What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced from cholesterol in the adrenal glands, which are located at the top of the kidneys.
What does Cortisol do?
Cortisol plays an important part in the human “fight or flight” reaction to threats.
It floods the body with glucose(to provide energy for the muscles). It inhibits insulin production(to prevent glucose being stored). Along with its partner in crime epiphedrine(also known as adrenalin) it narrows the arteries(to make the heart pump faster).
The Problems caused by Cortisol
Now before we talk about such problems it’s important to note that everybody’s cortisol level rises when they are under stress and falls when they are relaxed. The following problems occur when a person is subject to constant stress and their cortisol levels are, as a result permanently elevated.
The purpose of the narrowing of the blood vessels(what doctors call constriction) is to improve the supply of oxygenated blood. Unfortunately one of the side effects of this narrowing will be to raise blood pressure. Indeed blood pressure may be raised even more if epiphedrine/adrenalin makes the heart beat faster.
Flooding the body with glucose raises blood sugar levels.
This in turn increases the body’s production of triglycerides. Triglycerides are, like cholesterol, a type of fat found in the blood. Triglycerides store unused calories and release energy into the body(often between meals) whereas cholesterol is used to build cells and produce hormones.
It’s widely believed by doctors that high levels of triglycerides can lead to atherosclerosis(the formation of plaque on the artery walls). Unfortunately research hasn’t yet shown exactly how this happens.
The flooding of the body with glucose, coupled with insulin suppression, may lead to weight gain. It may lead to increased visceral fat storage(under the muscles, deep in the abdomen). It may also make a person feel hungry and encourage them to eat more.
How to keep your Cortisol Levels Down
Basically you need to make changes to your diet and your lifestyle.
As far as diet is concerned, the following steps should improve matters.
Reduce your intake of drinks that contain caffeine, like coffee and fizzy drinks. Be particularly careful with “energy” drinks like Red Bull. Caffeine raise your cortisol level.
Reduce the amount of carbohydrates and sugars that you eat. Be particularly careful with refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta and rice. These increase blood sugar levels and this will make you anxious.
Drink plenty of water. Dehydration raises cortisol levels too.
Eat more oily fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines etc. If you don’t like these, try taking odourless Omega 3 fish oil capsules( the high strength ones are best). Fish oil will reduce your cortisol level.
As far as your lifestyle is concerned, try the following changes.
Try a variety of meditation techniques and choose one or two that suit you. Meditation is one of the best methods of controlling cortisol production. The techniques described elsewhere on this blog would be a good place to start.
Laughter is certainly the best medicine as far as cortisol is concerned. Watching a movie or reading a story that makes you laugh will certainly reduce the amount of it in your blood.
Try adaptive exercises(i.e. exercises that are suitable for your particular circumstances ). Because not all exercise is good for you in this case. For example running raises your heart rate and your cortisol too. Yoga and Pilates are suitable here.
Listen to some soothing music. Once again this will reduce your cortisol level. Those who like it will find binaural beats meditation useful here.
Persons who suffer from high blood pressure or who have suffered vascular events should consult their doctor before trying Yoga and Pilates.