The hormone of cortisol is released under times of stress. Our ability to handle stress is largely dependent on the protective hormones of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), pregnenolone and progesterone. If our stress management is lacking, and our reserves of protective hormones are low then we may need the addition of supplements to lower cortisol.
Cortisol is not all bad. It does play a key role in maintaining our blood sugar when our blood glucose drops and also aids in lowering inflammation. It provides us with an emergency system in a fight or flight scenario. These are times of above average stress that are important for survival. However, these times are hopefully sporadic. If 95% of disease is caused by stress then cortisol is at the center of that role. If chronically elevated, we may need more than just lifestyle strategies and this is where supplements to lower cortisol can help.
Cortisol is usually tested through blood, saliva or urine. Typically it is higher in the morning when you wake due to lower blood sugar and the stress of nighttime darkness.
Symptoms will usually lead someone to getting tested. Aging itself can be directly attributed to cortisol. We all know someone who seemed to age overnight. Ask yourself if that person had experienced extra stress of late.
“The main features of aging can be produced directly by administering excessive amounts of cortisol. These features include atrophy of skin, arteries, muscle, bone, immune system, and parts of the brain, loss of pigment (melanin), deposition of fat in certain areas, and slowed conduction velocity of nerves. The physiology of aging (especially reproductive aging) overlaps the physiology of stress.” Ray Peat
Pregnenolone, DHEA, and progesterone are the body’s protective, stabilizing hormones and when they are abundant a person can withstand all sorts of stress. When a person is low in these hormones, even walking could stress the person enough to switch over to the emergency production of cortisol.
In that emergency state, in order to maintain blood sugar the body converts your tissues to fuel. It will use up the muscles, skin, thymus gland, etc.
One of the many reasons for higher cortisol is a low thyroid. When thyroid lowers through stress, estrogen systemically rises then it acts directly on adrenals and pituitary, and cortisol is released. The adrenals need to pick up the slack when the thyroid is under active.
A muscle under stress will produce cortisol and not testosterone. Over exercising can be a common cause. A muscle itself is really an endocrine factory for producing testosterone.
When cortisol goes up and the protective hormones go down, the body interprets it as being destroyed and it reveals itself in negative emotions of aggression, anxiety and depression. From an evolutionary standpoint we were subjected to high stress for brief acute episodes like being chased by an animal bigger than us. In today’s society stress is constant, from pollution, to work, relationships and trying to pay the bills.
Supplements to lower cortisol
Pregnenolone. This is one of the hormones that have a stabilizing affect. Ideally our body can produce these hormones but sometimes a supplement like this is needed even for a short time.
Progesterone. Progesterone can be a miracle supplement for women with estrogen dominance. Progesterone opposes estrogen. Estrogen will tend to push the body towards a less efficient and inflammatory state. Progesterone may have a sedative, calming affect which is a reason why most people take it prior to bed. A woman’s body should produce more than men but a supplement may be needed when symptoms are not controlled through diet and lifestyle.
Magnesium. Has a very calming affect on the cells and the body. Magnesium (mg) comes in different forms such as carbonate, glycinate and citrate. Some versions will have a laxative effect on individuals so a lower dose or different version or brand can be helpful. A caveat, to mg is that if the thyroid is sub optimal it will not allow the body to hold mg as easy. Many of those people who find mg as a miracle supplement is likely operating with a sub optimal thyroid.
Vitamin D. The ideal version of this would be sunlight. The sun provides the added effect of healing wavelengths in the red and orange spectrums. These wavelengths can penetrate the skin and act on the cytochrome oxidase enzymes. If you live in an area lacking in sunlight then vitamin d would be recommended. The dosage will greatly depend on where you live and sun exposure. Get your levels checked, and you want to be in the 50ng/ml to 60 ng/ml. range
Vitamin C. Runners who supplemented vitamin C had a lower adrenal and inflammatory response. Running can be very stressful on the body so this is a very positive study.
Aspirin. Aspirin is a cheap supplement that has decreased in popularity due mostly to competing drugs in the same companies. Aspirin allows the cells to use glucose more efficiently for energy instead of free fatty acids which are pro inflammatory.
B vitamins. It would be great to get the B vitamins from food like liver but a B complex can help too. B1, B5 (pantothenic acid), B3 (niacinamide) and B6 are the safest. Need to be careful with B9 (folic acid) and not taking excess.
Gelatin. The benefit of gelatin is that you get the amino acids you would typically get if you had eaten the whole cow. Just eating the muscle meats we tend to get an over abundance of the amino acids of cysteine and trytophan which can push you towards inflammation. A good gelatin supplement wont have those amino acids but instead a larger percentage of proline and gylcine. Those will tend to create more balance to the system.
Food should always be the goal for nutrient and minerals. I do realize we all don’t have the same access and quality of foods we may like. This is the place where supplements step up.
Under eating and lack of nutrition can be disastrous on many levels. Living on toast and tea for years will undoubtedly cause a nutritional deficient. Foods like fruit, shell fish, eggs, underground veggies, dairy and orange juice (no matter how controversial) are loaded with nutrition and easy to digest for most. I’ll cover the dairy controversy in a future post.
I have intentionally omitted 5HTP and fish oil because they can do more harm than good. I’ll discuss those as well in a future post.
High cortisol is an adaptive response. It is a way the body meets its needs through the present physiology. Lowering physical stressors which can be in the form of exercise, heat, cold, radiation, foods that irritate, or enough calories. Mental stress can be extremely damaging because it can be harder to avoid than something like over exercising. Managing stress is usually more successful than trying to avoid stress.
You can’t supplement away a stressful environment so managing stress is vital.
Stand back and take a look at your lifestyle and see what can be added and what can be taken away.
If you have other supplements you have found beneficial, feel free to let me know.