How cortisol actually deals with daily stressors in our bodies

YoImagine if there was something that could solve all your problems. Fatigue, inflammation and weight gain? Check. Bad skin, puffiness and swelling? Check. Eye twitches, headaches and almost any kind of illness you can imagine? Check. If you’ve been on TikTok in the last week, you’ll know this I’m talking about cortisol. For any reason, find ways to control the “stress hormone”as it is often called, has become the Internet’s golden ticket to optimal living.

The hashtags #cortisollevels and #howtoreducecortisol have garnered over 150 million combined views on TikTok alone. Meanwhile, Google searches for “cortisol” hit an all-time high this month, with the search term “how to reduce cortisol” ranking fourth in “how to” searches in the UK over the past 90 days. The videos with millions of views advise people on everything related to cortisol, from natural ways to reduce levels through diet to describing a “day in the life of someone with high cortisol,” in which People blame various ailments and afflictions (including round cheeks). by having excessive amounts of the hormone.

Then there are videos urging people to make drastic changes to lower their cortisol, like swapping HIIT workouts for yoga and giving up coffee, or starting the day by taking countless supplements and spending 15 minutes in a sauna. There are even cocktail recipes with cortisol. It’s overwhelming, especially since almost none of these clips have been created by doctors, and most of them don’t even really explain what cortisol actually is.

“Cortisol is a stress hormone that is synthesized from cholesterol in the adrenal cortex,” explains Jodie Relf, ​​dietitian and spokesperson for MyOva, a fertility supplement. “During periods of stress, our sympathetic nervous system is activated: it is responsible for our fight or flight response and triggers a sequence of hormonal and physiological responses, such as an increase in heart and respiratory rate. “When the threat persists, the adrenal cortex is stimulated to release cortisol, keeping the body on high alert.”

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All of this information may seem alarming, especially if you’re fed it via various abbreviations, courtesy of a frantic, unqualified TikToker. In reality, it is just a normal bodily response, and once the perceived “threat” has been removed, cortisol levels typically return to normal. “The production and secretion of cortisol is regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis,” adds Relf. “Loss of regulation can lead to disorders of excess cortisol, such as Cushing’s syndrome, or insufficient levels of cortisol, such as Addison’s disease.”

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reduce our cortisol levels, which increase with stress. “In today’s fast-paced society, chronic stress has become increasingly prevalent, leading to elevated cortisol levels in many people,” says Ruth Jamieson, functional nutritionist at ARVRA Wellness. “Factors such as work pressure, financial stress, relationship problems, and lifestyle habits can contribute to chronic stress and cortisol dysregulation.”

Fatigue is a common symptom of high cortisol (getty)

The problem is, because we can get stressed by so many different factors in modern life (whether it’s work, money, health, social expectations, family, friends or our relationships), we often don’t give our bodies the opportunity to calm down. . In short, threats are perceived all around us.

“The body does not differentiate between these different stressors; he reads them all like a saber-toothed tiger and prepares to face or flee danger,” adds Jamieson. “While this response improves short-term survival, and short-term stress has benefits, chronic stress leads to chronically elevated cortisol, which in turn can lead to dysregulation of vital bodily functions.”

This can manifest itself in a variety of ways, from acne and muscle weakness to increased appetite, sleep disturbances, and high blood pressure. There may also be some truth in TikTok clips about high levels of cortisol affecting the specific shapes of patients’ faces and bodies. “If elevated cortisol levels are left unchecked, it can lead to weight gain, especially around the midsection and curvature of the face,” says women’s wellness expert Dr. Shirin Lakhani. It can also affect your mood. “Elevated levels of cortisol can have an effect on the brain, causing changes in neurotransmitters in the brain, which can lead to imbalances in serotonin – the brain hormones of happiness. Then you can start to have poor mental health,” she adds.

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With all this in mind, it is even more pressing that people get information about cortisol from the right sources. Sure, there may be clips with millions of views telling you how to “hack” your cortisol levels and lower them. The tips they contain might even work. But given the importance of this and the amount of body and mind it can affect, it makes more sense to listen to medical experts.

So how can you really lower your cortisol? An easy place to start is to address your diet. “A ‘good’ diet can facilitate the natural reduction of inflammation in the body while promoting tissue repair; this can reduce cortisol,” explains Steve Chambers, personal trainer at Ultimate Performance. “This will reduce cortisol, which will reduce the risk of chronic diseases and improve well-being. A good diet consists of a balanced intake of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats in a defined proportion) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients).”

Broadly speaking, this can be broken down into eating dark leafy vegetables, drinking plenty of water, and cutting down on alcohol and caffeine. Weight lifting can also help. “When looking to lose fat around the abdomen, many people fall into the trap of thinking that endless cardio will change it,” says Chambers. “In fact, too much cardio will put your body under even more stress, leading to (you guessed it) elevated cortisol levels. So much so that many people feel incredibly frustrated and discouraged because, despite spending hours on the treadmill, their weight doesn’t budge. “Lifting weights has been shown to be much more effective when it comes to controlling cortisol levels and burning fat, when combined with a high-protein, calorie-controlled diet.”

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Lighter forms of exercise can also help, particularly things like yoga and meditation. “Engaging in activities that help you relax and unwind, such as listening to relaxing music or spending time in nature, helps reduce cortisol levels,” adds Dr. Lakhani. “Deep breathing exercises, such as box breathing, can also help. Box breathing involves being in a comfortable position, inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose for four seconds and holding your breath for four seconds, before exhaling through your mouth for four seconds. Then you must hold your breath for four seconds before repeating the process.”

Most importantly, however, you will lower your cortisol levels by identifying key stressors and finding better ways to manage them. Ironically, scrolling through TikTok probably doesn’t help, even if all you’re doing is watching videos on how to do just that (several Studies have linked excessive screen time to cortisol deregulation.

“Be aware of your thinking pattern, breathing, heart rate, and other signs of stress so you can recognize stress when it starts and address it to help prevent it from getting worse in the long term,” suggests Ada Ooi, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner. and founder of 001 Skincare.

Sometimes, however, the best advice can be as simple as doing the things you love and surrounding yourself with the people closest to you. “Laughter really is the best medicine: it promotes the release of endorphins and suppresses cortisol,” adds Ooi. “We are often so busy that we get carried away with everyday life and forget to appreciate the little moments in life that bring us joy and help us feel more relaxed. “They can make a big difference.”

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