When we feel danger, our body releases cortisol and adrenaline, increasing heart rate and giving us energy boosts. Cortisol is a stress hormone that's partially responsible for our fight or flight response. It's also needed to regulate blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and impact how your body reacts to blood sugar levels.
When cortisol levels are elevated for long periods, it may cause heightened anxiety and an increased risk of diabetes. Chronically high levels may increase the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and poor mental health. Signs that cortisol levels are high for a prolonged period of time may be:
high blood sugar
irregular menstrual cycles
Many issues may cause elevated cortisol levels:
- Certain medications like corticosteroids and birth control may increase levels
- Malnutrition - certain eating disorders may contribute to raised cortisol levels
- Chronic stress -if you're body is constantly in "fight or flight" mode, your body keeps producing cortisol
- Oestrogen - Studies have shown that raised oestrogen levels may increase cortisol levels
- PCOS (poly-cystic ovary syndrome) has also been liked to increased cortisol levels
- Certain types of tumours
There are ways to lower your cortisol levels, but it depends on what the underlying cause is.
If a pituitary gland tumour or medication is the reason for high cortisol, then a medical professional can work with you to lower them. If the cause is stress and heightened anxiety, then there are certain lifestyle adjustments that you can make to help:
- Practice mindfulness - meditation, breathing exercises and yoga can have a profound effect on your well-being
- Practice healthy sleeping habits - when we get a good nights sleep, our body is better able to restore
- Increase physical activity levels - working out can help get rid of pent up tension
- Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet
- Use supplements - studies have shown that omega-3 and B vitamins are linked to lower cortisol levels.