Cortisol is a necessary hormone that helps people handle stress and fear. Too much of it, however, is not a good thing. There are natural ways to control this hormone
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone that controls multiple functions in the human body. It is made in the adrenal cortex (above the kidneys), and it controls stress response, suppresses the immune system, and increases the blood sugar. It also can help the body to metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fats. The brain’s hypothalamus regulates the hormone levels. Sometimes, this hormone can be used to treat certain medical conditions, such as B-cell antibody overactivity. Those suffering from allergies, rashes, eczema, or rheumatoid arthritis, for example, have B-cells that are in overdrive. This is why there are medications available, such as hydrocortisone, that can mediate the body’s B-cell levels. The problems from cortisol arise when the levels are too high for too long. Muscle wasting and decreased bone formation, can occur. During pregnancy, fetal exposure to this hormone can lead to developmental issues and growth alterations. Cushing’s syndrome is a disorder in which the hormone secretions are prolonged. Because cortisol works counter to insulin, blood sugar is affected. In addition, the hormone is also anti-diuretic, which leads to a decrease in water excretion. It decreases immune system activity, it can trigger osteoporosis, and it can impair learning and memory. It also increases blood pressure and shuts down the reproductive system. There are “links between cortisol, appetite, and obesity”.1
Why (and How) Should People Manage Cortisol Levels?
Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium supplementation, muscle and massage therapy, black tea, dancing, and even laughing can help control and normalize cortisol levels. Sleep deprivation, caffeine, prolonged exercises, hypoestrogenism, and melatonin over-supplementation, trauma and stress, commuting by train, and anorexia can all increase the levels. Medical treatments, such as hydrocortisone can increase the hormone levels too much.2 “Elevated stress hormones puts the body in…a catabolic state” and that can lead to tissue destruction, immune system depression, brain shrinkage, and muscle and bone loss. Caffeine tolerance may decrease as a person ages. Energy and endurance also decline with age. Among the other issues caused by over-elevated stress hormones is increased body fat. Stress can cause food cravings – especially for high carbohydrate, calorie dense foods. Low DHEA, low growth hormones, and high cortisol can lead to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. Too much caffeine can contribute to these outcomes by keeping the levels too high. In other words, stress leads to less calorie burning and more fat storage, especially in the abdominal region. Insulin resistance is another result of chronic stress. Immune system abnormalities are also an issue; when it overreacts, lupus, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, asthma, Crohn’s disease, and fibromyalgia are some of the disorders that occur. Immune suppression, however, can lead to other opportunistic diseases. Too much cortisol interferes not only with the immune system, but it can lead to psychological issues, such as anxiety, depression, moodiness, insomnia, and fatigue. To combat these issues, caffeine should be reduced or eliminated. People should also try to sleep longer and better (small amounts of melatonin supplementation can help with this, if needed in the short term). Stabilizing blood sugar with protein, complex carbohydrates, and “good fats”, as well as regular exercise, are important. DHEA supplementation may also help. Exercise increases dopamine and serotonin in the brain, leading to less depression and anxiety. Meditation may help. Finally, supplements that reduce stress/inflammation include calcium, magnesium, zinc, chromium, B-vitamins, vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, CoQ 10, and grapeseed extract.3