Cut the Cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone that is critical to life. It is produced by the adrenal glands, and normally it is secreted in the greatest amount during early morning and tapers off throughout the day. But too much cortisol is a killer and short of that, causes many chronic and acute diseases.
What causes excess cortisol production? In the modern world, primarily psychological stress and too often that source is chronic. Short-term stress is healthy and helpful but a prolonged stress response leads to long periods of exposure to hormones like cortisol and epinephrine that increase the blood sugar and contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance, and if untreated, eventually leads to diabetes. It also raises the blood pressure and if that isn’t treated it can cause coronary artery disease, stroke or kidney failure. It can also damage the immune system, weakening its ability to fight infections as well as cancer. Entire articles books could be written about any of those topics or about the psychological effects of prolonged stress.
But that isn’t the theme of this article. Cutting the cortisol is our goal. But that is easier said than done. It isn’t easy to lessen our response to stress. It would be ridiculous to even try. But there are things that can help a person relax and lower their cortisol level.
There are tests for determining the level of cortisol someone is producing at any given moment. The salivary cortisol test was developed a few decades ago. It correlates well with serum (blood) levels of cortisol and is easier and less painful to collect. It has been dubbed a “proxy measure of human stress,” and is used in experiments that set out to gauge if an intervention or practice really did help lower stress. Follow are some of the things that have been determined to reduce cortisol:
Art projects (Kaimal, 2016)
Talking with someone supportive and caring (S. Webster, 2016)
Making music or listening to music (Kaimal, 2016)
Writing including journaling (Kaimal, 2016)
Massage, hugging, pats on the back, etc. (Field, 2014)
Exercising (Lustig, 2012)
Quite a list and clearly plenty we can do to lower the cortisol level. And, of course, it isn’t just about lowering cortisol but about decreasing it and all the other hormones and other things that come with prolonged stress. I’ll end here with the references so you can learn more about how to rid yourself from the ill effects of stress without taking a single, solitary pill. I’m headed to the gym.
Tiffany Field (2014), Touch, 2nd edition, by, Cambridge, MA: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press
- Kaimal, K. Ray, and J. Muniz, 2016. “Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making.” Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 33 (2), pages 74-80
Robert Lustig, M.D., 2012. Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. NY, NY: Hudson Street Press
- Webster, et al, 2016. “Impact of Emotional Support on Serum Cortisol in Breast Cancer Patients.” Indian Journal of Palliative Care.