Why Getting Your Cortisol Levels Tested Could Be The Health Check You Need
Why Getting Your Cortisol Levels Tested Could Be The Health Check You Need

Why Getting Your Cortisol Levels Tested Could Be The Health Check You Need

If you struggle to lose weight, experience regular breakouts, cravings or insomnia, or have a hard time concentrating, cortisol could be to blame. While some stress isn’t a bad thing, chronic stress activates our fight-or-flight system and sets the body into a spin. Getting your cortisol levels tested will reveal all and, according to experts, will get your weight, mood and sleep back on track…
By Tor West

Remind me – what exactly is cortisol?

“Cortisol is our main stress hormone. It’s produced by the adrenal glands, which perch on the top of each kidney. We need some cortisol – it gives us energy in the morning, controls metabolism and blood sugar and manages our sleep-wake cycle – but when we have too much cortisol swimming through our body, that’s when problems take root. Whether you’re running from a wild animal or stressing about being late for a meeting, your body has the same stress response. Cortisol is released to provide a rush of glucose to the blood to increase energy and focus and enhance alertness for quick action. However, continuous over-production of cortisol in the face of ongoing stress can be damaging.” – Cara Shaw, nutritional therapist 

What are the signs your cortisol levels are out of balance?

“If you feel sluggish in the morning despite a good night’s sleep and rely on caffeine to get going, this could be a sign your cortisol levels aren’t peaking in the morning as they should be – remember, the body naturally produces cortisol in the morning for energy. Similarly, if you struggle to sleep and constantly feel ‘tired but wired’ in the evening, this could mean your cortisol levels are higher in the evening than they should be. Signs that warrant testing include feeling regularly stressed or anxious, tired despite getting a lot of sleep, an inability to switch off and relax, weight loss resistance, feeling out of control with your emotions (e.g., getting upset or angry often) and feeling overwhelmed.” – Kim Pearson, nutritionist 

“Other red flags include low libido, recurrent infections, difficulty concentrating, a craving for salty foods, a lack of appetite, skin that bruises easily, or a red and puffy face.” – Cara 

What lifestyle habits are taking their toll?

“The demands of modern life can significantly disrupt a healthy cortisol rhythm. Some of the most common culprits I see with clients include overexercising, drinking caffeine on an empty stomach, and excessive calorie restriction or inappropriate fasting. Women often come to me experiencing stubborn weight loss, infertility or digestive issues, and low thyroid function. These clients tend to sacrifice sleep for high intensity early morning workouts or may not be fuelling their bodies with adequate nutrition to meet their physical demands. It’s a vicious cycle, as rest, recovery and self-care is needed, but imbalanced cortisol means sleep can quickly become disrupted.” – Christina Hughes, nutritionist

“Don’t underestimate the toll that prolonged psychological stress can have on the body – this could be caused by an unhappy or toxic relationship, work stress, or living out of alignment with your core values. This too can affect cortisol levels.” – Kim 

What are the benefits of getting your cortisol levels tested?

“Understanding how your cortisol ebbs and flows throughout the day is crucial to improved mood, sleep and energy. It’s also essential for a healthy weight. High levels of cortisol increase the release of blood sugar, which can be converted into fat. So, when we are chronically stressed, we’re significantly more at risk of gaining weight, especially in the form of visceral fat (fat that’s stored around our organs), which raises our risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.” – Sarah Williamson, co-founder of WomenWise

“Pretty much everyone could benefit from getting their cortisol levels tested. Cortisol testing can help you get to the bottom of stubborn health issues and identify whether stress is an underlying cause of IBS, sleep problems and weight loss resistance.” – Kim  

How exactly is cortisol tested?

“A saliva test is the simplest and most effective way to assess your cortisol levels, giving a snapshot into your adrenal glands and how much stress is affecting you. Typically, your cortisol levels should be high in the morning – this literally gives you the energy to get out of bed – decline throughout the day and be at their lowest at the night as the body releases melatonin to prepare for sleep. Cortisol can also be measured via the blood, but blood tests typically only look at cortisol levels first thing in the morning, which doesn’t give a full picture. Most saliva tests assess levels at five specific times throughout the day. Plus, they can be done at home which makes the process simpler.” – Kim 

How can you interpret your results?

“The most common patterns we see include elevated cortisol levels throughout the day, which is indicative of chronic stress, as well as a flattened cortisol rhythm, which suggests potential adrenal dysfunction. You may also see a reversed cortisol pattern – higher at night and low upon waking – which is linked to that ‘tired but wired’ feeling and sleep disturbances.” – Cara 

Where can you get tested?

“Regenerus Labs offer various cortisol and adrenal testing options. While some companies offer at home testing, I would recommend working with a qualified practitioner, such as a nutritional therapist, to help you interpret the results. You can access a list of qualified professionals in your area through the BANT or CNHC websites.” – Christina 

“The Kim Pearson clinic offers a Comprehensive Adrenal Stress Test. It’s a simple at-home test that requires four or five saliva samples to be taken across the day. When we have the results, we share them with you and provide personalised advice to rebalance your cortisol levels.” – Kim 

Here, the experts share their golden rules for getting your cortisol levels back on track…

Try Supplements

“Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha and rhodiola have been shown in clinical trials to help reduce cortisol in those with elevated levels. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant that can be taken before bed to help the body wind down.” – Kim 

Prioritise Self-Care

“Rest, rest and more rest is my secret for balanced cortisol. It’s vital to find sustainable ways to cope with stress long term, so take the time to find relaxation techniques that work for you. We can’t eliminate stress from our lives, but we can control our response to it.” – Sophie Chabloz, co-founder of Avea Life

Balance Blood Sugar

“Managing stable blood sugar levels by choosing slow-release carbohydrates and combining them with protein can be transformative, and is something I find beneficial for almost every client. It can also help to stay hydrated (drink at least two litres of water daily), eat at regular mealtimes (be particularly mindful of not skipping breakfast) and reduce stimulants like caffeine and sugar.” – Christina 

Be Gentle With Exercise

“It’s important to stay active but ensure the way you’re exercising is appropriate for your stress levels and not adding fuel to the fire.” – Cara 

Consider Therapy

“Addressing the root cause of your stress is key. If there’s a cause like an unhappy relationship or stress at work, addressing the situation or speaking to a good therapist can make the world of difference.” – Kim 

Instil A Bedtime Routine

“Find joy in creating a wind-down routine, avoiding blue light for at least two hours before bed and, ideally, being in bed between 10 and 11pm.” – Cara 

Make Small Changes

“When it comes to cortisol, I like to think of ‘crowding in’ as opposed to ‘cutting out’ – focusing on behavioural change over excessive restriction. Whether it’s exposure to morning light, eating some protein before a coffee, engaging in some simple breathing techniques, or restoring depleted nutrient levels through a good multivitamin, even small habits can support a more balanced adrenal response.” – Christina 

DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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