Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released by the adrenal gland in response to stress and low blood sugar. It works to suppress the immune system, increase blood sugar and to help metabolize fat protein and carbohydrates. However, it is also associated with stress and with high levels of belly fat and can go off balance quite easily. Maintaining adequate cortisol levels is an essential step to ensuring a healthier quality of life.
The human stress response is a lifesaving mechanism that is triggered by the adrenal gland. Should an emergency arise, it can save a life. However, once the initial threat has passed, the body, ideally, will return to its normal function. The problem lies in the fact that our bodies interpret today’s stressful, fast-paced lifestyle as an emergency that never ends. This means that the stress response is forever activated. This causes high levels of cortisol to pulse through one’s body indefinitely.
Life’s stressful events cause the body’s Cortisol levels to rise to unhealthy levels. When this happens, food cravings can set in. According to Prevention Magazine, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center found that women with elevated levels of Cortisol had more cravings for carbohydrates, specifically sweets. Cortisol triggers an enzyme in human fat cells that tends to cause fat to gather more around the abdominal area. The greater the stress, the more central body obesity occurs. This can increase one’s risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Mehmet Öz, more commonly known as the famous television physician and nutrition guru, “Dr. Oz” recommends certain dietary additions to help keep cortisol levels under control. By feeding one’s cravings for carbs with Vitamin C-rich citrus fruits, cortisol production slows down. Foods that are high in magnesium, such as spinach, can also help the body balance cortisol production.
Phosphatidylserene, are a type of phospholipid that resides inside cell membranes. Eating foods that are rich in phosphatidylserene, such as barley and legumes such as pinto, black or garbanzo beans, can help counteract the adverse effects of a cortisol imbalance. Eating foods that are high in zinc can inhibit the secretion of cortisol. Pomegranates contain more zinc than any other fruit or vegetable. Berries, such as blackberries and raspberries contain significant amounts of zinc. Brussels sprouts and asparagus do as well.
Another way to reduce cortisol levels and to also inhibit inflammation, is to eat ground flax seeds or raw walnuts. When consuming flax seeds, it is important to grind them up or their nutritional value will be lost. They can be kept in a plastic container and frozen for a longer shelf life. For optimum nutritional value, it is best to sprinkle ground flax seeds over something cold, such as cereal, or to eat them in a smoothie. Walnuts are best kept refrigerated to prevent their oils from spoiling.
Finally, the consumption of Vitamin C-rich micro-greens can help reduce the production of cortisol. Micro-greens are those young, leafy greens less than 2 weeks old.