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The good, the bad and…the Cortisol

The good, the bad and…the Cortisol

Cortisol is one of the steroid hormones and it is made in the adrenal glands. Secretion of the hormone is controlled by the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland. In a nutshell, Cortisol it’s notably known to be the “the stress hormone” that’s for a good reason indeed.

The cortisol, once released, can be received by most of the bodily cells, so it can affect many different functions in the body.

Cortisol can do really a lot of positive things to our body, such as:

-helping control blood sugar levels

-regulating metabolism

-reducing inflammation

-and much more…

In women, cortisol also supports the developing fetus during pregnancy. If so, why cortisol is commonly considered as “bad” and often included among the stress response biomarkers?

All of its functions make cortisol a crucial hormone to protect overall health and well-being under normal circumstances, that’s really true.

On the other side, our lifestyle and daily demands are constantly altering or unbalancing the cortisol levels in our system, and here comes the bad side of cortisol.

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Bear in mind that cortisol is also the major age-accelerating hormone. Cortisol is able to weaken immune function, reduce bone formation through calcium absorption, and create a loss of collagen (which weakens support in muscles, tendons, and joints).

Cortisol also counteracts insulin, contributing to high blood sugar and that’s why cortisol is also linked to weight gain and storing of belly fat. In a nutshell…we don’t want to interfere with the normal functions of our body, and in particular with the levels of cortisol inside our personal living system. But, what can be considered as “normal” and under which circumstances?

Variability of Cortisol levels

In a ‘normal’ situation (i.e. you are not chased by a lion or undergoing any similar life threatening situation…) and for a person not suffering of any particular disease, Mr. Cortisol’s typical day can be schematized as follows:

corti1

    Cortisol production is at its peak around 30 minutes after waking up. And this is actually needed, to ensure a correct and fresh waking up (you can kick the adrenals up drinking some lemon water with a pinch of salt, it’s worth the try, or sun exposure, that will help as well).

    Then, the levels of cortisols gradually fade to a minimum before going to sleep, so reasonably low levels of cortisol in the evening are more than welcome.

    Beside that, we all know that during the day we receive external stimuli or we can face events that cause us to undergo “stressful” situations, and so a series of chemical reactions start inside our body. One of the consequences of this chemical production is to have peaks of cortisol when we don’t want.

    corti2

      When a stressor occurs, in fact, our limbic system, a more primitive part of our brain, instantly responds to danger and thus we face a “fight or flight” response.

      In the old times we, as humans, used to consider a stressor any life threatening situation (see lion above) so this primordial reaction is something we inherited from our ancestors, and it’s not so bad, in line of principle.

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      But nowadays we rarely have the same type of life threatening situations inducing a “fight or flight” response: the predatory attacks of the new era are completely different things, such as demanding tasks, losing our keys, starting a new company, or in-laws coming for Thanksgiving.

      The problem is that, in terms of chemical reactions, the above situations are considered pretty much the same from our inner body.

      A big difference in today’s world, though, is represented by the frequency and the intensity of the stimuli. Something occurring rarely in the prehistoric era (i.e. predator attack) is now occurring more frequently, almost on every day, with less intensity but still effective in terms of body reaction to the stimulus.

      In the long run, the fight or flight stress response is not even turning off, thus, the cortisol levels are not following the normal path as they should be and they remain relatively high during the evening, impacting consequently on the quality of our sleep and body recovery.

      In addition to that, there are other elements and situations inducing the release of cortisol in our organism, and these are, again, associated with the lifestyle of the modern era. Some examples of conditions releasing cortisol are:

      -Staying up late

      -Poor sleep

      -Caffeine intake

      -Poor diet

      -A non properly planned workout routine

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      -many others…

      So, what to do to keep cortisol levels under control?

      6 things to do to manage cortisol

      Spending time in Theta

      No, it’s not the name of a fancy island or a new planet on another constellation. I am talking about brain waves, and in particular about the ones linked to the brain state of REM sleep (dreams), lucid dreaming and advanced levels of meditation.

      To cut it short: in a state of very deep relaxation our brain produces waves at a slow frequency of 4-7 cycles per second. This stage it’s extremely calming and it’s really body-restoring. Factors like high levels of stress, overconsumption of caffeine during the day and the faced-paced lifestyle could have an impact on our transition to deep sleep.

      Acting on stress reduction, with meditation, as example, will consequently drop down the cortisol levels.

      Drink milk (or, better, its peptides)

      In various studies, the administration of milk peptides resulted in a net reduction in cortisol of -20.69% when compared with the placebo group. It turns out that nutrients found in cow’s milk (the bioactive peptides) exert a sedative effect on the brain. This is also the reason why a warm glass of milk helps to fall asleep, since generations.

