Cortisol is a hormone that the body naturally produces whenever a person experiences a stressful situation. While cortisol is useful in giving the body a boost of energy, constant and prolonged exposure to elevated cortisol levels can lead to unwanted results. Weight gain, heart complications, and lengthy recovery time are some of these side effects. As a way of controlling cortisol, a person must exercise, maintain proper diet, rest and sleep well, and manage external stressors.
Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways in controlling cortisol. Exercise has been known to relieve stress, the chief cause of cortisol production. It also burns off fat, one of the side effects of high cortisol levels.
In addition, exercise produces testosterone and endorphins. Testosterone prevents cortisol from breaking down muscle tissue for energy. Endorphins, "feel good" hormones, block cortisol production because they trick the body into thinking that it is in a healthy state.
Too much exercise on the other hand, can have the opposite effect in controlling cortisol. Overtraining stresses the muscles which, in turn, produce more cortisol. The increased production may lead to catabolism, a condition where muscle tissues are broken down to be consumed as fuel. As a result, the muscles will take longer to recover and may even decrease in mass.
Production of cortisol is at its lowest during sleep. Adequate sleep lowers stress levels and allows muscle to repair itself. Sleep also produces growth hormone, a natural cortisol suppressant.
Stress management is crucial when it comes to controlling cortisol. Relaxation exercises, meditation, and even the occasional trip to the spa can drastically relieve stress. For those who don't have the time, taking five minutes off from work can help clear the mind.
Coffee is one of the biggest perpetrators of high cortisol. Caffeine in the coffee can heighten a person's anxiety and stress levels. Asking someone to part with his or her caffeine habit, though, can simply add more stress. Caffeine intake can be limited instead, with tea and decaffeinated coffee used as substitutes to regular coffee.
Diet plays a key role in controlling cortisol. A cortisol diet is generally rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, and antioxidants. Garlic has also been known to reduce cortisol. Serving more meals with smaller portions normally helps stabilize cortisol levels as well.
On the other end of the spectrum, low cortisol levels can leave a person feeling fatigued and may lead to low blood pressure. Lack of cortisol is often undiagnosed until harmful complications arise. Tests can be performed to check for cortisol deficiency. Hormone supplements may be used to help a person return to normal cortisol levels.