Reduce CortisolA while back I had my cholesterol levels checked as well as my blood pressure and fasting blood sugar levels checked. Actually I wasn’t fasting at the time so my readings for that test were obviously high. A normal blood sugar range is a level below 100 and mine was somewhere around 140 at the time… which is in the normal range for a healthy person who has just had breakfast.
Anyway, the nice lady who tested my blood was slightly concerned about my blood pressure as it was the only thing that she could latch onto as a potential problem. My weight and cholesterol levels were amazing but my blood pressure was around 125 over 80. She asked if I drank coffee and a happily responded with a resounding yes. Even the thought of coffee makes me happy; I'm such an dork.
To my surprise she told me that I shouldn’t drink coffee at all because it raises my cortisol levels and also plays a role in my elevated blood pressure.
Now, I know caffeine raises blood pressure (see my post on the leading causes of hypertension for more triggers) and it should be a place to cut back on if a blood pressure problem starts cropping up but I figure 125 over 80 isn’t that bad... but what is this business about my cortisol levels being too high, especially since she didn't even test them?
Doing some research I’ve found out a bit about this hormone but admittedly, I’m still a little short on full understanding of this hormone in it's entirety.
What Is CortisolCortisol as it turns out is a hormone that “is produced by the adrenal cortex in the adrenal gland and is one of the primary factors in the body’s stress response… it raises blood pressure during times of stress.”
I’m not going to go into this too much as a lot of my info is simply regurgitated from other people who know about this topic that I do. TestCountry.org has this to say about what Cortisol does:
“The body needs cortisol in order to function properly. And there is quite a complex system in place in charge of regulating this substance. Basically, the hypothalamus releases CRH, which then triggers the pituitary gland to release ACTH. ACTH then encourages the adrenal cortex in the adrenal glands in the body to produce more cortisol. When you are highly stressed, pregnant, depressed, very athletic, an alcoholic or suffer from a panic disorder, you will have high levels of cortisol.
As you can see, it is all about balance when it comes to cortisol in the body. And when that balance is thrown off, serious problems can arise.
If you have too much cortisol you may end up with Cushing’s Syndrome, which can manifest itself by means of obesity in the upper body and very thin limbs. Or, if you do not have enough cortisol, you may end up with Addison’s Disease, a very serious condition caused most often by tumors on either the pituitary or adrenal glands.”
From additional research I’ve learned that the cortisol hormone essential evolved as a survival mechanism. When stress levels got high our ability to deal with the immediate stresses or threats were raised. This is kind of like the increase in adrenaline when we get excited. The problem is however the high levels of cortisol for prolonged periods of time can be dangerous to our long term health. I did touch on this concept in a post last fall on symptoms of anxiety predicting lifespan.
This is actually quite consistent with all the posts on this blog in which I’ve described the formula for living a longer life. Check out my recent post on how to live to 100 years old for more info. In populations and groups of people who live extremely long lives, they tend to do very well with keeping stress levels low. In fact centenarians as a group almost universally have low levels of stress and have always had lifestyles that supported stress relief either through social interaction, physical exercise, or a combination of the two.
How To Lower Cortisol Levels NaturallySo then, "how to lower cortisol levels" naturally seems to be a pretty easy question to answer. Without doing much research one would surmise that simply eliminating and treating stress in your life is the best way to reduce cortisol levels naturally and safely. In fact lowering cortisol levels probably goes hand in hand with simple exercise and staying active socially… so long as you don’t overwork yourself that is.
Of course many people struggle mightily with stress and reducing it in their lives and no matter how easy it is to tell someone to exercise and relax a bit it's never that easy. If you need a structured plan to attack the stress in your life this guide to managing and beating stress in your day-to-day life may help.
You can also see my recent article on how to reduce cortisol levels with your diet to see how cutting inflammatory foods can help keep your cortisol levels lower.
In the future I want to explore this topic a little more. There actually appears to be a number of ways to lower cortisol levels but I want to take some time to review the scientific literature and medical studies that support the many claims before sharing them here on this site. In the mean time, lower your cortisol levels by lowering your stress levels. Reserve this stress hormone for your survival instinct only and you should be doing pretty good.
Update - If you haven't checked out my guide to reducing cortisol by eating anti-inflammatry foods check it out. Thanks.