      Eat better

      I know, this ‘magic’ solution seems to be everywhere, but it’s true: we are what we eat, and an anti inflammatory diet, eating whole food, would help lowering cortisol levels.

      Extensive research has shown that a high quality fish oil like cod liver oil or krill oil, rich in omega-3s and fat-soluble vitamins, can effectively lower cortisol levels that were increased by mental stress.

      Sleep and Recovery

      Sleep deficit has been linked to elevate cortisol levels (and for prolonged hours) in helicopter pilots on 7-day duty for emergency medical services. Although the test has involved a particular category of workers (and work related stress), the association between lack of sleep and cortisol is still valid: so hit the sack early, or take a nap.

      Switch to tea

      Caffeine elevates cortisol levels, so drink your coffee, but try to switch to tea or decaf after 2pm or anyway at least 6/8 hours before bedtime, your body will thank you.

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      Eat more fruit

      Oranges and grapefruits, in particular. These 2 citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C, which has been linked to reduced cortisol levels. A study in 2001 examined the effects of supplemental vitamin C on high cortisol levels brought about by physical stress in marathon runners. Ultramarathon runners were given 500 mg a day of vitamin C, 1500 mg a day of vitamin C, or a placebo seven days before a marathon, the day of the race, and two days after the race. Researchers found that athletes who took 1500 mg per day of vitamin C had significantly lower post-race cortisol levels than those taking either 500 mg a day or placebo.

      Resources:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stressor

      http://samples.sainsburysebooks.co.uk/9780471651581_sample_266798.pdf

      https://labtestsonline.org/understanding/conditions/cushing/

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15517308

      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022030294770260

      http://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(00)74983-6/fulltext?mobileUi=0

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15558991

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2249754/

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11590482

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      Last Updated on August 13, 2020

      12 Benefits of Meditation That Improve Your Body And Mind

      12 Benefits of Meditation That Improve Your Body And Mind

      As a mediation teacher, I am constantly confronted with these two questions regarding the benefits of meditation:

      1. Why can’t I enjoy the benefits of meditation continuously?

      I ask back: Is it maybe because you see mediation as a technique, performance, or some exclusive activity? The answer is: yes!

      Or, because your mind is constantly evolving on the past negative attachments and traditional habits? After careful thinking they answer: yes, probably!

      Although meditation is very simple and challenging at the same time, in the above mentioned case, it’s not easy to benefit from meditation, especially when approached with the idea that it has to be learned, studied, or applied. Meditation is to be seen as a natural, mental cleansing process that happens on a basis of awareness on a moment-to-moment experience. When that takes place, the benefits of meditation are continuous.

      2. What is the purpose of meditation?

      The purpose of meditation is to accomplish a level of consciousness for mastering the mind and uniting with the finest, deepest, and subtlest part of yourself as a being.

      It is a conscious process of observation of the mind—helping the meditator to understand the structure of its mind and the quality of its content. During this process, countless benefits of a physical, mental, and spiritual/philosophical nature arise for the meditator.

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      Meditation as a Fixer and Benefactor

      In this article we’ll have a look at the primary and the ultimate benefits of mediation, which improve your body and mind at the same time. For the sake of clarity, readability, and tangible experience, I have separated the benefits into three groups.

      You can change just about anything you don’t like about yourself (psychologically, as well as physically) through meditation. However, this is only possible with a specific approach, when your brain allows the benefits of meditation to do their work.

      This means not to interrupt the benefit with other thoughts, but to let their effect implement itself in your body and mind. This approach is crucial.

      The following exercises will make you feel the benefits of meditation instantly, but the continuity of the benefits of meditation on your body and mind depend on the discipline of your brain, how you manage external stimuli and your thoughts.

      Less Physical, More Psychological

      Even though the practice of meditation is more psychological and less physical, the first benefit we’re going to experience is both physical as well as mental.

      This benefit happens literally immediately, right at the moment of meditation. It is the essence of mediation basically.

      The First Benefit of Meditation

      The first benefit of meditation is twofold:

      1. Improving inward attention (sharpening the mind)
      2. Relaxation of the body

      Let’s do it right now. This benefit consists of only one step, and it is very simple to perform. It goes like this:

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      Sit still and pay attention to your exhalation.

      That’s it! Technically, the whole journey into the world of mediation begins here and nowhere else. And right here, you benefit from this step in the following way:

      When you pay attention to the flow of your exhalation (gentle, deep, effortless exhalation), your body begins with the process of relaxation instantly (your heart rate slows down, your nervous system calms, and tension in your muscles is relieved).

      When the nervous system calms, your mind calms down, and, more specifically, less thoughts are produced by your mind. How, exactly? By applying one of the most valuable mental skills—attention—the mind follows the breathing and has no space and time to generate any other thoughts. Only when the attention goes off the breath, other thoughts are constructed, and the mind is accelerating with thought production again.

