If you are like most people in our society, you are under some form of stress every day. Everything from busy lifestyles, poor sleep, environmental toxins, to poor emotional health put an excess demand on our bodies. Typically when this happens, your body will be producing elevated levels of cortisol from the adrenal glands.
Cortisol is your body’s way of boosting your energy so that you can overcome your stressors. When it becomes dysregulated however, chronic cortisol elevation can have health consequences. With the increased demands of today, it is important to balance cortisol levels for optimal health.
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is notoriously referred to as the stress hormone. Over the years, various media sources have deemed cortisol the bad guy, claiming that it is bad for the body. What most people don’t realize however, is that cortisol is an essential part of how your body works.
Our ancestors often lived in hostile environments with immediate threats to their lives. In these situations, we needed a way to quickly maximize our energy and highten our senses to improve the chances that we could evade an immediate threat.
The cortisol response is essentially our way of increasing our ability to survive in a dangerous situation. When your brain perceives stress or an immediate threat to your wellbeing, it releases cortisol. When cortisol is released, it acts as a mild pain releiver and signals the release of stored sugars into the blood for immediate energy.
When there is a physical threat in our immediate environment, this is a very useful action from the body. However, in today’s culture many people get small cortisol releases throughout the day from stressors that do not get resolved or are simply derived from stressful thinking. A repeating cycle of this can cause many problems in the body.
Most people who are under chronic stress will have elevated cortisol levels. This is because the body is trying to ramp up its ability to deal with an excess demand. While high cortisol levels are not a problem in of themselves, chronically elevated cortisol can be.
One of the big problems with chronic cortisol elevation is that we often see blood sugar imbalances. These are one of the most insidious robbers of our health. Blood sugar imbalance increases inflammation which puts more stress on the adrenals and begins a vicious cycle as they continue to make each other worse.
If continued long enough, this chronic elevation of cortisol can also throw off sex hormone balance and contribute to weight gain, brain fog, low energy, and an overall lowered vitality.
Chronically elevated cortisol (sometimes diagnosed as Cushing’s Disease/Syndrome) is often the beginning of adrenal dysfunction if nothing is done to restore balance (1).
Adrenal fatigue, or more accurately HPA axis dysfunction, is often characterized by a chronically low cortisol level. These people tend to feel tired and unable to handle daily stressors of life. Other symptoms could include weight gain, hormone imbalance, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and frequent crashes in energy.
This often occurs after a prolonged period of high cortisol and why it is so important to learn how to balance your own.
Low cortisol is often a sign that the body has been under elevated stress for an extended amount of time and can no longer handle the demand of its environment. This is when someone begins to progress through the various stages of adrenal dysfunction as cortisol output continues to decline.
Strategies To Balance Cortisol
The demands of today are not changing and our health is a reflection of that. Now, more than ever, it is critical to employ strategies to balance cortisol. This will ensure the body remains in an adaptive state rather than a maladaptive one. This will also ensure that you have the energy and mental clarity you need to have a deep experience of life.
When it comes to balancing cortisol and optimizing hormone balance, these are the strategies you must follow.
Anti-Inflammatory Healing Diet
One of the most foundational principles of balance in almost any body system is having a healthy blood sugar balance. This is because blood sugar imbalances can contribute to inflammation which throws off more processes in the body than one can count.
This means cutting out sugar, processed carbohydrates, and grains from your diet. These should be replaced with healthy fats from coconut, avocado, olives, grass-fed meats, wild caught fish, and dairy products from pasture-raised animals. Small amounts of nuts and seeds such as macadamia, sprouted almonds, and sprouted pumpkin seeds can also be a great addition.
Finally, you want to complete your meals with moderate amounts of protein from pasture-raised animals or wild-caught fish, along with lots of fibrous veggies. Because this aspect of health is so important, it is the basis for all of my health protocols. You can read more about the benefits of this style of eating here.
Reduce Stress and Promote Peace
When we are constantly grinding sometimes we forget how to relax. For example, many people who come to me with adrenal dysfunction often feel chronically tired, yet wired at the same time. If you don’t take time out to train your ability to relax, stressed out can become your default state.
