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Cortisol and the "Goldilocks Zone"

Updated: Mar 29


Cortisol is absolutely essential for life. You would die quickly without cortisol; it is literally necessary for survival.

 

Functioning as the body's swift responder to stress, cortisol orchestrates vigorous reactions, whether in evading immediate peril or confronting demanding tasks. Yet, it thrives on equilibrium - not too high, not too low.


In acute situations, cortisol is essential. It helps us focus, have immune resilience and challenge ourselves say in the gym. It’s an energiser, motivator and go-getter. THIS IS THE SWEET SPOT AND WHAT WE ARE AIMING FOR!


A prolonged excess of cortisol can yield health woes like depression, anxiety, and chronic fatigue, while deficiency may result in low energy, weakened immunity, and stress susceptibility.

We are striving for the "Goldilocks zone," where cortisol levels are not too high and not too low, we are looking for just right in response to the situation.



Understanding Cortisol

Cortisol is a lipid-based hormone (it’s actually made from cholesterol) produced by your adrenal glands perched atop your kidneys.

It plays an instrumental role in a variety of bodily functions, from regulating your body’s stress response and metabolism of glucose, to managing blood pressure, reducing inflammation, and aiding in the immune system’s response.


If there is cortisol issues, we know that something is stressing the brain.


So, what kinds of things stress the brain and cause the adrenal glands to not produce enough cortisol?

The most common cause in western world: Long-term, unmitigated stress (physical, emotional, or environmental stress (e.g. stress from your job, stress from sleep apnea, stress from toxic relationships, chronic gut infection or toxins in the environment).


When cortisol is elevated long term, this communicates to our body several things:

  • It sends the message to our brain that we are not safe, and we are certainly not in an ideal situation to bring a baby into the world. And even if you are not looking to get pregnant, that is always your bodies’ monthly aim if you are female. So if our hypothalamus in the brain senses too much cortisol, this impairs our progesterone production, causing missing or irregular periods and infertility. This is known as the ‘pregnenolone steal’. 

  • It tells our brain that there is no food left in the world. This encourages the storage of fat particularly around the middle in anticipation of lean times ahead. 

  • Weakens our immune system, leaving us susceptible to recurrent and prolonged infections

  • It also reduces sensitivity to insulin, steals proteins from our muscles and breaks down muscle tissue, impairs digestion and bodily repair and can result in anxiety, depression and insomnia and lead to dysregulated communication in our hypothalamic adrenal and ovarian axis.


It’s very important – and necessary – to produce more cortisol when you’re stressed, but chronically elevated cortisol can be harmful to the body.

Ideally, we would not spend much of our lives in a stressed state. However, if we live a chronically stressed life – whether it’s physical stress, emotional stress, or environmental stress – over time, this drains the brain’s ability to respond and results in low cortisol.


While treating the HPA Axis issue is important, finding (and addressing) the root cause of the stress should always be the primary goal. When a client test results reveal high or low cortisol and they don't recognize any major stressors in there life I look to a short-list of potential “root causes” that may not have been recognized:

 

  • Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea or Chronic Snoring (Mouth Breathing)

  • Nutritional Deficiencies

  • Gut Issues

  • Environmental Toxins

  • Mold Exposure

  • Chronic Infections


How to test if you suspect you might have a cortisol issue:

The DUTCH test is the most comprehensive way to evaluate nervous system function, as it assesses both free and metabolised cortisol levels.

The test shows stored cortisol levels, active cortisol and unused cortisol. It is taken via urine sample multiple times during the day to gain reliable data.

I offer the DUTCH test at the Live Wild Studio for clients who would like to get a gauge on their stress levels, stress-associated conditions, adrenal function and overall nervous system function.


Prioritize Stress Reduction

Stress reduction is critical in cortisol dysfunction and is probably the most difficult thing to address.

You have to realize that no pill can take stress out of your life.

You have to be a willing participant in putting boundaries into place, blocking energy leaks, voicing a beautiful 'No' at times, understanding how your perceptions of situations can be reframed to reduce the stress factor.

Choosing to recognize you only have so much time in your day and wearing a 'busy badge' like its an honour is not going to help you thrive long term.

Prioritizing some of the following regularly - meditation, slow and low breathing practices, prayer, time spent in nature, regular gentle exercise, yoga, time spent with loved ones and/or pets, re-prioritizing work or relationship demands, more focus on time management, removing toxic relationships, time spent in the flow state, and positive social interaction are just a few things to consider as a starting point when embarking on the journey to balance cortisol.



 Consider Adaptogenic Herbs

If you are addressing the root cause of a cortisol imbalance, I really recommend adaptogenic herbs because they do just that – they help your body adapt. If your cortisol is balanced, adaptogens don’t affect cortisol much. If it’s elevated, they tend to bring it down.

Here's a few adaptogens I recommend for you to consider:

 

  • Ashwagandha

  • Rhodiola Rosea

  • Cordyceps Sinensis

  • SuperFeast Medicinal Mushrooms

  • SuperFeast Jing


Restore & Reinforce Your Nutrients

The following nutrients are critical for proper cortisol production, and should be considered to address a cortisol deficiency. Remembering in times of stress your body uses nutrients at a faster rate so its easier to become depleted.

 

  • B Vitamins

  • Vitamin C

  • Magnesium

  • Manganese

  • Selenuim

  • Zinc


Managing stress – whether personal or environmental – needs to be a priority for all of us because stress affects the major players in the top tiers of the Hormonal Hierarchy and then proceeds to affect all of the other hormones downstream.


Next up our focus moves on to Insulin


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