      Keeping the First Benefit Effective and Ongoing

      Here you apply the approach of not letting the relaxation and attention process get interrupted; rather let the effects of these benefits implant in your body and mind as deeply as possible.

      This is to say, the instant relaxation and inward attention happen at the same time when you follow the flow of your breath. Repeating this process—creating a constant rhythm out of the breathing and the attention—you create a process of meditation.

      Keep your attention on the flow of your breath and see how the calmness of body and mind begin to rule your present moment. The longer you stay connected to your breathing, the stronger you’ll feel the benefit. Start with 3-5 minutes at a time without doing anything else, and increase to 10-20 minutes and onwards.

      Can you think of a better, simpler and quicker exercise that can relax the body and improve attention in this way, at this speed?

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      This benefit takes you to the second one.

      The Second Benefit of Meditation

      While still working with the first benefit of mediation, you slowly start to see the second benefit of mediation, which is fourfold. I call it the major value of mediation:

      1. Energy (physical and mental strength)
      2. Observance
      3. Peacefulness (stillness, and space of mind for deeper observation)
      4. Patience

      Peacefulness is the source of a blissful life. The energy is the fuel to express that blissfulness. Whatever we want to accomplish in life we need: 1) Physical and mental strength, 2) Observance of that energy, 3) Peacefulness—the calmness and stillness that creates space for freedom of being and creative thinking, and 4) Patience for the process of accomplishment.

      You can only get creative in thinking and boosted with physical and mental energy when you get in touch with the deepest levels of yourself—when you harmonize your mental and physiological activities. How do you do that? Let’s try it right now:

      This step involves the observation of the two separate movements of your breath. After paying attention on your exhalation, you have prepared your body and mind to really see and feel what true peacefulness and true energy means.

      1. Energy

      Keep your attention on your inhalation (inhaling gently, deeply and lightly) and feel the new energy (new oxygen) flowing in your body. The inhalation is the symbol for aliveness and vitality. It is the the primary act that connects the baby’s body with the outside world after coming out of the womb[1]. Each inhalation is a new opportunity for your body to revive, regenerate, and renew itself.

      2. Observance

      The observance comes during the process of meditation, enabling you to see the physiological benefits of introducing new energy to your body. Use that benefit by utilizing its effects, and create deeper observation into yourself. With every single inhalation, this observation will enable you to generate even more energy, mentally and physically.

      3. Peacefulness

      Keep your attention on your exhalation, and feel how, out of the relaxation, peacefulness is spreading throughout your whole body. The exhalation is the symbol for relaxation and peacefulness. Only through meditation can you realize what absolute peacefulness means.

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      4. Patience

      The meditation delivers the previous benefits to you immediately and opens up the possibility for many other benefits and great virtues. A specific one to mention, which is essential for reaching the ultimate benefits of meditation, is patience. If you have experienced the aforementioned benefits, it means that you have invested a certain amount of patience into mastering yourself and your mind.

      The Ultimate Benefits of Meditation

      Patience is a key quality when it comes to the ultimate benefits of meditation.

      Since the mind is the tool that reveals everything, mediation is the method for the proper utility of the tool.

      The above mentioned benefits of mediation lead to the ultimate benefits of mediation—qualities that depict what makes a human being human. As you dwell in a meditative state of being, the following benefits begin to emanate:

      • Diligence: the persistence for righteous effort to reach an intrinsic value; inner strength.
      • Temperance: to express self-control and show excellence in managing the physio-biological and mental necessities
      • Courage: using righteous effort and braveness to look into the weaknesses of yourself and at the hardship of your life, endure it and patiently overcome the obstacles
      • Loving kindness and Compassion – a capacity to care, understand, and tolerate other people’s state of being, wishing them freedom from suffering.
      • Wisdom: the moment when you feel that mediation gives you the feeling and the knowledge that what you do relating to life and practical affairs is just.
      • Equanimity: that puts you in a state of composure, and you experience an ongoing blissful state of being.

      These are the 6 ultimate benefits of meditation that put your body and mind in a state of health and balance.

      Final Thoughts

      Mediation exists to put order in your mind and awaken the best of you, to reconnect you to your goodness and your inborn intelligent capabilities.

      Meditation is the window to your true Self. It gives you a panoramic view of your heart’s greatness. It shows you the true meaning of love, freeing you from the dungeons of ignorance and despair. The power of meditation dismantles the evil that’s trying to cloud the beauty of your heart.

      Your heart, body, and soul are the bridge over which the challenges of life frequently carry their heavy load. Meditation is the support of that bridge. Make use of that support.

      More on Meditation

      Featured photo credit: Mor Shani via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Medline Plus: Changes in the newborn at birth

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