Stressed Out of Your Mind

There's no doubt that a typical 21st century lifestyle is a stressful one. Learning about what causes stress and how to deal with the associated elevated cortisol levels can be a key to reducing the harmful effects stress may cause later in life. If you need extra help, there are supplements for stress you can take that are designed to ?normalize? your body?s reaction to stress.

Stress and Cortisol

Cortisol is the body's main stress hormone. It is designed to wake you up each morning and spikes when danger threatens, enabling a rush of energy to enter the bloodstream, muscles and liver. Unfortunately, as we no longer encounter the flight dangers of our prehistoric ancestors, these elevated hormones do not get burned up by the intense physical activity that follows afterwards.

All kinds of modern-day phenomena trigger a rise in our cortisol levels, including drinking coffee or having a stressful day at work. These elevated stress hormones are deemed to put the body into a "catabolic" state, according to medical author Shawn Talbott, PhD.

Over time, Talbott states that this unused cortisol causes the destruction of cells, tissue and muscle loss, and depression of the immune system. As we age, cortisol production naturally increases. When it is coupled with lower levels of DHEA, testosterone and estrogen associated with aging, it magnifies the problem.

Cortisol hormones also affect the body's metabolism, creating elevated blood pressure and blood glucose levels. It causes a craving for sweets and high carbohydrate snacks which exacerbate muscle loss, increase fat and slow the metabolic rate even further.

Eventually cortisol may shrink the thymus gland which governs white cell activity. It can cause the immune system to shut down or overact, causing allergic reactions and immune system disorders. Cortisol has also been connected in the long-term with memory and cognitive performance. In short, cortisol can wreak havoc throughout our entire body.

Study on Cortisol Levels and Cognitive Performance in Seniors

A study was performed at the University of Valencia, Spain regarding the correlation between cortisol and cognitive performance in healthy seniors. The study focused on 57 healthy adults with an average age of 64.75 years.

Cortisol levels were measured by analysis of cortisol levels in saliva, and hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) which are able to show long-term cortisol exposure. The study found that higher levels of cortisol were associated with poor short-term verbal memory and attention levels. By reducing our cortisol levels we may be able to improve our memory and cognitive health into old age.

How to Reduce Cortisol Levels

One easy way to reduce cortisol is by reducing caffeine intake. Caffeine is known to elevate cortisol levels, mimicking high stress levels and causing the body to produce cortisol.

The body naturally makes cortisol in the morning to help us awaken bright and fresh to face the day. Many people augment this with a cup of coffee for breakfast which can increase blood cortisol by 30% in one hour. Students who rely on caffeine to study late at night find their short-term memory fails them the next day due to the raised cortisol caused by caffeine. Eliminating caffeine can dramatically lower cortisol levels.

Exercise boosts serotonin and dopamine levels which are known to counter stress and anxiety. Drinking plenty of water avoids dehydration - another cause of cortisol-triggering stress.

Those over the age of 50 have 30 times higher levels of cortisol coursing through their veins than youngsters and this can cause problems sleeping. Melatonin can help you sleep deeper and longer, reducing overall stress. Relaxation techniques and meditating can also improve sleep.

By lowering stress we can lower cortisol production so that hopefully as we age, our memory stays sharp, our immune system is fully-functional, and our cognitive function remains unimpaired.

These adaptogens are natural metabolic regulators that help "normalize" your body's reaction to stress. They work at the cellular level to help counteract and prevent disturbances to your body's internal properties brought on by stressors.

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