Why It’s All About Keeping Balance

If your social media algorithm is tuned into the wellness and self-care bubble, you have likely seen numerous reels and videos about cortisol. This hormone, an essential part of our bodily function, is having a moment on the internet these days.   

Cortisol is one of the hormones that contribute to the family drama that plays out in our bodies. You might have heard of how this is a stress hormone and elevated levels of cortisol are not good for well-being. It is more complex than that, so let me break it down for you.

Cortisol is secreted by the adrenals — a pair of glands that sit atop each kidney. Understanding cortisol requires understanding the intricate mechanisms of our stress response and its far-reaching impacts on our health and well-being.

Diurnal Variation

Physiology has beautifully timed the secretion of cortisol to sync with our day. When we wake up in the morning, we need cortisol to transition from sleep to active mode, which coincides with peak cortisol secretion (peaks around 45 minutes after waking up). It gradually declines through the day, reaching the lowest levels late evening when the body needs to relax. This is called diurnal variation. 

What is fascinating in this context, is the interplay between cortisol and melatonin (sleep hormone), both of which have opposing actions. When cortisol level decreases, melatonin levels increase, aiding us to fall asleep. While cortisol levels continue to decrease throughout the evening, the adrenal glands still secrete small amounts of cortisol during the night. These nighttime cortisol levels help maintain basic physiological functions during sleep and ensure a smooth transition to the next morning’s cortisol surge. This rhythm is affected by factors like stress, mealtimes, medications (such as contraceptive pills), sleep patterns and so on.

What Does Cortisol Do?

Cortisol’s purpose in the body is not to play havoc with your blood sugar and make you gain weight. Whenever we face a stressful event, our body assumes that we need more reserves to fight this, thereby releasing blood sugar and also over a period of time storing excess fat in the belly as energy reserves. Cortisol triggers a cascade of physiological responses that help us deal with a stressor. Funnily enough, most of our present-day stressors are mental and not physical ones like having to outrun a wild animal chasing us in the jungle, as our ancestors once had to do. So the responses of the sugar flush into the stream and the storage of fat are both needless in these times of abundant urban life. 

To list some of the functions of the hormone cortisol – it is involved in blood sugar regulation, modulation of inflammation, blood pressure regulation and influences mood and cognition. While this is essential for short-term survival in the face of immediate danger, chronic elevation of cortisol levels, as seen in prolonged stress, can have detrimental effects on our health. The other important role of cortisol is in our sleep-wakefulness cycle. The surge in the morning, known as the cortisol awakening response aids alertness and mental clarity. It helps us transition from sleep to wakefulness and prepares the body for the demands of the day.

Too Much Cortisol Isn’t Good For Us

Being constantly stressed out all day, as many of us who have high-stress jobs are, can lead to high cortisol levels throughout the day that overrides the normal diurnal variation.

This can lead to weight gain (especially belly fat), metabolic syndrome, poor immune function, digestive issues, cardiovascular disease and cognitive problems. But how can we tell if our cortisol levels are high? Other than lab tests, there are some signs you can watch out for. Chronic fatigue, abdominal weight gain, difficulty in sleeping, anxiety and irritability, digestive issues like bloating, indigestion, poor immunity, hair loss, disrupted menstrual cycles in women, muscle weakness and joint pains are some indicators of high cortisol levels.

Keeping Cortisol In Check 

Stress management is key to keeping cortisol levels in check. This is why stress management is an important cornerstone of our wellness and weight loss journey. You may be ticking all the boxes of eating healthy, working out and good, but if you are constantly stressed then the results may not be what you desire. 

While we may not have control over external stressors like a toxic boss or problems in our personal lives, We can control how we respond to them. 

Here are some of the ways to make sure cortisol doesn’t get the better of you.

  1. Incorporate relaxation techniques like meditation (plenty of guided meditations on YouTube, apps like Roundglass, Headspace or Calm), deep breathing, yoga and mindfulness exercises.
  2. Prioritise healthy lifestyle habits like regular exercise, quality sleep, and a balanced diet rich in whole foods.
  3. Limit caffeine intake as well as alcohol, both of which can cause spikes.
  4. Spend time in nature.
  5. Spending time with pets like dogs or cats is proven to reduce stress levels and cortisol levels too.
  6. Creative hobbies that are immersive experiences.
  7. Foods like dark chocolate, oily fish and green or black tea.
  8. Supplements like omega 3 and magnesium.
  9. Avoid skipping meals. 

Cortisol is neither inherently good nor bad — it’s all about balance. When kept in check, cortisol serves as a vital regulator of our body’s stress response, helping us adapt in the face of life’s challenges. By understanding its role and implementing strategies to manage stress effectively, we can harness the power of cortisol towards better health.

About admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *