There are hundreds of hormones that circulate throughout our bodies that help to regulate thousands of different functions. Everything from the storage of fat to the rate of the heart beat is controlled, sometimes by whole teams of hormones working at the same time.
Some hormones only work on other hormones, and there are also dozens of them that are still somewhat mysterious as to their entire purpose.
Most hormones come from the various glands and organs as they are directing other parts of the body to step up and do a certain task, or not do a task, or, maybe be ready to do a task, there are so many and they are all interrelated in many ways.
Good Hormones vs The Bad Ones
There are certain doctors, called Endocrinologists, that specialize in the thousands of chemical reactions that happen all day, and all night, inside of our bodies. There are chemicals that help us fall a sleep, digest food, wake up, store fat, repair skin, fight diseases, panic if there’s a loud noise, and even soothe our dreams.
The hormone Cortisol is one of the many chemicals that get released during times of panic, stress, and emergency situations. It boosts the immune system, increases the metabolism and helps the hormone adrenaline get ready to either fight, or run.
In our ancient history, people that had a quick release of lots of Cortisol during attacks by animals or other tribes, had a better chance of survival. They passed those excellent survival genes on down to their children and grandchildren for thousands of years.
Other tribes may have had other survival traits, like storing food as fat to help them through famines, it just depended on the circumstances where these tribes lived or foraged for food, and what types of dangers lived nearby.
The problem is, now there is plenty of food, we don’t need to store up all of that extra fat to survive a long winter. Same with all of that Cortisol, we aren’t being attacked in the middle of the night, or robbed during the day, and we don’t need to have our fight or flight instincts turned on all day. In fact, having that extra hormone in the body causes all kinds of other, unwanted side effects.
In the past, it saved our ancestors, but now it’s killing us slowly. Unfortunately, it has so many different actions in different cells throughout the body, we can’t just turn it off, balance is the key.
Risks of Extra Cortisol
When we were being attacked, we needed extra blood flow, a raised heart rate, a boost in strength, higher blood pressure, and a high alertness to avoid danger. However, having this alertness all day long is stressful, uncontrolled high blood pressure causes heart attacks and strokes, and being overly alert all day makes us weary and fatigued.
All of that stress causes anxiety, depression, wild mood swings, and irritability. Eventually, the sex drive is diminished, menstrual periods are skipped, and obsessive behavior can be accentuated.
Not having enough Cortisol can also lead to problems, mostly just the opposite of having an excess. Things like getting dizzy upon standing up, weakness in the muscles, losing weight, mood changes, and anxiety. This is much more rare, and is usually caused by tumors to the adrenal glands or some type of autoimmune disease.
If You’re In Doubt, Get Tested
One of the problems with trying to test Cortisol is that the amounts being released into the blood stream are constantly changing, going wildly up and down as it’s needed.
Since you’re wanting to know if there is too much in your system, it’s best to test at the peak time, which is in the morning.
A doctor and his nurse will administer the test and provide advice on how to read the results.
You don’t need to do much preparation for the test, no fasting is necessary. You should not take any drugs containing estrogen, like the birth control pill, since that will change the results of the test.
You shouldn’t be pregnant, or be taking any prednisone since that is also released by the same gland and would confuse the results as well.
You should try to avoid any kind of stress on the way to the doctors office, if you have to drive in traffic, rest for at least an hour in order to get back to normal levels. Avoid excess caffeine and any other type of stimulant, like diet pills on the day of the test.
The test itself is very straight forward, the skin is cleaned with an alcohol swab, a small elastic band is placed on the arm to help the veins show, and blood is quickly removed with a needle.
Ways To Lower Your Cortisol Naturally
One of the major reasons why we have this hormone in our systems is as a natural reaction to stress and danger.
Our ancient ancestors needed it a lot more because they could get chased by a wild animal or attacked from a neighboring village at any time.
Those with the higher levels, or with faster release times were able leap into action and escape danger, then they passed those traits down to their children.
Our ancestors probably lived to be about 35 years old on average, so worrying about high stress levels when they were 60 years old wasn’t of much concern. Now that most of us are living into our 80s and 90s, we need to cut down on our daily stress levels and reduce this hormone accordingly.
One of the first ways to start on your reduction plan is to get plenty of good sleep each night. We all have a certain rhythm inside of us and hitting the sack at the same time each night and getting up at the same time in the morning has been shown to reduce Cortisol levels and stress levels in most people.
Getting into a yoga or other type of exercise program is great for stress reduction. Exercise shouldn’t be overdone, however, since building muscles quickly involves stressing them to regrow faster and larger.
Long-term, gradual exercise that includes meditation, breathing exercises, and mindfulness helps to reduce anxiety, and that is the key to balancing out your body.
Eating a well balanced diet is also another good way to reduces stress. That means a balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins each day. If you’re wondering what this diet might look like, the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate is one example of a balanced meal – see what it looks like here.
No over indulgences, getting gorged or even starving to lose weight, as that can cause stress.
Certain foods are known to help such as bananas, pears, tea, dark chocolate, yogurt, Greek coffee, and high soluble fiber foods that help reduce inflammation in the intestines.
Keeping your blood pressure under control, even if it’s with medication, is highly important as is reducing inflammation in the joints, muscles, and any infections that you might have.
Having gum disease, causes inflammation of the gums, and your body’s natural defense is to release Cortisol to protect itself. Take care of any dental problems or other infections with he proper medications.
Natural Supplements To Help Control Cortisol
Once you have the diet, stress relief, and exercise part of the regimen under control it’s time to consider taking supplements.
One of the first that you should consider is going to be Vitamin C since it is a precursor chemical needed by the body to actually make and regulate the hormone.
It is useful in helping the body combat stress and situations that involve anxiety.
Another important group is the B vitamins complex. They are heavily involved in many processes that work with the metabolism and how fats, carbohydrates, and fiber are digested.
They also influence many functions of the adrenal glands, B5 and B6 are the most important, but a complete B complex is best.
Choline Bitartrate Can Be Found In Many Common Foods
Even though it is widely available in lots of foods it tends to get used up in our system, especially if we are under stress.
Eggs, meat, and dairy all have it, but it’s best to get supplements if you’re having a problem with too much stress hormone in your body.
If will also help improve mental fitness and memory, more so in people that are deficient in this supplement.
There have been studies published where people with reduced amounts of Choline Bitartrate in their systems after surgery ended up with raised levels of Cortisol afterward in an immune response.
This can lead to higher levels of inflammation which increases recovery time after an operation. Most people begin taking Choline in order to see if they are deficient and end up continuing after they get a good response.
While Cortisol has been studied frequently in the past few decades, there is still more new information being discovered each week. It’s a wide ranging hormone that interacts with hundreds of other hormones and nearly every cell in the human body.
It’s a chemical we need to regulate many processes but it’s best to monitor its blood level to make sure you aren’t at risk of a dangerous overabundance.