INSIDE THIS ARTICLE:1. The Importance of Well-Balanced Cortisol
2. Chronically High Cortisol
3. Symptoms of High Cortisol Levels
4. Long-term Effects of Unbalanced Cortisol
5. Signs of Balanced Cortisol Levels
5. Balancing Cortisol Levels
Right now, how do you feel? As you age, your body’s systems also age, which can lead to various health issues if you don’t take preventative steps now. Knowing the benefits of managing stress early in life, and balance cortisol levels, can help you prevent the many issues chronic stress can cause, allowing you to have a more active, engaged life as you grow older.
The Importance of Well-Balanced Cortisol
Cortisol, a naturally-occurring hormone, is produced from cholesterol in your two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney. While it’s best known for its role in your body’s response to stress, cortisol is also involved in other bodily functions including:
- Regulating your blood pressure
- Regulating your metabolism
- Reducing inflammation
- Regulating the effects of insulin
- Maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm
This powerful hormone is vital for your health and survival, however, when unbalanced, cortisol can do some damage, and some of that can be long term.
When faced with a stressor, a series of hormones including cortisol are produced.
Cortisol prepares your body to respond to the stressor by making excess glucose which provides immediate energy to your large muscles. During stress, cortisol also inhibits insulin production, enabling glucose to be used right away rather than stored.
After a stressful situation is resolved, your hormone levels should return to normal, and your body resumes a balanced state. Unfortunately, if you’re under constant stress, your hormones don’t have an opportunity to return to normal, leaving your body susceptible to long-term cortisol exposure.
Living in a fast-paced culture that includes long commutes, financial obligations, balancing family and work pressures, and health concerns can lead to a stress response that doesn’t “turn off”. Even if you are managing ok right now, this state can reduce your quality of life when you are much older.
Chronically High Cortisol
When your cortisol levels are chronically high, it can lead to various chronic health problems including heart disease, cognitive decline, obesity, depression, and sleep disturbances.
There are various factors that may lead to unbalanced cortisol levels in your body. These include chronic physical and emotional stress, a poor diet consisting of too many processed foods, medications like corticosteroids and oral contraceptives, and certain medical conditions like hypo and hyperthyroidism, pituitary gland issues, and adrenal gland complications.
If you are concerned about your cortisol balance, you may ask your doctor about testing your cortisol levels. Normal cortisol levels in a blood sample taken in the morning can range between 6 and 23 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL).
Symptoms of High Cortisol Levels
Balancing cortisol levels is essential for your optimal health and wellbeing. Knowing the symptoms of high cortisol levels can help you take control of your health and prevent health issues down the road.
Common signs and symptoms of high cortisol levels may include:
- Weight gain, particularly in your face, abdomen, and chest
- High blood pressure
- Weakened bones leading to osteoporosis and fractures
- Changes in skin including purple stretch marks on your abdomen
- High blood sugar which can lead to type 2 diabetes
- Muscle weakness especially in your arms and thighs
- Difficulty sleeping since cortisol affects your body’s sleep-wake cycle
- Increased thirst and frequent urination
- Hair loss
- Reduced libido
- Menstrual cycle irregularities
- Difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety, depression, or irritability
All of these symptoms are possible signs of unbalanced cortisol which can have impacts on your health later in life.
Long-term Effects of Unbalanced Cortisol
Over time, cortisol imbalance symptoms can lead to a variety of health issues. High cortisol levels may result in the following conditions:
Type 2 diabetes
Chronically high cortisol levels can increase your blood sugar over time. While insulin is responsible for helping the cells convert glucose to energy, your pancreas may struggle to keep up with the high demand for insulin. Therefore, glucose levels in your blood can remain high which may lead to type 2 diabetes.
Cortisol constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure to increase the delivery of oxygenated blood during times of stress. If stress remains chronic, this constriction and elevated blood pressure can lead to vessel damage and plaque buildup, setting the stage for a heart attack or stroke.
