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Are My Cortisol Levels Too High? Part 2

In Part 1, we covered the ways in which your cortisol levels can become skewed & the side-effects associated with imbalanced cortisol. In Part 2 of this two-part series, we will look into ways you can fix your cortisol levels and bring them back to normal.  Let’s start with lifestyle fixes for lowering cortisol.

Lifestyle Solutions for High Cortisol

  1. SLEEP. This is placed in the number one spot for a good reason. Sleep is INCREDIBLY important to normal hormone levels, especially normal cortisol levels. The body (correctly) interprets lack of sleep as a high-stress situation and prepares for hard times by releasing cortisol, often triggering cravings for high-calorie foods that will perk you up. Sleeping eight quality hours a night or more is absolutely crucial for bringing cortisol levels back into line.
  2. RELAX. Easier said than done! We live in a hectic, fast-paced world where expectations are high and time is short. Taking the time out to relax and unwind is a must. Meditation, exercising, chatting with friends, laughing, and getting in quality time with people you love are all good ways to dial down the stress pattern that elevates cortisol.
  3. EXERCISE. Exercise (especially resistance training) is key to burning fat and building muscle. Lift heavier weights for fewer reps for a more positive anabolic response.[1] Endurance exercise can have the opposite effect. When you go long (over an hour) cortisol levels tend to go higher and stay that way. [2]

Nutrition Solutions for High Cortisol

  1. CAFFEINE. High caffeine intake has been linked with elevated cortisol levels.[3] If you are downing 4-5 cups (300-400mg of caffeine) of coffee every day, you might be unintentionally spiking your cortisol levels.
  2. LESS PROCESSED FOOD. Cut the junk out of your diet to improve your cortisol response.

“When we eat sugar, white flour and other refined foods, they are absorbed very quickly by the body and bring our blood glucose levels up too quickly to an excessively high level. This sends an emergency signal to the pancreas to bring the blood sugar levels back down, so it releases an excessive amount of insulin to deal with the excessively high levels of blood glucose.

This in turn causes the body to call on the adrenal glands to release cortisol to bring the blood sugar levels back up, because it works in conjunction with insulin to keep blood sugar in balance. Every time you eat sugar and refined foods the pancreas and the adrenals go through this cycle and this puts too much demand on them.”

3. CUT OUT THE ALCOHOL. Drinking alcohol has a profound effect on cortisol levels. Drinkers who consume alcohol on a regular basis have chronically high cortisol levels[4] and tend to store high levels of fat in their abdomen due to high cortisol levels and other factors.

In short, these are pretty easy steps you can take to make sure your cortisol levels are in a good pattern. If you need help tweaking your exercise plan, just contact me and I can set you on the right path.

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[1] Acute Hormonal Responses to Heavy Resistance Exercise in Strength Athletes Versus Nonathletes. Juha P. Ahtiainen, Arto Pakarinen, William J. Kraemer, Keijo Hakkinen. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 2004, 29(5): 527-543, 10.1139/h04-034

[2] Catecholamines, growth hormone, cortisol, insulin, and sex hormones in anaerobic and aerobic exercise.

European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology. September 1982, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 389-399.

[3] Caffeine Stimulation of Cortisol Secretion Across the Waking Hours in Relation to Caffeine Intake Levels. Psychosom Med. 2005; 67(5): 734–739.

[4]  Alcohol use, urinary cortisol, and heart rate variability in apparently healthy men: Evidence for impaired inhibitory control of the HPA axis in heavy drinkers. International Journal of Psychophysiology. Volume 59, Issue 3, March 2006, Pages 244–250.


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