That question might raise your stress levels by looking at it. Cortisol is the stress hormone. And what follows is an "inside baseball" look at cortisol, why you should pay attention to it (because you're likely experiencing symptoms due to high cortisol, anyway), and how you can improve your overall health by bringing it back in line. We get nerdy about it, for sure. Cortisol is the thing nobody really talks about that affects everything else. It's good for you. Read on to find out when, why, and how.
What You Need To Know About Stress But Haven’t Been Told
Cortisol is your primary stress hormone, also known as your "fight or flight" hormone. Its primary purpose is to regulate metabolism during stress, giving your body the energy to handle what's got it ramped up. It's also vital to keep your body functioning properly. BUT when cortisol is consistently elevated, it can turn a good thing into a not-so-good thing—like when Anakin went to the Dark Side to be Darth Vader. Chronic stress can lead to an outpour of cortisol throughout the day. That's a problem. A problem more Americans have and don't even know it.
These days it's common to have chronically elevated cortisol levels. High cortisol can lead to a host of health issues that feel as minor as "eh, that's a bummer" to as extreme as not being able to hardly make it through a day. Most of us don't know the symptoms of high cortisol, much less what it takes to bring it back into balance. Add to it that we are programmed to try and fix our symptoms instead of adjusting what's causing them in the first place.
Balanced Cortisol vs. High Cortisol
If you relate to any of the symptoms below, read on…you may have high cortisol.
Why Might You Have High Cortisol?
You can have high cortisol due to pituitary or adrenal gland issues, medications, elevated estrogen levels (for women), or living in a state of perpetual stress. One of the leading causes of perpetually high cortisol is never-ending stress. Cell phones. Email. Social media. Driving. Finances. It can build up.
Your body is hardwired to have short, acute cortisol spikes and then immediately regulate cortisol back to normal levels. Like back in caveman days when our ancestors needed to run for the hills from that saber-toothed cat—then shrug it off and go back to picking berries. Or like now when you slam the brakes when that 18-wheeler cuts out in front of you. Our bodies are NOT made for constantly elevated cortisol levels throughout the day and night. Yet, sadly, this is more common than not.
Most people are battling high cortisol levels due to multiple life stressors. Our world disrupts our natural state of being as it keeps us "on" at all times. Online, on the phone, on email, on social, on a new crazy diet, on two cups of coffee, on medication, on your kids' homework, on Zoom, on your 3:30 meeting, on work around the clock, on a cocktail or two or maybe some cannabis to feel comfortable; on viagra, on your best behavior, on your strongest workout… And doing it all on a few hours of sleep.
But your body cannot distinguish between the life-threatening events that require bursts of cortisol to stay alive and everything that has you "on." With everything on, our bodies are pumping out cortisol like the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
What Exactly Does Cortisol Do, You Ask?
Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, released into the blood, and transported throughout the body as it responds to stress. Almost every cell has a cortisol receptor, which means that nearly every organ system can be affected by cortisol. Like Ron Burgundy, cortisol is kind of a big deal. Cortisol:
- Manages how your body uses carbs, fats, proteins
- Keeps inflammation down
- Regulates your blood pressure
- Regulates blood sugar
- Controls salt and water balance
- Controls sleeping and waking cycles
- Boosts energy so you can handle stress and then restore balance afterward
- Assists with memory formation
Cortisol works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation, and fear. When in balance, cortisol enhances vitality, alertness, and relaxation while helping reduce the effects of stress and nervousness.
The Ideal Cortisol Rhythm
The level of cortisol in your blood will naturally rise and fall throughout the day but tend to be higher in the morning when you wake up and then fall throughout the day. This is called a diurnal rhythm. (And no, this has nothing to do with how often you pee. That has to do with urinals)
Suppose your cortisol is operating as it should. In that case, cortisol levels typically reach their lowest levels late at night—usually around midnight—getting out of the way so you get deep REM sleep. As you get closer to waking up, levels begin to rise. Cortisol reaches its highest level early in the morning to help your body get up and running—peaking around 8am—before declining throughout the day.
Diseases, irregular work shifts, or sleeping a lot during the day can disrupt the normal pattern. Still, the most common disruption of a daily rhythm and optimum cortisol production is stress.
The key is to get your body on its ideal cortisol level "schedule" with the right amounts of cortisol, ebbing and flowing, at the appropriate times of the day. This is called your circadian rhythm.
Cortisol, Testosterone, and hGH
When cortisol levels are too high for too long, it can cause the suppression of testosterone and human growth hormone (hGH). In fact, cortisol can be an "enemy" to testosterone, especially when you benefit from keeping testosterone and other protective hormones high. (And yes, women need testosterone too.)
