Mastering Cortisol: 5 Adaptogens to Help You Manage Stress

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Cortisol is one of the hormones your body releases in response to stress, and it impacts many different functions in your body.

Cortisol is often referred to as the “belly fat hormone” because too much cortisol causes you to gain weight, especially around your mid-section, affectionately known as a muffin top or spare tire.  😉  Too much cortisol also results in a variety of health issues, from frequent infections to acid reflux, heart disease, diabetes and a higher risk of cancer.

Adrenal Glands

Cortisol overload is mostly associated with adrenal fatigue.

You will feel physically beat up and achy at times, very tense and on edge as well as overwhelmed.  Your brain refuses to comply, your memory slips and you probably have trouble sleeping.  Sugar, salt and fat cravings are also pronounced, so you feel like eating a bag of sea salt potato chips and chasing them down with a giant soda.

Cortisol isn’t all bad, though; it does have some important functions in your body including helping to regulate blood sugar levels and metabolism, and keeping inflammation down.

Once your body is in cortisol overload, the quickest way to help yourself is to give yourself some me-time, or a vacation from whatever weighs on your heart and causes the stress.

If you continue to drag yourself through each day, you’ll wind up at a physician’s office. Then you are sure to be given all kinds of psychoactive medications and possibly stimulants.  But why would you want to start taking drugs that may be addictive or dangerous when you can ask to have your adrenals checked with a simple test? It’s called  a “4 Point Cortisol Saliva Test” or something similar, depending on the lab that you use.

If you are anxious or panicky, the fastest way to help yourself is to avoid processed foods and those laden with MSG, as well as “free glutamate” foods, like fast food, junk food, cold cuts (like deli meats), and soups and broths (yes, that includes bone broth).

Chinese food is also pretty notorious for using MSG, although many restaurants have moved away from it. Vegan diets can be extremely high in MSG due to tofu, seitan and other refined “plastic” foods as I affectionately call them. These foods are laden with soy, which can be “iffy” for people with thyroid illness. Learn more in my other blog, Soy Foods and Thyroid Disease: 7 Ways to Navigating the Impact.

Anxiety Can Increase Levels of Cortisol

Also, anxiety can be due to the medications you take. Look in your pill cabinet to see if you have any of these:

  • Asthma inhalers and pills – learn more in Breathe Easy: Understanding Prescribed Asthma Medications
  • Estrogen-containing hormone pills, patches or shots
  • Antibiotics (they deplete calming GABA hormone, which is present in the gut)
  • Steroids for inflammation or allergies
  • SSRI antidepressants
  • Levodopa for Parkinson’s
  • Decongestant pills or sprays
  • Thyroid medication (if the dose is too high)

The supplements that I will now share do not cause addiction and, unlike prescription benzodiazepines, can actually lower cortisol in the body, and balance other neurotransmitters that are out of whack when you have long-term stress in your life.

5 Adaptogens to Manage Stress

Adaptogens are natural substances that can support your body’s ability to handle stress. They can be beneficial for your adrenal health, which is closely tied to your body’s stress response and hormone balance, including cortisol and thyroid hormones. However, it’s important to remember that while adaptogens can offer support, they can’t entirely offset the effects of continuous stress, challenging relationships, or difficult work environments. Below is a list of some adaptogens and supplements that are known for their supportive roles, along with a brief description of their effects on cortisol and thyroid hormones:

  1. Siberian Ginseng: Enhances the body’s resilience to stress and may help balance cortisol levels, indirectly supporting thyroid function by stabilizing energy levels and immune response.
  2. Ashwagandha: Known for its ability to reduce cortisol levels and potentially improve thyroid hormone production and balance, especially beneficial for those with thyroid issues.
  3. Rhodiola: This adaptogen helps the body adapt to and resist physical, chemical, and environmental stress, potentially lowering cortisol levels and supporting overall hormonal balance.
  4. Schisandra: May improve resilience to stress and has been suggested to help in balancing cortisol levels, thereby indirectly supporting thyroid health.
  5. Tulsi (Holy Basil): Can lower stress-induced cortisol levels and improve mental clarity, indirectly benefiting thyroid health through enhanced stress resilience.

6 More Items~ These are Non Adaptogenens

In addition to these adaptogens, some substances deserve mention for their supportive role in adrenal health, which is essential for proper hormonal regulation, including cortisol and thyroid hormones:

  1. DHEA: A hormone that supports adrenal function and may help in balancing cortisol levels, indirectly affecting thyroid health.
  2. Ginseng: Boosts energy and helps combat fatigue. It may indirectly support thyroid function by improving overall resistance to stress.
  3. Turmeric: Contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties that can support adrenal health and potentially reduce cortisol levels.
  4. Theanine: Found in green tea, it can promote relaxation without drowsiness, potentially reducing stress-induced cortisol spikes.
  5. Astragalus: Known for its immune-boosting properties, it can also help support adrenal health and potentially regulate cortisol levels.
  6. Beta Sitosterol: This plant sterol may support adrenal gland health and help manage cortisol levels, indirectly affecting thyroid function.
  7. Ginger: Offers anti-inflammatory benefits that can support adrenal health and possibly reduce cortisol levels.
  8. Pantethine: A derivative of vitamin B5 that supports adrenal gland function and may help in the regulation of cortisol levels, indirectly supporting thyroid health.

It’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement, especially if you have existing health conditions or are taking other medications.

We can’t avoid stress altogether, and that’s okay!  But it’s not okay to allow yourself to be taken advantage of by the people in your life.  It’s within your rights to set boundaries and “just saying no” can mean saying yes to your own health and welfare!  If you continue to put everyone first, above yourself, you will die young. If you are a people pleaser, stop it. You’re headed for disaster, then you’ll be useless to everyone.

Give yourself a hug, because you are enough.