This is why it is important to balance your stress with relaxation. This can be done in many ways. From a daily perspective, it can be super helpful to spend time in prayer, meditation, deep breathing, stretching, taking a healing bath, or gratitude journaling upon waking or before bed.
Additionally, you want to reflect on your life and see if their are areas of stress that you can cut back on. This could mean removing stressful people, surrounding yourself with uplifting friends, finding a way to reduce that long commute, improving communication skills (great for reducing stress in relationships), and anything else you can think of. Find those areas of your life that are robbing your energy unnesecarily and do what you can to improve them.
As I said, it is critical to balance your stress with relaxation so that your body can rejuvenate and adapt for a stronger tomorrow. This is especially important when it comes to sleep. Getting high-quality, deep sleep on a regular basis can be just as much of a game changer as balancing blood sugar.
This is because deep sleep rejuvenates the brain and restores balance to the whole body in so many ways. Unfortunately, our modern-day environment is really messing with our ability to sleep.
On top of being under chronic stress, we are surrounded by blue light from electronic devices, EMF from phones and wifi, and we don’t spend time in the sun as much anymore. These are all things that control our brains internal clock that tells us when to sleep.
Deep breath work is a great way to quickly pull your body out of a stressed state. This is because, done correctly, it can activate the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system which is responsible for inducing a state of relaxation.
One common and effective way of doing this is to perform what is called the box breathing technique. This is a simple technique where you breath in, hold, breath out, hold, and repeat in increments of 5 seconds each. So breath in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, etc.
Many people will notice that this technique is great for grounding during a time of stress and quickly reduces any anxiety they are feeling. You can also employ an active form of this technique when you are walking somewhere. Following the same pattern, breath in, hold, breath out, and hold in increments of every 5 steps. This can be a great mindfulness strategy when you don’t have time to sit and meditate.
Modern humans have largely separated themselves from the earth in many ways. We spend much of our time indoors and as a result we no longer receive regular sunlight or contact with the bare ground. These are both actually very important for our health. Our bodies are optimized to work with the light and magnetic forces that are put out by the earth and sun. When we do not receive these things, we experience consequences.
Studies have actually shown that getting barefoot contact with the earth can lower inflammation and improve stress levels in humans (3). To take these benefits a step further, I would recommend doing so in the sunlight with skin exposed. The best times of day to perform these activities are sunrise, midday, and sunset, this way your brain will reset with the circadian cues of the environment that tell us when to sleep.
Stress increases our need for magnesium while also rapidly depleting it from the body. Because magnesium is used for so many processes in the body, including energy production, a deficiency could make your stress more detrimental to your health. This can lead to a downward spiral of health consequences if it is not addressed.
While some people may be able to get away with consuming magnesium-rich foods, I often recommend supplementation as a way of topping off your body’s stores and improving your resilience to stress.
Specifically Brain Calm magnesium gets consistent results improving mood, promoting relaxation, improving sleep, improving blood sugar, and improving ability to adapt to stress. These effects collectively can help cortisol levels tremendously.
For additional support that can be easily implemented into a busy lifestyle, adaptogenic herbs can be powerful. These are herbs that strengthen your ability to handle stress by improving stress hormone signaling (4).
Improving stress hormone signaling is important to help with blood sugar and sex hormone imbalances which contribute to many health problems on their own.
One of the best herbs I have found for this is ashwaganda, which provides beneficial effects for both cortisol and DHEA (a sex hormone precursor). It has also been shown to lower subjective reports of stress and improve cognitive function.
Introducing Cortisol Defense
Other herbs that provide similar benefits are Magnolia of cinalis and Phellodendron amurense. Together these herbs help to improve cortisol-DHEA balance and improve perception of stress.
I have been working on a new supplement that incorporates these herbs, along with other powerful cortisol stabilizing compounds, to help combat the negative effects of chronic stress. Cortisol Defense is the result.
It is a powerful formula containing clinically tested extracts of these herbs that outperform all others. In addition to the lifestyle strategies outlined above, Cortisol Defense can help you conquer your stressful lifestyle once and for all.