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Cortisol is the pesky hormone that could be wreaking havoc on your body

And how to tell if your levels are too high.
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If you’ve been in the online health space recently, you’re probably finding that you’re constantly running into the term ‘cortisol’ more than ever. But, what exactly is cortisol? And why should you care what your cortisol levels are?

What is cortisol?

In a nutshell, cortisol is a hormone that is naturally released by the adrenal glands in your body. It’s commonly referred to as the “stress” hormone but in actuality, it’s vital to a number of important bodily functions including:

Fight or flight response – It stimulates the fight or flight functions that your body produces when it’s under stress or immediate threat.

Metabolism regulation – It also helps to regulate blood sugar levels and the way that our body absorbs fats and carbohydrates effectively.

Immunity function – The hormone is also responsible for ensuring that our immunity is up to scratch. Even when we do get sick, cortisol will ensure that our tissue and other vital organs don’t get attacked by infections and illnesses.

Blood pressure – As for blood pressure, a healthy level can help to regulate this by balancing salt and water in the body.

Circadian rhythm – In the morning, cortisol levels start high to wake you up and prepare you for the day. Then, at night, your cortisol levels should decline whilst other hormones like melatonin increase and prepare you for sleep.

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What are some signs you have high cortisol?

A healthy level of cortisol can help the body function to the best of its ability. However, when levels are high, it can wreak havoc on certain functions and cause health issues. 

High cortisol levels are the body’s reaction to a myriad of external and internal factors including: stress, pituitary gland issues, adrenal gland issues, side-effects from medication (such as oral contraceptives).

The only true way to know if you have high levels is through a blood or urine test with your GP, but there are also symptoms that can tell you too. These include:

  • Weight gain, particularly around your abdomen and face
  • Bruising easily
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Acne
  • Thinning skin
  • Female facial hair
  • Irregular menstrual periods

Alternatively, your levels can also be too low as a result of damage to your adrenal glands. Signs that you have low cortisol are: 

  • Fatigue and morning sluggishness
  • Weakened immune system
  • Brain fog
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle weakness
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How to lower cortisol levels

For those struggling with low cortisol, you can take Corticosteroids, which are synthetic versions of the hormone. However, if you’re struggling with high cortisol levels, there’s no ‘wonder drug’ that can tackle the issue. Instead you’ll need to make a few lifestyle changes.

Work on your sleep hygiene – Chronic sleep issues are one of the biggest causes of the overproduction of this hormone. Having a consistent bedtime and ensuring you get at least eight hours of sleep can help to tackle this.

Reduce stress – This is easier said than done but managing stress will help lower your cortisol. Whether it’s practising mindfulness or learning to recognise stress-inducing mindsets, finding simple ways to reduce stress will do you good in the long-run.

Eat a nutritious diet – Controlling your diet is another aspect of controlling your hormone levels. One study found that a diet high in added sugar, refined grains, and saturated fat, contributed significantly to hormone overproduction. Focusing on incorporating whole fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes into your everyday diet could help to manage issues.

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