Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It is often called the "stress hormone" because it helps the body respond to stress by increasing blood sugar levels, suppressing the immune system, and increasing metabolism. In small amounts, cortisol is essential for regulating many bodily functions, but when levels are too high for too long, it can lead to a variety of health problems.
Inter day fluctuations in cortisol
Cortisol levels in the body naturally fluctuate throughout the day in a pattern - it has its own circadian rhythm. Normally, cortisol levels are highest in the morning, shortly after waking up. Cortisol helps to increase alertness and energy levels, preparing the body for the day ahead - at this point in the day we would not want our cortisol levels to be too low as we would find it difficult to get going. As the day goes on, cortisol levels gradually decrease and are typically at their lowest at night, when the body is preparing for sleep - at this point in the day we would not want our cortisol to be too high as it would make going to sleep difficult.
However, the exact timing of cortisol peaks and troughs can vary from person to person, and can be influenced by factors such as sleep patterns, meal timing, and exercise habits. Chronic stress can disrupt the normal diurnal rhythm of cortisol, leading to abnormal patterns of cortisol secretion across the day.
Can I test my cortisol levels?
There are a few ways to test cortisol levels in the body. The most common methods are to measure cortisol in a your blood, saliva, or urine. A blood test can provide a snapshot of cortisol levels only for the time the blood sample is taken and as mentioned above cortisol levels can vary over the day so this test isn't as comprehensive as the others.
Saliva and urine tests take samples of cortisol levels over multiple times throughout the day and can provide a better understanding of your daily cortisol fluctuations. It's important to note that cortisol levels can vary widely from day to day, and can be affected by a variety of factors such as stress, medications, and exercise. For this reason, your healthcare providers may order multiple tests over a period of time to get a better sense of your average cortisol levels.
If you are experiencing symptoms of high cortisol levels it's important to speak with your healthcare provider. They can help determine if cortisol testing is appropriate for you, and if so, which type of test would be most appropriate for your needs.
So what are the symptoms of high cortisol?
If you are experiencing high levels of cortisol ("stress hormone") there may be a variety of symptoms present which can include:
- Weight gain, especially in the abdomen area
- Mood swings or feelings of anxiety and depression
- High blood pressure
- Increased thirst and urination
- Fatigue and decreased energy levels
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Irritability and difficulty concentrating
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to understand why your cortisol levels may be elevated.
What causes high cortisol?
There are a variety of reasons that cortisol levels can be high, including but not limited to:
- Chronic stress, which can be caused by work, relationships, financial problems, physical and environmental factors or mix of some or all of these.
- An overactive adrenal gland, which can cause the body to produce too much cortisol.
- Certain medications, such as corticosteroids, can increase cortisol levels.
- An underlying medical condition, such as Cushing's syndrome, can also cause high cortisol levels.
If you think you are experiencing high cortisol levels it is important to talk to your health care provider.
Natural remedies to lower cortisol
To help prevent high cortisol and to help lower cortisol there are a number of things you can do:
- Exercise regularly - exercise can help to reduce stress and anxiety, which can help to lower cortisol levels.
- Practice relaxation techniques - techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels.
- Get enough sleep - getting enough sleep is essential for regulating cortisol levels and reducing stress.
- Eat a healthy diet - diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods can help to reduce inflammation in the body and lower cortisol levels.
- Try adaptogenic herbs - many adaptogenic herbs, such as ashwagandha, panax ginseng, schisandra berry and rhodiola, have been shown to help the body adapt to stress and lower cortisol levels. Adapt Drinks Relax contains both panax ginseng and schisandra berry and is a delicious way to imbibe these powerful adaptogenic herbs.
It is important to remember that high cortisol levels can have serious health consequences, so it is always a good idea to speak with a healthcare provider if you are experiencing symptoms of high cortisol. They can help you identify the underlying cause of your high cortisol levels and develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual needs.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: all content provided here is of a general nature only and is not a substitute for individualised professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and reliance should not be placed on it. For personalised medical or nutrition advice, please make an appointment with your doctor, dietitian or qualified health care professional.