You’ve probably heard of big bad cortisol, but in reality, it’s not all that bad, it’s more like goldilocks, it needs to be in a sweet spot.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal cortex. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory but is also a stress hormone. When cortisol levels fall too low you’ll have difficulty regulating your blood sugar, building proper bone health, and maintaining energy. When cortisol is too high you’ll experience a wired but tired feeling, anxiety, jittery feelings, and hold on to stubborn belly fat. And this is why it’s Goldilocks!
What makes understanding cortisol even tricker, is it’s not just about “high” or “low”, cortisol levels should follow a natural rhythm throughout the day.
Cortisol levels should jump up when we wake up to suppress melatonin and help us wake up. The levels further elevate in the afternoon to keep us going strong with energy throughout our day. Finally, cortisol levels lower in the evening to allow for a rise in melatonin when it’s time for bed.
If it’s too high at night you’ll have a hard time falling asleep and producing melatonin.
If it’s too high all day you’ll hold on to stubborn belly fat.
If it’s too low in the morning or afternoon you’ll feel bone-crushing fatigue without cortisol to get you up and going.
And to further complicate matters, you need to take free cortisol and metabolized cortisol into consideration as well. These are all patterns that I look for when analyzing a client’s DUTCH test (dried urine hormone test).
This means that your body is just constantly pumping out too much cortisol all around and isn’t able to clear it out. This is usually the result of diet and lifestyle. These individuals usually feel constantly on edge and anxious.
Implementing an anti-inflammatory diet
Work on healing the gut
Avoid alcohol and stimulants
Weight loss if applicable
Guided meditation apps
Lots of Work on sleep is also important here. I have several videos on how to improve your sleep you can watch below!
Soothing essential oils before bedtime can be relaxing and can help lower cortisol levels as well. One of the best known essential oils for lowering cortisol is called clary sage.
This is most likely a communication error between the brain and adrenals and is what is typically known as “adrenal dysfunction.”
Poor recovery from exercise
Shaky or light-headed if a meal is missed
Dizziness upon standing
Reduced stress tolerance
Digestive issues/food intolerance
This is a difficult problem to fix without addressing the root cause of what contributed to this state in the first place.
Long Term health problems (chronic fatigue, SIBO, fibromyalgia)
Certain meds (especially steroid-like treatments for Crohn’s RA, asthma, etc)
Opioids and Accutane
Lack of nutrients for cortisol synthesis
*This pattern is one of the longest and hardest recoveries, usually taking between 6-12 months and you need to address that root cause to be able to really make progress here.
This happens when the body is making a normal amount of cortisol but it is being broken down too aggressively.
Calming and supporting the HPA axis WITHOUT stimulating it
Work on detoxification
Improve gut health
Lose weight if needed
Get good sleep
Prioritize getting enough protein
This is often a sign of low thyroid function so getting your thyroid checked is important with this pattern.
With this symptom picture, your Metabolism is impaired so the body doesn’t make as much cortisol and the clearance is sluggish because when the thyroid slows down, everything slows down.
As you can see cortisol is so much more complex than just being high or low! And each specific pattern has its own underlying root cause, it’s own symptom picture, and it’s own root cause solutions as well. This is where working with a qualified practitioner can be really helpful.
No matter what the pattern, anyone can start with the basics of improving digestion, reducing stress, and eating nutrient-dense anti-inflammatory foods, so I recommend starting there!