A key compound in our metabolic response to stress is cortisol. Often called the “stress hormone”, cortisol plays a vital role in several important physiological functions, including the fight-or-flight response.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what cortisol does, how cortisol levels in the body can become too high, and how we might be able to bring them into balance with the use of a quality CBD supplement.
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Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of at least 120 compounds found in the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. Known to affect the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), it can help regulate some important biological functions, including sleep, homeostasis, memory and cognition, and reproduction.
The ECS is a network of receptors that communicate with the rest of the body via endocannabinoids (compounds chemically similar to CBD) that are produced by the body to support and regulate a whole host of physiological functions.
Cortisol is one of the hormones that helps the body adapt to and cope with external stressors. Secreted by the adrenal gland as a natural response to stress, it helps the body prepare for the “fight-or-flight” response by increasing blood sugar levels.
That’s great if we’re trying to outrun a predator, but if cortisol levels are too high, for too long because of chronic background stress — the kind of stress that’s so common in modern lifestyles — then long-term damage to our health can occur.
Cortisol and The Circadian Rhythm
Cortisol can also affect the circadian rhythm, your body’s natural sleep and wakefulness cycle. In fact, a paper published by the Natural Medicine Journal shows that cortisol production follows a very similar pattern to the circadian rhythm:
“Cortisol levels start to rise approximately 2-3 hours after sleep onset and continue to rise into the early morning and early waking hours. The peak in cortisol is about 9 a.m.; as the day continues, levels decline gradually.”
Because of the close link between the two systems, it’s easy to see how an imbalance in your cortisol levels could lead to disturbed sleep at night and sub-optimal mental performance during the day.
Cortisol and Inflammation
Cortisol is present in our systems for a reason and one of its most important roles is that of an anti-inflammatory, so if we’re experiencing too much stress, we may not have enough cortisol left to combat inflammation and the micro-injuries caused by exercise.
Unfortunately, stress is a fact of life. According to this important study, if we don’t manage stress effectively, we can succumb to systemic pain because a prolonged stress response can exhaust our cortisol levels and therefore our ability to deal with inflammation.
Cortisol and Blood Sugar
One of cortisol’s key jobs is regulating glucose levels, particularly when readying the body for the fight-or-flight response. By increasing blood sugar, cortisol prepares our whole system for dealing with a perceived threat.
That’s one of the reasons chronic stress is such a threat to health — it can raise our blood sugar levels to dangerous levels and raises the chances of developing diabetes. It’s yet another good reason to manage stress and cortisol levels.
One of the many negative effects of elevated cortisol levels is brain fog. Brain fog can have a profound impact on our ability to concentrate, impacting both our performance at work and our life at home.
High Cortisol Leads To High Blood Pressure
When cortisol is released into the bloodstream it causes a temporary narrowing of the blood vessels and a spike in the heart rate, so if you’re chronically stressed you also run the risk of suffering from chronic high blood pressure.
High Cortisol Leads To Weight Gain
Permanently elevated cortisol levels pose yet another threat to your health: weight gain. Even if you follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly, high cortisol can still cause you to gain weight, particularly around the belly, face, and pectoral regions.
High Cortisol Leads To High Blood Sugar Levels
As we’ve seen, at normal levels, cortisol has an important role to play in the body’s response to stress and glucose regulation, but if the stress response is triggered too often or for too long, then chronically high blood sugar can result.
Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Obesity; high blood pressure; raised blood sugar; they’re all strongly associated with cardiovascular disease and can all be caused or exacerbated by high cortisol levels, so reducing stress and cortisol levels is critical to good long-term health and longevity.
It Leads To Restless Sleep
High cortisol has another seriously detrimental effect on your health and well-being: disrupted sleep. When your mind is continuously on high alert because of chronic stress, it’s tremendously difficult to get to sleep.
It’s not just your quantity of sleep that can suffer, it’s quality too. And when your sleep suffers, your athletic performance suffers too, meaning you might miss your fitness and other performance goals.
