Is Your Cortisol Out of Control?
Cortisol is your main stress hormone. It is produced by the adrenal glands which are located on top of each kidney. Think of it as your body’s built-in alarm system. Cortisol levels are at their highest in the morning, helping to wake you up and give you energy for the day to come. Before gradually declining throughout the day and getting to its lowest levels at night time, allowing us to fall asleep.
Cortisol isn’t all about stress, it also helps to convert protein, fat, and carbohydrate into energy, increase blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation and regulate your blood pressure.
Levels of cortisol naturally rise and fall throughout the day, and healthy people are able to moderate their stress response- which allows them to meet the challenges they face every day. However, our fast-paced 24/7 lifestyle, along with poor nutrition and lack of quality sleep, keeps the alarm going, when it should switch off. This creates an imbalance in cortisol.
What causes cortisol imbalance?
The natural rise and fall cycle of cortisol can become altered if people experience high levels of stress from a range of sources. These include a stressful job, relationship problems, study, financial, loss of a loved one, injury, and illness. It can also be altered when you sleep a lot during the day, do shift work, lead a very busy go-go-go lifestyle, drink lots of caffeine, or have poor eating habits.
There are adrenal gland disorders which cause cortisol imbalance such as Cushing’s syndrome which is when the body produces too much cortisol or Addison’s disease where the body doesn’t produce enough cortisol.
What are the symptoms of cortisol imbalance?
- Mood changes (depression or low mood)
- Anxiety/Panic disorder
- Skin irritation
- Changes in body weight
- Fluid retention
- Blood sugar irregularities
- Blood pressure changes
- Hormonal imbalances
- Weakened immune system
- Brain fog and decreased memory
- Poor libido
- Sleep disruptions (unable to fall asleep for a long time, insomnia, frequent waking during the night and waking up tired)
- Sweet or salty cravings
- Digestive complaints
If you are experiencing any or multiple of these symptoms, consider getting your cortisol levels checked throughout the day to see where the imbalance is occurring. This can be done via your GP or natural health practitioner.
How do I maintain healthy cortisol levels?
- Eat a fresh, whole food diet which includes plenty of fruit, veggies, good quality protein, and healthy fats
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and known food allergens
- Eat small, regular meals to help regulate blood sugar and avoid overeating
- Get adequate sleep – go to bed before 10 pm
- Reduce stress
- Enjoy regular exercise such as walking, swimming, weights, pilates, or yoga
- Practice meditation – there are many apps available to help with guided meditation or youtube has many resources
- If you are a smoker, make a plan to cease
- Set boundaries in work, relationships, and family
- Self-care – schedule time for yourself to switch off, relax, and do something you really enjoy
Pam helps high achievers with their health and well-being. As a naturopath, personal trainer, speaker, business owner, hockey player, creative cook, wife and busy mother of two kids, she has her own personal journey through high-performance sporting and career roles where she shifted from burnout, depression, and anxiety to balance and bouncing forward.
F: Pam Hird Naturopath