Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol levels are highest in the morning but decline throughout the day. It plays a vital role in regulating metabolism and blood pressure, as well as helping to regulate energy use and storage in your body. Cortisol is also known as the “stress hormone” because it increases during times of physical or psychological stress.
The amount of cortisol in your body follows a diurnal pattern—that is, it rises highest in the morning and decreases throughout the day until reaching its lowest point at nightfall. This pattern occurs because our brains are programmed to respond to environmental cues such as light and temperature change; these factors affect our circadian rhythms.
The body responds to stress by releasing cortisol which helps boost energy to deal with whatever is causing an immediate threat, such as an emergency. It also triggers other hormones that let you know that something needs attention, such as adrenaline or testosterone, the latter two help us fight or run when faced with danger.
The stress response is an automatic mechanism that prepares the body to respond to a perceived threat. The hypothalamus controls this response and regulates many bodily functions, including digestion and metabolism. When exposed to a stressful event, your hypothalamus releases a corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH signals the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which then signals your adrenal glands to release cortisol into your bloodstream.
How to Test Cortisol Levels
Cortisol levels can be measured using a saliva test, the preferred home testing method. Saliva is drawn from the mouth and sent to a lab for analysis. It is essential to test before 11 AM to get an accurate reading. Cortisol levels are at their highest before 11 AM; thus, the importance of measuring in the morning. Alternatly, you can go to a medical professional to have your blood drawn and tested.
Managing Cortisol Levels
Cortisol management involves recognizing the factors that contribute to your stress response, taking steps to improve how you manage them, and then identifying if your changes have the desired effect of lowering your cortisol levels.
The first step in managing cortisol is to identify what stresses you out. This can be tough at first because we don’t always realize what causes our stress until after it happens or even after we’ve felt stressed for a while. For example, say you had an argument with someone over something small but felt like this experience was huge and had a significant impact on your day and maybe even for days afterward. If you track how often these experiences happen during a week or month (or year), the pattern will emerge: “I argue with people about trivial things every other week!”
Managing stress is essential for healthy cortisol levels. If you’re feeling stressed out and not sleeping well, the best thing you can do is take it easy. Meditate, do yoga, or practice other relaxation techniques that calm your mind and body. It’s also a good idea to avoid stressful situations whenever possible. After all, they’re known to raise cortisol levels!
If you have trouble managing your stress levels on your own, consider turning to a professional counselor. A good therapist will help you learn how to reduce the amount of stress in your life by teaching coping strategies that work for you.
Diet, Exercise, and Sleep
To keep cortisol levels in check, knowing which foods can raise or lower cortisol levels is essential.
Foods that help lower cortisol include:
- Protein-rich grains like quinoa and brown rice, as well as beans and legumes
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale, and collards
- Berries (blueberries are particularly beneficial)
Foods that may raise cortisol include:
- Coffee or other caffeinated drinks (especially if you consume them at night)
- Food high in sugar
Regular exercise can help reduce stress and regulate cortisol levels. Exercise is an excellent way to help manage your stress and make you feel better, whether in a short walk or an intense workout. It’s also good for your overall health, as it helps improve sleep quality, boost energy levels and keep you focused throughout the day.
There are many reasons why it’s so important to get enough sleep. First and foremost, not getting enough rest can lead to physical and mental health problems; people who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Additionally, if you’re feeling exhausted during the day because you haven’t had enough sleep at night, your productivity will suffer, leading to even more stress!
But even if your goal is to avoid these adverse effects on your body as much as possible, there’s still one benefit that seems especially relevant for cortisol tracking: getting high-quality sleep has been linked to lower stress hormone levels. And while this isn’t an ideal perk when it comes down to cortisol values themselves because it means less cortisol reduction overall, it’s certainly better than not hitting those numbers at all.
We know that managing stress is not always easy, but with the right tools, you can find a path to a more balanced life. Cortisol tracking is one of those tools that can help you manage your cortisol levels and get back in balance.
It’s important to remember that cortisol management involves recognizing the factors that contribute to your stress response, taking steps to improve how you manage them, and then identifying if your changes are having the desired effect of lowering your cortisol levels.
If they aren’t working out as expected or not enough progress has been made within six months, then consider seeking professional help from someone who specializes in this area, such as an endocrinologist or psychologist with experience working with people who are dealing with chronic stress issues. Here at Acera, we look at all aspects of your health. Call (949) 866-3461 today.