Do you keep cortisol in check?
Cortisol is a stress hormone, just like adrenaline. This hormone is produced by the adrenal glands when you are under stress. Traditionally, this means that there is a danger that you have to flee or fight against. Cortisol then ensures that the energy stored in the cells of your body is quickly available to properly carry out this reaction to stress.
Today, stress is of a different order: stress over unpaid bills, stress from work, relationship stress, insufficient sleep, excessive exercise, eating junk food, and drinking too little. Whenever your body experiences stress, your adrenal glands produce cortisol.
Chronically too much cortisol is bad news for your health
Chronically elevated cortisol levels are exceptionally bad for your health. This problem is associated with a disturbed hormone balance, increased blood sugar levels, cardiovascular disease, and an elevated cholesterol level. An additional annoying problem is the storage of fat around your waist.
However, cortisol is not only made during danger and stress, your adrenal glands make cortisol throughout the day in a day and night rhythm. The highest level of cortisol is reached early in the morning, just when you have to get out of bed. Traditionally, it awakens and alerts your body and mind. At the moment of awakening, you have to look for food. In the primeval situation, we had to go into a ‘dangerous’ environment for this; in search of food, you may encounter predators or a snake or poisonous spider. Then it was important to be able to react immediately, otherwise, you would become food yourself.
Bring your cortisol back into the good day-night rhythm
Over the course of the day, your cortisol level should continue to decrease, until the lowest value is reached around 10 p.m. Your body and mind are prepared for rest and finally for a refreshing sleep. A disturbed cortisol day curve may be associated with difficulty falling asleep and/or difficulty staying asleep.
Tip 1. Eat a lot of vegetables and fruit
Good nutrition consists for the most part of vegetables (300-500 grams per day) and fruit (2-4 pieces per day). Avoid fast carbohydrates. Fast carbohydrates quickly boost your blood sugar. These can be found in processed foods (anything in a package, bag, or under a lid) that often have added sugar. Note: sugar is rarely referred to as sugar on the packaging, you will often find descriptions such as sucrose, natural fruit sugar, corn syrup, fructose syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, dextrose, modified corn starch, etc. Foods made from refined (wheat) flour also cause a rapid increase in your blood sugar level.
High-protein foods have the opposite effect. Eggs and nuts are therefore good to eat; they satiate you for a longer period of time than foods rich in carbohydrates.
Tip 2. Use body-mind techniques
Mindfulness, yoga, breathing techniques, meditation, grounding exercises, and visualizations: are all good for reducing stress reactions. You don’t have to interrupt your daily activities for breathing techniques, you can do that at your desk or on the road in your car.
Tip 3. Reduce your amount of caffeine
Reduce your amount of caffeine. Too much caffeine (in coffee, cola and energy drinks) and other stimulants like theine (in black and green tea) stimulate the production of cortisol in the adrenal glands. It is not a good idea to wake up in the morning with several espressos or a few mugs of coffee, nor to keep yourself going with the help of coffee, tea or energy drinks. Drink up to 2 cups of caffeinated beverages per day and do not drink after 3pm.
Tip 4. Do not train excessively
A good workout should not last longer than 45 minutes. If a workout lasts longer than an hour, your testosterone level will drop and your cortisol level will rise. A short 15-minute intensive strength training session can be better than an hour of jogging. Do not train for more than two days in a row, only start another workout when your body has recovered from the previous one.
Tip 5. Find the sun and the fresh air during the day
Sufficient (sun) light during the day can help improve your day-night rhythm. A healthy day-night rhythm is accompanied by a normal cortisol rhythm. Provide subdued light in the evening to help kick-start your melatonin production. In particular, avoid the blue light emitted by screens, smartphones, and tablets.
Tip 6. Get enough sleep
On average, people need eight hours of sleep per night, between seven and nine hours per night, is normal. Sleeping less than 6 ½ hours a night for a long time means that you are committing predatory acts on your body and adrenal glands. If your work consists of irregular shifts, make sure that your room is darkened to simulate a normal day-night rhythm as much as possible.
Tip 7. Foods that help stabilize your cortisol level
- Vitamins B5, C and folic acid help stabilize your cortisol levels. Eat foods rich in these vitamins: yes, fruits and vegetables!
- Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish. Vegetable sources of omega-3 fatty acids are walnuts, linseed oil, and canola oil. Krill oil is also possible.
- Dark chocolate. Doctor’s prescription chocolate! Choose the purest possible chocolate, more than 80% comes close.
- Reduce your amount of alcohol to a maximum of 3 glasses of alcoholic drink per week.
- Stop smoking. Contrary to what many smokers think they feel, smoking does not lower your stress level. Smokers experience a slightly less stressed and agitated feeling when they smoke, but between cigarettes, their cortisol levels are much higher than those of non-smokers.
Tip 8. Supplements that help normalize your cortisol levels
Vitamin C, phosphatidylserine, Rhodiola, glutamine and ginseng can lower your cortisol levels. This also applies to vitamin B5 and folic acid. Herbal preparations such as tulsi (holy basil) and magnolia are attributed the same effect. If you suffer from low cortisol levels, licorice root extract can be used
Tip 9. Especially cuddling more
No, this is not a joke. Hugging produces the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that regulates cortisol. More oxytocin is therefore very good against too much stress. I now prescribe to stressed people that they have to cuddle at least eight times a day. This frequency has actually been studied: women at least 20 seconds, men at least 30 seconds to a minute. In the absence of a person to cuddle with, a furry pet also works fine. A wonderful massage also works well.