Balancing Cortisol Levels for Stress Management

Balancing Cortisol Levels: A Guide to Managing Stress and Adrenal Health

Are you feeling stressed or overwhelmed lately? Learn how balancing cortisol levels can help you to better manage stress. Read on to discover the symptoms of both high and low cortisol levels, and find practical ways to manage stress and support your adrenal health. Don't let cortisol imbalance take a toll on your body and mind – take action for your well-being today. Read more in this comprehensive guide.

Balancing Cortisol Levels: A Guide to Managing Stress and Adrenal Health

Are you feeling stressed or overworked lately? It’s important to take care of yourself because ongoing anxiety, stress, fatigue, or exhaustion can negatively affect your health. How would you rate your stress levels?

The Impact of Stress on Well-being

The symptoms we often take for granted, such as feeling uptight, struggling with sleep, or experiencing exhaustion, can actually have a significant impact on our overall well-being and performance. In this newsletter, we will explore the functions of cortisol, its effects on our well-being, and ways to counteract its negative impact on our adrenal health.

Understanding Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone that plays a vital role in our body. It acts as a conductor, controlling various physiological processes like a symphony. Being aware of the effects of both high and low cortisol levels is crucial for maintaining good long-term health. So, let’s learn more about cortisol.

The Age Factor

As we age, cortisol levels tend to rise, especially between the ages of 40 and 50. This increase may be due to the decline in DHEA, a precursor to cortisol, which starts to decline in our 30s and 40s. This could explain why handling stress becomes more challenging as we get older. However, being proactive in supporting ourselves nutritionally and with lifestyle management can make a significant difference in living a productive, fun life.

Assessing Cortisol Levels

When evaluating cortisol levels, it is essential to consider other hormones as well. Blood tests often include the evaluation of hormones such as DHEA, testosterone, thyroid, progesterone, and oestrogen. However, stabilising cortisol levels should be the initial focus before addressing other hormonal profiles.

The Negative Impact of Cortisol Imbalance

Cortisol, also known as the adrenal stress hormone, can be constantly too high, suddenly crash too low, or be generally on the low side. These factors can have a detrimental effect on our health, especially during busy and overwhelming times. We need to value our energy, health, and well-being. Supporting our adrenal health should be our first line of defence when ongoing symptoms occur.

Functions of Cortisol

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys. Here are some of its key functions:

1. Stress Response

Cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” plays a central role in the body’s response to stress. It helps mobilise energy stores, increase blood sugar levels, and enhance the body’s response to stressors for the fight-or-flight response.

2. Effects on Carbohydrate Metabolism

Cortisol increases blood glucose levels, promoting the breakdown of stored glycogen, proteins, and fats. This provides the body with energy needed for the fight-or-flight response. However, prolonged stress can lead to adrenal diabetes and imbalances in blood sugar levels.

3. Balancing Blood Sugar Levels

Understanding how and what we eat can make a significant difference in managing stress. Balancing blood sugar levels through simple food choices can help. Excess cortisol can cause high glucose levels, leading to insulin secretion from the pancreas. Fluctuations in glucose levels, especially when consuming refined foods and sugars, can be detrimental. Monitoring food consumption and controlling blood sugar levels are crucial during stressful situations and ongoing stress.

4. Muscle Breakdown

Prolonged stress can lead to muscle breakdown as cortisol mobilises amino acids from the muscles to convert into glucose.

5. Circadian Rhythm

Cortisol levels follow a natural daily cycle known as a circadian rhythm. Levels are highest in the morning, promoting wakefulness, and gradually decrease throughout the day, reaching their lowest point during sleep. This rhythm is important for maintaining normal sleep patterns, body composition, and weight changes.

Symptoms of Imbalanced Cortisol Levels

Both high and low cortisol levels can lead to various health problems. Symptoms may vary from person to person and can be present in varying degrees of severity based on the length of time cortisol levels have been out of balance.