High cortisol levels can lead to increased hunger signals that can trigger cravings for high-calorie foods which can lead to overeating and weight gain.
Research suggests that chronic elevated cortisol levels may also slow down your metabolism. One study found that on average, women who reported one or more stressors during the prior 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories per day than non-stressed women.
Suppressed immune system
In the short term, cortisol can actually reduce inflammation in your body. However, if your cortisol levels remain high for too long, your immune response can “choke out” your immune response.
A suppressed immune system can make you more susceptible to colds and flus, increase your risk of developing food allergies, and may even lead to digestive issues.
Decreased cognitive functioning
Chronically high cortisol levels have been linked to decreased brain volume and brain atrophy which over time, can affect your brain functioning and cognition.
One recent study found that elevated cortisol levels were associated with poorer cognitive functioning, as well as reduced memory, executive functioning, processing speed, and social cognition. The study found that over time, elevated cortisol levels may be linked with cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
During stressful times, digestion and absorption are compromised. When in a chronically stressed state, you may experience irritation and inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract leading to indigestion and other digestive issues.
Signs of Balanced Cortisol Levels
As you can imagine, having balance, or ideal cortisol levels can pave the way for a healthier and happier life. Signs and symptoms of balanced cortisol may include:
- Quality sleep
- Energy in the morning that is sustained throughout the day
- Stable body weight and stable appetite
- Clear skin
- Increased concentration
- Stable mood
The long-term benefits of having balanced cortisol levels may include:
- Decreased risk of chronic illness including heart disease, diabetes and dementia
- Decreased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures
- Robust metabolism
- Strong immune system
Balancing Cortisol Levels
It may seem as though chronic stress, and long term elevated cortisol levels are determined to steal your mojo and ravage your health. However, there are things you can do to balance your cortisol levels now and avoid the variety of health issues that come later in life from ignoring it.
Limit alcohol intake
While alcohol may help you de-stress in the moment, the long-term effects of alcohol intake can cause increased stress, poor quality sleep and lead to elevated cortisol levels.
Take a moment and breathe
Deep nose-breathing is often used in meditation, yoga and Tai chi as a way to relax and reduce cortisol levels. If you’re feeling stressed during the day but don’t necessarily have time to meditate or exercise, try taking a few belly breaths to calm yourself.
Get enough sleep
Prioritizing adequate, quality sleep can help balance your cortisol levels and work wonders for your health and wellbeing. One way to ensure that you get enough sleep is to establish a consistent bedtime routine, limit your exposure to screens one hour before bedtime and make certain that your bedroom is quiet and dark.
While exercise can elevate cortisol in the short term, studies have shown that exercising regularly can help improve sleep quality and reduce stress, all of which can help lower cortisol levels over time.
Maintain a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet
Following an anti-inflammatory diet can help balance your cortisol levels. Try including plenty of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet and limit pro-inflammatory foods.
Anti-inflammatory foods include whole plant foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Pro-inflammatory foods include highly processed foods like snack foods and fast foods, highly processed meats like bacon and sausage and sugary drinks.
Centenarian, world-record-setting runner, and cancer survivor Mike Fremont was recently asked on The Rich Roll Podcast what he attributes to his longevity and athleticism. His response, “Less stress and a plant-based diet…Diet and stress are the two things that can kill.” Mike is the embodiment of all we are talking about here.
Supplements specifically designed to support your hormonal system will help optimize your cortisol levels allowing you to improve your body composition, increase strength and enhance your focus.
The Rebalance Systems, which help manage anxiety, increase testosterone, and decrease hot flashes, are tailored to the needs of both men and women to help balance your hormonal system to operate at optimal levels. When paired with a healthy diet, and regular exercise, Rebalance Superceuticals™ can help bring cortisol into balance, thus reducing the long term effects of elevated cortisol.
Speak to your healthcare provider to address underlying causes
If you’re concerned about your cortisol and stress levels, talk to your doctor about the best course of action. Your health care provider can order appropriate tests and discuss steps you can take to reduce your stress and support your health and wellbeing.