Cortisol – Friend or foe

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My body wants to work in my favor. From head to toe, it wants me to be healthy, happy and free from worry. In fact, it will work overtime to keep me in balance. When insult strikes, my body comes to my rescue to heal the injury, bringing me back to a state known as homeostasis. When I cut my finger, my body sends out extra proteins to repair the cut. When I get a cold, my body calls on my immune system to fight the virus.

The same is true when I am under stress. Whether the stressor is large or small, physical or emotional, my adrenal glands go to work by producing cortisol. Known as the “stress hormone,” cortisol helps sustain life. Its role is to regulate changes in my body triggered by stress.

In the right amount and under normal circumstances, cortisol:

  • Provides a quick burst of energy when survival is threatened (think fight-or-flight)
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Lowers sensitivity to pain
  • Reduces inflammation

Cortisol helps keep the following under control, too:

  • Blood sugar
  • Fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart function
  • Central nervous system regulation

When circumstances are such that your stress level remains high (e.g., unwelcome work demands, worry about a family member, dealing with a health or relationship issue) or your body is bombarded with stressors (e.g., environmental toxins, excessive exercise, missed meals, food allergies, too much caffeine, sugar or alcohol), cortisol does not have the chance to return to its normal level after release.

Remember, the body wants to stay in balance and will do everything in its power to support you. But when your body is not given a chance to come back to its normal state of homeostasis, this chronic state of elevated cortisol can contribute to health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain (especially around the middle), depression, insomnia, nervousness and feelings of overwhelm.

It is possible for cortisol to work in your favor rather than against you. The best ways to manage cortisol levels are through the foods you eat and lifestyle choices. As with all health care, there are no silver bullets. Change takes time and vigilance.

Here are a few steps to get you started on keeping your cortisol in check:

  • Avoid stimulants, refined carbohydrates and excessive alcohol
  • Eat protein at each meal, including breakfast
  • Add good fats to your meals (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, seeds)
  • Minimize sugar consumption; be mindful of fruit consumption, too
  • Get plenty of rest; keep regular bedtime hours
  • Incorporate relaxation into your routine (a hobby, meditation, yoga, moderate exercise, time with friends)

Your life can be more than its state of high stress. And managing cortisol release is one place to start.

Here’s to your health and vitality!

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I believe good health is as close as your kitchen. My nutrition practice is based on nutrient-dense, whole food and lifestyle choices that support health and wellness, especially during times of high stress and transitions. My role is to educate, guide and support individuals who want to break the stress-induced cycle of depletion and regain control of their health. Having passed the HNCB exam, I am a Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition® (Candidate). To learn more, contact me at 303-594-4401 or by email

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