High Cortisol Is Linked To Mental Health Issues
Poor mental health is an insidious and worrying potential effect of high cortisol levels. When you’re suffering from insomnia and a poor sense of well-being, it’s hard to maintain a positive mental attitude, often leading to a tailspin of anxiety and depression.
Elevated Cortisol Levels Make You Feel Exhausted
Constantly feeling anxious and stressed can create a vicious cycle that’s completely exhausting. When you’re keyed up, your cortisol levels are high, and when your cortisol levels are high, you’re keyed up — so the cycle continues, unless you find a way to break it.
CBD affects the ECS in a completely different way than THC — the other well-known compound found in the hemp plant — because rather than directly binding to the CB1 or CB2 receptors of the ECS, it affects them indirectly and is therefore non-psychoactive.
Because of the way CBD works on the ECS system indirectly, it promotes the production of two key endocannabinoids, AEA and 2-AG. That’s great, because both these compounds help the ECS combat stress and regulate cortisol production more efficiently.
CBD also has a positive effect on the amygdala and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. This further alleviates anxiety because these two areas of the brain work in concert to alert the rest of the body to external stressors.
In fact, a recent study of 11 volunteers discovered that a daily dose of 300 to 600mg of CBD decreased cortisol, strongly suggesting that CBD has the potential to work with the body to reduce the overall impact of the stress response and therefore help keep cortisol levels in check.
So, if you suffer from stress and want to regulate your cortisol levels and mitigate its negative effects, there’s a very good argument for taking a CBD supplement as part of your overall health and wellness regime.
Making exercise part of your daily routine is an excellent way to keep cortisol levels in check and will also help you maintain a healthy weight. Even just 20 or 30 minutes is enough to stimulate the mind and body and keep you feeling alert, fit, and relaxed.
One of the best ways to manage cortisol is to get enough sleep. Without good-quality sleep, cortisol levels will spike, and again, it’s possible to set up a vicious cycle that’s hard to break.
A great way to help establish a good sleep pattern is to put CBD oil under your tongue before going to bed.
Start with a small amount, then increase it gradually until you find the optimal dose that gives you a proper night’s rest and helps you break the high cortisol/sleeplessness cycle.
Eating healthily is vital to maintaining optimal health and performance, but our diet is often one of the first things to suffer when we’re stressed. It’s easy to succumb to comfort eating or to avoid food altogether when we’re stressed, so beware.
Fresh, whole, colorful foods such as unprocessed grains, beans, fruit, and vegetables, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids will all help you maintain peak health and combat the effects of elevated cortisol.
Enjoy Your Hobbies
One of the greatest stress busters in the world is doing something you love. A hobby or other activity that takes you away from the daily grind is a great tonic and should be part of everyone’s weekly routine.
Hiking, fishing, painting, taking a dance class or making something with your hands — whatever it is that lights you up, make sure you do it and do it regularly.
Learn To Meditate
Daily meditation can have a profound effect on our well-being and in a review of more than 200 research papers, the American Psychological Association found a concrete link between lowered stress levels and mindfulness meditation.
The real beauty of meditation is that you don’t need any special equipment and can practice at home, at the office, or as part of a class.
Keep a Journal
Putting pen to paper and writing down your concerns in a journal is a wonderful coping strategy when stress rears its ugly head. In fact, the very act of writing down what is making you anxious has been shown to improve your immune response!
Create a Calming Ritual
To really knock stress out of the park, you need to build calm and relaxation into the very fabric of your life, and one of the best ways to do that is to have a daily routine that relaxes and recenters you.
One of our favorite ways to relax at the end of the day is by listening to calming music in a hot bath enjoying a soothing and tasty CBD stress Complex Gummy. Whatever it is that you do to relax, do it mindfully and do it every single day. The time you spend mitigating stress will pay you back generously.
Elevated cortisol levels can take their toll on our health in many ways, but with the use of a quality CBD supplement, the right attitude to stress, and the right habits, we can take control of our cortisol levels and decrease the impact stress has on our bodies.