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January 4, 2012

High Cortisol Levels: Why Late-to-Sleep and Early-to-Rise May Be Hurting You. Badly.

high cortisol levelsWe all know it: going to bed late and getting up early, while maybe productive in the short-term, is not healthy in the long-term. The trend of popping an energy drink or guzzling a venti coffee first thing in the morning to deal with the hardships of being perpetually tired can lead to some undesirable health issues.  If you are among those suffering from constant fatigue or chronic stress, then you may have elevated levels of cortisol.  Want to know how you can align the physical, emotional, and mental back to the precision point psychiatrists call vigor—you know, that state of sublime energy we all have at some point or another? Well, read on.

What is Cortisol?

The cortisol hormone is a steroid which is produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress. Ordinarily coritsol is highest in the morning, around 8am, and then gradually lowers throughout the day, especially after exercise, reaching a low around 4am, or a few hours after the onset of sleep. The problem with the stress-filled, no-sleep lifestyles of many people is that they don’t get a chance to deplete their levels; in other words, the cortisol stays elevated through the night. This leads to a hormonal imbalance in the body.

With high cortisol levels, the production of testosterone and DHEA are suppressed, the latter two being responsible for many important anti-inflammatory and oxidative functions.

(Since women, however, have less testosterone, a high cortisol-induced drop in their testosterone is normally going to affect women more than men. For women who want to stay young, lean, energetic, and otherwise active, a healthy level of testosterone is very important.)

High Cortisol Symptoms

Prolonged high cortisol levels can enact significant physiological changes in both men and women. The symptoms include, but are not limited to the following:
Exhaustion (reduced physical/mental energy = low vigor)
• Low sex drive
• Decreased muscle mass
• Reduced calorie/fat-burning
• Increased abdominal fat

How to Lower Cortisol levels

So, you checked off some, or maybe every symptom on the above list. Do not worry (further.) Reducing cortisol and restoring a balance in the body is relatively easy. Use any or all of these approaches to help bring your cortisol levels down, and your testosterone up.

Exercise: Virtually all forms of exercise help to reduce cortisol levels. So get to it! Find a sport that you enjoy and try to get the blood pumping as much as possible each day.

Diet: Fatty of overly sugary, processed foods can affect the adrenal gland in negative ways. Stick to brightly colored fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and unrefined/whole carbohydrates.

Stress Management: One of the aforementioned operative variables in this equation is stress—and it just happens. Stress is a part of life, but how we deal with those stressors at a psychological level will determine our hormonal response, as stress researchers from around the world have determined. In other words, if you acknowledge stress too much, or with too much intensity, your body will respond in tune with your emotional change.

Dietary Supplements: In addition to, or as part of a balanced diet, certain supplements can be beneficial to maintaining a proper physiological equilibrium.  The Malaysian herb Eurycoma longifolia (Tongkat ali) is a potent option for energy, and among the many other supplements which can be used as a natural method to help to safely restore the body’s hormonal equilibrium.

High cortisol levels fall under the scope of adrenal disease, a category which can be somewhat hard to diagnose; furthermore, if left untreated these deficiencies (or, in the opposite case, surplus’) can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening complications. If you feel that any of your hormones are out of balance it is best to talk to a doctor immediately.