High cortisol increases the risk of disease and premature death
(NaturalHealth365) In a stress response, the body prepares to meet a sudden crisis by releasing a burst of cortisol and other adrenal hormones. This “fight or flight” physical reaction is helpful when it comes to surviving an emergency – but when the stress is chronic and unrelenting, the response itself becomes a threat to your health.
The devastating effects of chronically heightened cortisol include a higher risk of disease – and a shorter life. Fortunately, natural techniques can help to lower excessive amounts of cortisol.
Too much cortisol causes accelerated aging and increases death risk
Since cortisol is a steroid hormone, it’s not surprising that exposure to excess cortisol mirrors the physical and mental effects of chronic steroid overmedication.
Unhealthy levels of cortisol appear to actually speed the aging process. In fact, researchers say having chronically high cortisol can make you look older – as assessed by facial photographs. Excess cortisol has been found to shorten the telomeres – the “caps” at the ends of chromosomes that prevent them from tangling with each other.
Significantly, shorter telomeres are associated with shorter lifespans.
And, research indicates that chronically elevated cortisol levels are accompanied by higher mortality risks. In one study, women with high cortisol levels were found to be 82 more percent likely to die than those with normal levels. For men, the heightened risk was 63 percent.
Chronically high cortisol raises the odds of developing serious disease
High cortisol levels, which are particularly stressful for the heart, increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by five-fold, even among people with no previous risk factors for heart disease.
And the damage doesn’t stop with heart disease. Excess cortisol can increase the risk of developing a laundry list of potentially debilitating and life-threatening conditions, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, depression and neurodegenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease.
The risk of obesity also soars, with cortisol responsible for producing stress-related food cravings and excessive abdominal fat, all while decreasing muscle and bone mass. In extreme cases, high cortisol levels can also cause excess fat and fluids to accumulate in the face – creating an effect similar to the swollen “moon face” seen in steroid overmedication.
High cortisol has even been associated with loss of cognitive function, as research has linked excess amounts of cortisol to shrinking of the hippocampus – the center of memory in the brain.
It’s time for some effective, natural solutions
Obviously, finding ways to reduce and manage stress is essential when it comes to lowering cortisol levels. But certain natural substances have been proven to be safe and effective in reducing cortisol levels as well.
Rhodiola rosea, a staple of Russian traditional medicine, is an adaptogenic herb that interacts with the brain-adrenal gland system to reduce cortisol production. In addition, it is believed to boost immune system function, improve mood, and help to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Studies have also proven the potential of a lychee fruit-green tea combination to reduce cortisol levels.
Natural health experts and herbalists have long credited lychee fruit with containing polyphenols that reduce oxidative stress and decrease cortisol, but the fruit’s many long-chain plant compounds aren’t easily absorbed by the body.
Researchers have found that adding green tea catechins reduces polyphenol size, helping to triple the bioavailability. As a bonus, green tea also contains theanine, an amino acid that helps control cortisol levels.
In a study published in 2010 in Nutrition Research and Practice, researchers found that Oligonol, a combination of polyphenols from lychee nuts and green tea, significantly reduced cortisol, as well as inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6.
Finally, a combination of magnolia bark and Phellodendrum amurense bark has been effective in lowering cortisol and ameliorating anxiety. Honokiol, one of the active ingredients in magnolia bark, has been found to outperform diazepam, or Valium, in reducing anxiety – without the side effects and addictive potential – while Phellodendrum has shown potential to control cortisol-induced food cravings.
When used to fuel the fight-or-flight stress response, cortisol is part of the body’s arsenal of valuable survival tools. Over the long-term, however, an excess of this steroid hormone can be life-threatening. If you suspect you have high cortisol levels, see a knowledgeable (integrative or functional) physician for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.