How to lower your cortisol levels
Amidst all the health and wellness trends reaching you through the media and your social media feeds, chances are you’ve heard about managing your cortisol levels. Should you be high or should you be low? We don’t blame you for feeling confused and overwhelmed with another thing to track and manage.
First of all, what is cortisol?
Cortisol is your primary stress hormone, which helps the body regulate its response to any type of stress, whether physiological, emotional or traumatic, says Suneet Singh, emergency physician and medical director of CareHive Health in Austin, Texas. . It is also a steroid hormone that is produced and released by the adrenal glands.
“When the body is stressed, cortisol levels are increased to help treat the underlying problem,” he explains.
More Men’s Health
According to Dr. Singh, cortisol helps the body regulate several important factors and potential problems, including:
- Arterial pressure
- blood sugar
- Sleep/wake patterns
- Inflammation levels
What causes abnormal cortisol levels?
Cortisol isn’t bad; you need it to help regulate your responses to life. Regulation involves a very complex interplay of feedback loops between the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands, says Dr. Singh.
“In general, cortisol levels tend to peak in the late morning and gradually decline throughout the day,” he explains. “When a stressful event occurs, the increase in cortisol will work alongside our ‘fight or flight’ mechanisms to up-regulate or down-regulate bodily functions. [Affected systems include] the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system or the immune system.
In addition to normal processes that trigger or suppress cortisol release, levels can also be affected by different medical conditions, Dr. Singh says. For example, if someone has abnormally high levels of cortisol, it’s called Cushing’s syndrome, which is usually caused by a tumor affecting one of the glands that are involved in the cortisol production process.
When people suffer from abnormally low levels of cortisol, it’s called Addison’s disease. It usually occurs due to dysfunction of the adrenal glands, but can also be the result of abnormal functioning of any of the other glands in the process of producing cortisol.
Finally, if you’re using corticosteroids such as prednisone or dexamethasone, prolonged use will cause excess cortisol production, Dr. Singh says.
“If the drug is not reduced enough when stopped, the body’s ability to create cortisol may be permanently impaired,” he says.
What are some signs and symptoms of abnormal cortisol levels?
According to Dr. Singh, most people won’t experience any symptoms related to their daily cortisol fluctuations. However, if cortisol levels are pathologically high or low for an extended period, such as several weeks or months, then you might begin to notice some of the following symptoms:
High cortisol symptoms:
- Weight gain
- High blood sugar
- Muscular weakness
- Sexual dysfunction
- Purple stretch marks
- Mood swings
- Symptoms of low cortisol:
- Low blood pressure
- small appetite
When should you get your cortisol levels checked?
If you notice that you are experiencing some of the above symptoms, you can ask your doctor to test your cortisol levels. According to Dr. Singh, your provider can check cortisol levels through a variety of methods, including blood, urine, and saliva tests. (Read more about cortisol testing here.)
“Different labs have different ranges of what’s normal, so if you’re interested in having your cortisol levels checked, see your healthcare professional to see which [method] is best for you,” he says. “In addition to the type of cortisol test being administered, you will also have [need to] determine what time (or times) of the day to get tested, if other corresponding laboratory tests are needed, and if imaging tests are needed in case of abnormally high or low results.
Can you manage cortisol levels yourself?
The good news is that if your doctor informs you that your cortisol levels aren’t at an ideal level, you can take steps to get your numbers back to where they could be. According to Dr. Singh, here are some simple ways to promote optimal cortisol levels:
- Follow a regular sleep routine each night to increase your chances of getting enough sound sleep.
- Do regular cardiovascular and weight training exercises.
- Reduce stress with a practice such as daily mindfulness meditation and/or deep breathing exercises.
- Minimize your caffeine intake.
- Maintain an active social life filled with hobbies and healthy relationships.
The bottom line: Talk to your doctor if you suspect your cortisol levels are low for an accurate diagnosis and management plan.
Emilia Benton is a freelance writer and editor based in Houston. In addition to Women’s Health, she has contributed health, fitness and wellness content to Runner’s World, SELF, Prevention, Healthline and POPSUGAR, among other publications. She is also a 10-time marathon runner, frequent traveler and avid home baker.
This content is imported from OpenWeb. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, on their website.