When cortisol levels are too high for too long, it can cause the suppression of hormones – especially testosterone and human growth hormone (hGH). In fact, cortisol can be a sort of “enemy” to testosterone, especially when you benefit from keeping testosterone and other protective hormones high. (And yes, women need testosterone too.)
When cortisol is too high, your body cannot produce enough enzyme 11βHSD-1 (we know that's a mouthful) to counteract the cortisol, leaving you with a surplus of the stress hormone and the destruction of any freshly-made testosterone. In the same vein, it can inhibit the production of hGH, which is essential for building muscle, exercise and illness recovery, a well-functioning metabolism, healthy skin, hair, and nails, cellular repair, and overall maintaining a sense of youth in all dimensions. It inhibits it because the only time hGH is produced is when you're in deep sleep…which doesn't happen with elevated cortisol.
"Rebalance focuses on cortisol because it is strongly tied to the balance of other hormones, like testosterone, estrogen, growth hormone and melatonin. Pulling cortisol in line makes it much easier to balance out and optimize other hormones after that."
ALISON GRACOM, PA-C & ENDOCRINOLOGY EXPERT
The Science Behind it All (or TMI)
If you think we were getting technical and science-y, this next part takes it to the next level. Here is what physiologically happens when stress kicks in and cortisol goes to work.
There is a connection between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands that form the backbone of the body's stress response system called the HPA-axis. The hypothalamus and pituitary are considered master glands; they control all your hormone-producing glands.
This is a cool feedback loop your body performs to regulate cortisol and keep you as balanced as possible, but the issue is, when it constantly tries to regulate high cortisol levels, it can tax your system and cause many of the symptoms we've mentioned above.
How can you start bringing cortisol back inline?
Moving out of a stress-induced, heightened cortisol state into a balanced cortisol state is possible. You can no longer be held back by your body's shortcomings, and rather, rewire them to perform and feel on your game in every aspect of life.
First off, how’s your sleep?
Sleep is imperative because it involves the fluctuation of and connection between melatonin and cortisol, two hormones directly related to stress and overall bodily health. A good night's sleep can actually ratchet down cortisol levels and quiet the fight or flight branch of your nervous system.
Most people live with disrupted sleep for a variety of reasons. Whatever it may be, if your body is not getting the proper deep sleep and REM it needs, it cannot regulate cortisol properly. Rebalance quiets disruption and gets your flow back.
It takes a System that syncs with your circadian rhythm OR Balance your cortisol 24/7 and experience real change
The Rebalance Systems™ are designed to work with your circadian rhythm. Hence, your cortisol stays in sync with your days and nights – i.e., cortisol levels are low at night and higher in the morning when they should be.
DREAM™, a part of each of our Systems and sold separately, nurtures healthy cortisol, testosterone, and hGH production while you sleep. It also helps your body naturally repair cells and transmitters disrupted throughout the day, ultimately allowing the body to reduce the negative effects of cortisol. In fact, REM and deep sleep is the only time the brain and body can fully cleanse, repair, and restore itself. A healthy level of cortisol from a good night's sleep means you're setting the next day up for success.
After a restful sleep from taking DREAM, you start your day with a morning lozenge, Step 1 found in our Hot Flash, Anxiety, and Testosterone Systems. This helps your body maintain healthy cortisol levels throughout the day, while giving you the steady energy you need to seize the day head-on. You might be unfazed by the morning commute traffic or less anxious in general about everything.
One of the benefits of the Hot Flash System for women going through menopause is that bringing cortisol into balance allows your other hormones to come back up – like estrogen and testosterone – and, as a result, you don't go through your day with hot flashes and mood swings getting in the way. We have data showing an 80% reduction in both frequency and severity of hot flashes in menopausal women, and we are conducting an IRB (That is fancy for "institutional review boards") to further explore these benefits in the Hot Flash System, and 40% of the participants are reporting a complete elimination of symptoms.
Taken in the late afternoon, the Step 2 lozenge, exclusively found in our Hot Flash, Anxiety, and Testosterone Systems, continues the cortisol-balancing work the morning lozenges did during the day, keeping you in sync with your rhythm. Whether you want to relax on the couch or hit the gym you can get your play on and take the edge off without losing your edge. And because you’ve been helping your body bring cortisol levels down as the sun goes down, your body is more prepared for another good night’s sleep when you take your next DREAM lozenge.
However you shake it, keeping cortisol inline brings global benefits to your body. Because cortisol plays such a central role in how other hormones operate, how you treat it (or don’t treat it) can have long-reaching implications for your health.