive, overreactive, or chronic.
This is one of cortisols jobs. When you have healthy adrenal function, balanced cortisol levels, and a healthy immune system, cortisol helps to reduce inflammation and keep levels in check during an immune response, without eliminating it entirely.