Solving the cortisol puzzle: Top 5 ways to keep chronic stress at bay
(NaturalHealth365) We all know that high-stress levels are bad for our health. But did you know that chronic stress can result in high cortisol levels, which can, in turn, increase inflammation and even cause weight gain?
It is a vicious cycle that too many of us deal with daily.
The good news: rebalancing cortisol levels may seem like an uphill battle with the amount of everyday stress many of us experience, but the truth is that adding cortisol-reducing nutrients to the diet and responding to stressful situations more constructively is the key to solving the high cortisol puzzle. (Anyone can do this.)
Why high cortisol levels may be a silent killer
Cortisol is a necessary stress hormone that gives the body energy during periods of fight or flight. Naturally, cortisol tends to be higher in the morning and should taper off – as the day progresses. However, there are many reasons your natural cortisol rhythm gets thrown off.
When the cortisol levels become out of control, and the adrenocorticotropic hormone signals the adrenals to pump out too much cortisol, various health issues arise. This may occur due to high stress levels, lack of sleep, infections, or exposure to artificial white light at night (to name a few). The problem is that too much of this hormone can deplete your adrenals, be responsible for frequent headaches and cause you to become hypersensitive or moody.
Too much of this stress hormone can also cause chronic fatigue, decreased immune function, food cravings, anxiety, and weight gain.
How high cortisol levels are connected to weight gain and health problems
We all know that cortisol is necessary – in small amounts – for optimal health. But, when we experience chronic stress, excessive amounts of cortisol get released into the body. Why should we care? Because this overabundance of cortisol often triggers excess weight gain – especially the kind called “belly fat.”
And, as we all know, this visceral belly fat is the most dangerous to human health. A study led by Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez studied more than 15,000 people who were of normal weight but had large amounts of belly fat. The study found that the individuals with significant amounts of visceral belly fat were twice as likely to die than the control group. (Simply put, don’t ignore the dangers of chronic stress.)
Three nutrients to reduce excessive amounts of cortisol in the body
The first thing to address is your dietary habits. Food plays a critical role in nearly every aspect of health, and cortisol is no exception. So, to lower cortisol levels, be sure to include the items (below) in your diet.
Omega 3-Fatty Acids: Omega 3’s have countless health benefits, and helping your body rebalance cortisol levels is one of them. Research has shown that fish oil may actually help individuals cope with stress and, in turn, reduce cortisol levels. A study concluded that after 3-weeks, volunteers who took fish oil had changes in their cortisol levels, heart rate, and even blood pressure. Good food sources include organic flax seeds, wild salmon, and chia seeds.
B-Vitamins: Eating a diet rich in B vitamins or supplementing with a B-complex vitamin when necessary has been shown to help rebalance cortisol levels in the body. B vitamins have been known to support healthy adrenal function while also fighting against high cortisol levels. B vitamins have also been known to promote a sense of calm while naturally boosting energy, making this group of vitamins essential to those dealing with high levels of stress.
To ensure you nourish your body with adequate amounts of these important vitamins, increase your intake of B-vitamin-rich foods. For example, try adding in some wild-caught fish, pasture-raised meats, eggs, and organic dark leafy greens. If you’re a vegetarian or have a hard time getting enough B vitamins – try supplementing with a high-quality B-complex vitamin.
Adaptogenic herbs: Adaptogenic herbs are incredibly helpful to rebalance and naturally reduce high cortisol levels. Adaptogenic herbs work with your body to reduce stress by balancing hormones and may even help to reduce fatigue and promote energy. Some of the best-known adaptogenic herbs are ashwagandha, holy basil, and ginseng.
A huge part of gaining control of high cortisol levels is focusing on a whole food, nutritionally dense diet. You will want to remove processed foods high in trans-fats, sugar, and sodium and focus on foods that are going to provide your body with a large amount of nutrients and energy.
Two bonus health tips to reduce cortisol levels and reduce stress in your life
Treat yourself to a massage: Here’s just one more reason to get a professional massage. A study found that massage therapy was able to cut cortisol levels by 31% and increase serotonin and dopamine at the same time! Go out and get yourself a massage once or twice a month; your stress levels will thank you for it. If you can’t afford a massage session, self-massage can be the answer.
Jam to music: Doesn’t music make everything better? An interesting study was done, which concluded that patients undergoing colonoscopies who listened to music before the procedure had lower levels of cortisol spikes than the patients who did not listen to music before the procedure. Try listening to music before or during stressful situations, if possible, to drastically reduce your cortisol levels.
Suffering from high cortisol levels doesn’t have to be your reality. While some stress is inevitable, there are many things you can do (today) to take control of your chronic levels of stress.
Focus on your diet, get enough omega-3s and B vitamins, and try an adaptogenic herb while pampering yourself with a massage and jamming to your favorite music. You may be surprised that these minor tweaks to your daily routine may drastically affect your overall health.
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