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Importance of Balancing Cortisol Levels & Managing Stress

Authored by: Mona Eberle, Naturopathic Practitioner, Nutritional Therapist, Neurofeedback Clinician

Here is why keeping cortisol levels balanced is important, and ways to reduce cortisol, if your cortisol levels are too high.

Being stressed is not a new phenomenon - humans have encountered stress as far back as our primitive days. The main stressors of our ancestors usually involved short bursts of fighting, hunting for their next meal, or fleeing from the jaws of a hungry tiger.

Fast forward to today, our “tigers” now come in many different forms:

  • Needing several cups of coffee or 16-oz energy drinks to get through the day
  • Constant email and text notifications from our cell phones
  • Financial concerns
  • Our kids’ packed activity schedules
  • Being a caregiver for a loved one
  • Long commutes or rush-hour traffic
  • Giving a presentation or a sales pitch at work
  • An alarm clock that goes off after only 5 hours of sleep

Can you relate to any of these? The problem is, our bodies don’t know the difference between a life-or-death chase with a tiger and a crabby boss. Our bodies still respond the same way: our adrenal glands release our main stress hormone (cortisol), to help us deal with the situation at hand. 

Cortisol is the “Goldilocks” Hormone

Cortisol is an example of a “Goldilocks” hormone: we don’t want too much cortisol or too little cortisol, we want it just right. Cortisol is actually beneficial for us in the short-term; it gives us a burst of strength, energy, focus, and even temporarily boosts our immune system. However, our daily fast-paced lives and constantly facing our “tigers” means that cortisol is being released all day long, day after day. 

Over time, too much cortisol throws our blood sugar level out of whack. It interrupts sleep, leads to feelings of anxiety and depression, and affects wound healing.

Chronically high-stress levels can even cause us to age quicker.  

Cortisol Can Increase Belly Fat

High levels of cortisol also put extra fat on our bellies. Why? One reason is that we have more cortisol receptors in our abdominal adipose tissue than in any other areas of fat storage. In other words, our bellies have four times more “doorways” for cortisol to act on our fat cells.

Cortisol also increases our blood sugar level temporarily, giving us quick energy to “fight-or-flight” the stressor at hand. Unfortunately, this rise is quickly followed by a blood sugar drop, which leaves us feeling tired, irritable, craving more sugar, and more stressed! Once in a low blood sugar state, coffee, and donuts in the break room look way more appealing than the packed healthy lunch you brought to work. It’s a vicious cycle!

Nutritional Stress-Busters

Most important is to keep your blood sugars balanced throughout the day to keep cortisol levels in check. You can achieve this by balancing your nutrient intake at each meal: 

  • Eat enough quality protein, 3-6 oz. per meal. Choose from proteins like organic grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, organic eggs, protein powders, and dairy if tolerated. Proteins break down into amino acids which are used to make our feel-good brain chemicals, like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.
  • Eat healthy fats from nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil, avocado, coconut products, and butter/Ghee. Your brain is more than 60% fat and getting enough healthy fat will support good moods and mental clarity.
  • Eat plenty of healthy carbs in the form of low glycemic/high fiber vegetables and fruits. Eat a rainbow of color.
  • Avoid obvious troublemakers such as sugar, caffeine, alcohol, trans-fats, food additives, and chemicals. You may also need to uncover and eliminate your personal food sensitivities. Check out our Lorisian Food Intolerance Test!
  • Make sure you get adequate sleep. Going to bed by 10 pm helps to repair and reset our adrenal glands and cortisol rhythm. Switch off your electronics, dim the lights and cultivate a “bedtime routine” that will lull you into a deep sleep.
  • Exercise early in the day. A brisk walk in the early sunlight hours can do wonders for your cortisol rhythm. Listen to your body and match your exercise to your energy levels.
  • Practice stress management techniques that can quickly calm you in a stressful situation. Affirmations and breathing exercises can provide immediate relief.

We Would Love to Help!

I would welcome the opportunity to work with you! Consider scheduling a phone consultation or an appointment by calling 262 251 2929. Total Health provides hormone testing, nutritional counseling, health coaching, advice on supportive supplements to control blood sugar, reduce anxiety, relax muscles, and to promote sleep. Together we can create a plan and help you put it into action.

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