How can we influence our cortisol levels?

SOMMAIRE :

ALL ABOUT CORTISOL

Cortisol is a corticosteroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, which, as the name suggests, are small glands located above the kidneys. It is known as a stress hormone, meaning that it is secreted in response to stress. Cortisol regulates the body’s response to stress, reduces inflammation, and regulates blood pressure and glycemia (blood sugar levels). It also plays a role in lipid, carbohydrate and protein metabolism, and in the circadian cycle (the human body’s internal clock). 

However, too much cortisol has harmful consequences for the body: food cravings, weight gain, altered immune response, impaired sleep… 

Above a certain threshold, it has the opposite effect, becoming pro-inflammatory: pain, fatigue, altered microbiota… 

It also leads to progesterone deficiency. In fact, cortisol and progesterone share the same precursor, pregnenolone, itself produced by cholesterol. It’s important to know that the female body will always prefer cortisol to progesterone, because it wants to keep us alive, so reproduction takes a back seat. 

So it’s important to learn how to regulate cortisol levels through physical exercise, breathing exercises and diet. That’s what we’ll be looking at in this article.

Physical exercise

 

 

 

Exercise can be perceived by your body as a form of physical stress, leading to an increase in adrenalin and cortisol levels. And yes, this is necessary to adapt your body to exercise, activating the catabolism (breakdown) of nutrients such as lipids, proteins, carbohydrates and various vitamins and minerals.

During physical effort, cortisol is secreted in large quantities to help mobilize the energy resources needed to meet the increased physical demand. It accelerates the pulse to oxygenate all our muscle cells. It also helps to increase the availability of glucose (sugar) in the blood, which provides energy for working muscles.  This increase in cortisol and glucose catabolism can continue during and after physical effort, sustaining the energy needed for muscle recovery and repair.

Cortisol’s relatively long half-life means that it remains active in the body for some time before being eliminated. This process can take between 60 and 90 minutes, helping to maintain high cortisol levels after exercise.

After intense physical effort, the body must restore hormonal and metabolic balance. Cortisol production gradually declines as the body recovers from the stress of physical activity, and it can take several hours for cortisol levels to return to normal.

Finally, individual variability in hormonal response is an important aspect to consider. Each person may react differently to exercise, depending on factors such as physical condition, age, pre-existing stress levels and hormonal sensitivity.

Understanding these mechanisms is essential to training appropriately and avoiding excessively high cortisol levels for long periods, which can have detrimental effects on health. Managing physical effort, recovery and overall stress is therefore essential for safe and effective training.

BREATHING

Breathing and relaxation techniques such as meditation, cardiac coherence and square breathing can have a calming effect on the nervous system and promote a state of relaxation. This can help reduce cortisol production and enable better stress management.

In fact, these breathing techniques are powerful tools for promoting a state of calm and relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This counteracts the effects of the sympathetic nervous system, which is activated in times of stress, and helps reduce the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. 

Cardiac coherence and square breathing are simple, accessible methods that can be practised at any time of day to restore a state of calm and relaxation. They involve regulating breathing rhythm by encouraging slow, controlled breathing. These techniques have been scientifically studied and shown to have beneficial effects on mental and physical well-being.

The benefits of these practices include reduced cortisol, increased DHEA (the rejuvenating hormone), improved cardiovascular health, better emotional management, increased mental clarity, more balanced decision-making, and even improvements in learning and memorization thanks to increased alpha brain waves.

In practice…

  • Cardiac coherence: this involves regulating the breathing rhythm to achieve a regular heart rate. Method 365involves breathing at a rate of 6 full breaths per minute (a 5-second inhalation followed by a 5-second exhalation). We recommend practising this technique three times a day, for around 5 minutes each time.
  • Square breathing: this is another breathing technique that aims to establish an equal rhythm for inhalation, retention, exhalation and retention after exhalation. We inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, then hold again for 4 seconds, and so on. This practice is also recommended for about 5 minutes or more.

Regular practice is important if you are to feel the full benefits of these breathing and relaxation techniques. Incorporating these exercises into your daily routine can help improve stress management, strengthen resilience in the face of life’s challenges, and promote an overall balance of physical and mental well-being.

FOOD

Adopting a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes raw, whole foods while avoiding processed foods, can play a crucial role in regulating cortisol and reducing daily stress.

Here’s a summary of the key principles of a diet conducive to cortisol management:

  • Foods rich in vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 plays an important role in cortisol metabolism. To promote a good intake of vitamin B12, choose sources such as beef, chicken, eggs, fortified cereals, green vegetables and garlic.
  • Foods rich in Omega-3: Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce stress-related inflammation. Include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, as well as avocados and flax and chia seeds in your diet to reap their benefits.
  • Foods rich in magnesium: Magnesium plays a role in reducing stress and anxiety. Foods such as dark chocolate(minimum 70%), bananas and spinach are good sources of magnesium.
  • Protein-rich foods: Protein helps maintain balanced blood sugar levels, which can have a stabilizing effect on cortisol levels. Opt for protein sources such as meat, poultry (chicken breast), eggs, fish, almonds, legumes (lentils) and whole grains (quinoa).
  • Foods rich in probiotics: Probiotics can improve immune response and help balance blood sugar levels, which can have a positive impact on stress management. Foods such as Greek yogurt, kefir, kombucha and fermented cabbageare good sources of probiotics.
  • Avoid processed foods high in fast sugars: Industrial cakes, pastries and sugary drinks can lead to high cortisol levels due to their content of low-quality fast sugars. Avoid processed complex carbohydrates such as white pasta and bread.
  • Reduce coffee and alcohol consumption: Coffee and alcohol can aggravate stress and disrupt sleep in some people. Limit their consumption to promote better hormonal balance.
  • Drink enough water: Hydration is essential to keep the body functioning properly and help manage stress.

By adopting a balanced diet, rich in nutrients beneficial to the nervous and hormonal systems, you can support your body in managing stress and maintain a state of calm and well-being.

TO CONCLUDE

To control our cortisol levels and promote a state of well-being, we can adopt a holistic approach.

Regular physical exercise, breathing and relaxation techniques, as well as a Mediterranean diet rich in vitamin B12, omega-3, magnesium, proteins and probiotics are key to acting on cortisol and improving our physical and mental health. Quality sleep is also essential to effectively regulate cortisol levels and enable better stress management.

Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It is believed to be one of the only plants to modulate cortisol levels in the body, potentially helping to reduce stress levels and promote better stress management. In addition to ashwagandha, rhodiola is another adaptogenic plant reputed to help improve resistance to stress and promote better adaptation to stressful situations. Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays an important role in regulating the nervous system and stress response. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to increased sensitivity to stress, while adequate magnesium intake can help support the body’s stress response.

Find ashwagandha, rhodiola and magnesium in our Feel Good duo, 2 must-haves for a calmer everyday life!

Sources : 

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