Small Daily Changes to Improve Stress Response

We now know that the adrenal glands, which sit atop our kidneys, are responsible for responding to stressful situations by releasing cortisol into the bloodstream. Over time, this system can be become tired and our stress response suffers. A maladaptive stress response may be an underlying cause of your health concerns. If you answered yes to at least 3 of the questions on the quiz at the bottom, I highly recommend the following lifestyle recommendations. You can refer back to last week’s blog for insight into testing options. I find better outcomes in-clinic when we have the information from labs to work with.

1.  Increase your exposure to light. After moving from a dark room into a room full of daylight, individual cortisol levels increased by 50% or more within minutes!

Try getting outside in the first hour of waking, as this can potentiate your Cortisol Awakening Response, and that is important in setting your daily clock. Our bodies thrive on rhythm.

2.  Avoid exposure to toxins. Among the endocrine (hormone producing) organs, the adrenal cortex appears to be the most vulnerable to chemically induced injury. Here are a few strategies to mitigate toxic exposure:

  • Eat organic. Especially when it comes to meat and dairy because toxins are stored in fat, and these foods have the most fat. According to the environmental working group, the most heavily sprayed produce in the US includes: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomato, and sweet bell peppers. Be sure to buy these foods organic!

  • Use ‘Green’ cleaning products.

  • Avoid plastic water bottles, use glass whenever possible, and avoid consuming products that have been exposed to heat in plastic.  

3. Consume high quality protein and fat in your diet! A few studies have shown that cortisol levels are elevated by a protein rich meal. For the average person, with moderate physical activity, I recommend around 60 g of protein per day. Aim for 20 mg at breakfast.

4. Move your body. Exercise has positive effect on health. If your cortisol levels are low, then it is not recommended to use high intensity exercise on a daily basis because this can further potentiate the dysfunction. Instead, use moderate exercise like long walks, yoga, swimming, etc. It is not advisable to chronically over exercise, as this can lead to negative health outcomes such as chronic fatigue.

Find out if you may have low cortisol: 

  • Fatigue or Burnout
  • Loss of stamina
  • Typical negative point of view
  • Crying for no reason
  • Can’t problem solve like you used to
  • Feel stressed all the time
  • Insomnia, or difficulty staying asleep
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizzy when you stand
  • Difficulty fighting infection
  • Allergies/Asthma
  • Low blood sugars
  • Excess sweating
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Hemorrhoids or varicose veins
  • Easy Bruising
  • Thyroid problems and heart palpitations

If you answered yes to at least 3 of the items above, you may be experiencing low cortisol levels. If you're concerned about your health, schedule an appointment for further consultation.

Sources: 1) Leproult, R et al. Transition From Dim to Bright Light in the Morning Induces an Immediate Elevation of Cortisol Levels. January 1, 2001. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2) Colby, H.  Adrenal Gland Toxicity: Chemically Induced Dysfunction. January 1, 1988. Sage Journal. 3) Anderson, K, et al. Diet-Hormone interactions: Protein/Carbohydrate ratio alters reciprocally the plasma levels of testosterone and cortisol and their respective binding globulins in man. Elsevier. May 4 1987. 4) Brooks, K et al.  Overtraining, Exercise, and Adrenal Insufficiency. Novel 3/1/2013. Physiotherapies.