If I had to point a finger to one of the biggest contributors to poor health and aging it would probably be stress. This one factor can take a toll on your emotional state and also your physical state.
With the advancement of modern medicine it’s become obvious to the health community that your mental and physical well-being is strongly linked together. The good news is that recognizing this problem is leading to better treatment in dealing with stress.
But first I want you to understand what chemical reactions your body goes through when you are under stress.
When you face stress your body releases two hormones—adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones prepare you to react to a crisis. You’ve probably heard it called the “fight or flight” reaction. Adrenaline and cortisol prepare you to stay and fight or to run away. Unfortunately most of the stressful situations you are faced with nowadays don’t require you to fight or to run.
The result is that many people undergo near constant stress. As you age, chronic stress (among other factors) causes the cortisol in your system to begin to build up. And excess cortisol leads to a number of problems.
It can affect your cognitive function, it can make your thyroid work less efficiently, it can destabilize your blood sugar, it can cause your bones and muscles to shrink and it can lead to gain weight.
Unfortunately, nearly everyone has to deal with climbing cortisol as they age, but that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to it. You can naturally counter rising cortisol in your body by taking two important steps.
Bring Your Cortisol Levels Down Naturally
Not surprisingly, the first step to bringing balance to your cortisol levels is to find ways to counter your stress levels.
There are many ways that you can reduce stress in your life. Sometimes it’s not possible to immediately eliminate the things that cause stress—your job or a difficult family situation, for example. However, you can improve the way you cope with stress.
First, make time each day to relax. It doesn’t have to be a big block of time—even 15 minutes is a step in the right direction. During your relaxation time, find a strategy that best helps you relax. You might meditate. You might write in a journal. You might listen to music or to a guided imagery CD. Yoga and deep breathing are also good ways to relax and reduce stress.
In addition, also take short one or two minute breaks during the day to pause, breathe deeply, and stretch.
Finally, the natural counter to cortisol in the body is DHEA. DHEA is another hormone. In healthy amounts, it boosts your energy, enhances your immune system, helps you to lose weight, and improves your memory and other brain functions. Unlike cortisol, which tends to build up in your body, DHEA tends to decline as you age.
You can improve your DHEA levels by taking it in supplement form. Because balance is so important when it comes to hormones, it’s a good idea to work with your doctor to determine the best DHEA dosage for you.
However, if that’s not possible, you can start out taking 5mg-10mg of DHEA each day. This small dose can improve your overall levels without causing an imbalance in your endocrine system.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
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