Symptoms related to both high and low cortisol levels

  • Sleep issues
  • Difficulty controlling or losing weight
  • Hypoglycemic symptoms
  • Compromised immune system
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Moods and anxiety
  • Stress-related diseases
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Digestive disturbances, nausea, constipation, vomiting
  • Aggravation of inflammation and allergies

Symptoms of high cortisol levels

(Note that there are other conditions which can also cause these symptoms)

  • Sleep disturbances, struggling to fall asleep, feeling stressed and brain feels like it’s spinning
  • Body composition and weight changes.
  • Weight Gain: Increased cortisol levels can contribute to weight gain. Weight control is significantly more challenging when cortisol levels are elevated. Elevated cortisol levels must be addressed to successfully lose weight.
  • Weight gain on the belly area and the development of ‘love handles’. Consistently high levels of cortisol can lead to this weight gain, even without any changes in diet or physical activity.
  • Prolonged stress can result in a fatty hump developing on the upper back, just below the neck.
  • Loss of muscle mass and strength.
  • Wanting to lose weight? When consistently stressed, it is crucial to approach weight loss with caution, especially for individuals who have experienced significant weight gain. Engaging in an extreme weight loss programme can place added stress on the body and result in counterproductive outcomes. Avoid extremely low-calorie diets while stressed.
  • Moods: Symptoms such as memory lapses, anxiety, waking up with worry, feeling stressed and wired, and feeling stressed while effectively managing it, may also be experienced.
  • Cravings: Craving sugars, sweets, junk foods and stimulants like caffeine
  • Thinning skin, bruise easily, puffiness under eyes, hair loss
  • High blood pressure may be experienced by some people
  • Over energised, looking for the next high “adrenaline junkie”
  • Increased heart rate and muscle tension

Symptoms of low cortisol levels:

Now, let’s look at the symptoms associated with low cortisol levels, often referred to as Adrenal Fatigue or exhaustion. The symptoms of low cortisol can vary and may either develop gradually or manifest suddenly. Here are some common signs of low cortisol.

  • Experiencing exhaustion following stressful situations.
  • Feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
  • Having dark circles under the eyes, without puffiness.
  • Experiencing fatigue during early mornings (7 9 am), mid-afternoons, and evenings.
  • Often getting a second wind around 11 pm, indicating the need for an earlier bedtime and sufficient sleep.
  • Experiencing symptoms of hypoglycemia and having cravings.
  • Noticing excessive age spots on the face and arms.
  • Struggling with weight gain for those needing to increase their weight.

Managing Cortisol Levels

If you have identified symptoms indicating imbalanced cortisol levels, consider a more natural approach to normalise your adrenal response and cortisol levels. Consulting with a health practitioner for a cortisol blood test around 8 am can be helpful.
Here are some immediate steps to manage your cortisol levels:

1. Dietary Changes

Focus on blood sugar control and ensure sufficient protein intake.

2. Nutraceuticals/Supplements

Tailor-made supplement programmes can be provided. General adrenal support is listed below.

3. Life Modifications:

Prioritise sleep hygiene avoiding screen time before sleep and plan for sufficient sleep. Reduce work overload. Take time to relax and enjoy nature Stress meditation techniques and breathwork can assist

4. Exercise

Engage in aerobic training to get your heart rate up Incorporate weight lifting and core stability exercises Try calming exercises

Supplements for Cortisol Management

Here are suggested supplements that have been found to be beneficial for adrenal support and cortisol recalibration. Note that many of the categories below overlap.

Hypoglycemia, blood sugar support and control

Adrenal support

Anxiety, mood changes and depression

Individually tailored amino acids – completing the Sally T. Amino Acid questionnaire can provide valuable insight into which amino acids would be beneficial for your personal profile. Consider scheduling an appointment for a comprehensive assessment.

Taking Action for Your Health

It’s important to address both high and low cortisol levels as soon as possible to avoid developing more serious health complications. Take it one step at a time, and prioritise your health.