The stress hormone cortisol is mentioned throughout many posts on this website. I usually label it as “testosterone’s number one enemy”. I finally have written an article solely on this hormone to give a better explanation on its relation to testosterone production.
What is Testosterone?
Testosterone is a hormone with many important functions in the body. In males, it is produced in the testicles while in females it is produced in the ovaries and the adrenal glands. Testosterone has anabolic functions in the process of metabolism which involves building body tissues such as muscles from the component chemicals and molecules. On the main, however, testosterone is responsible for healthy sexual wellbeing in males. It is also responsible for a healthy libido, healthy bone mass, red blood cells production and distribution of body fat.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that is involved in breaking down complex compounds into simpler molecules that can be used in the body. Cortisol also helps to maintain homeostasis, control inflammation, stress, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, immunity and metabolism. Other cortisol functions include keeping you alert and preparing you to deal with danger.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands located at the top of the kidneys in response to signals by the pituitary and hypothalamus glands. Cortisol level is normally high in the morning and lower in the evening and during the night. However, some people have chronically high levels of cortisol due to stress, inadequate sleep and poor diet.
Such high cortisol levels can lead to problems like impaired thyroid function, decreased muscle and bone mass, increased blood pressure, increased belly fat, dampened immune function and low testosterone levels.
Connection between cortisol and testosterone
Testosterone and cortisol are both important hormones in the process of metabolism. One breaks down the complex food components and the other uses the broken down components to build tissues and other body materials. Cortisol therefore, works in an opposite way to testosterone. Besides, high cortisol levels can cause a reduction in testosterone production.
Inadequate production and availability of testosterone in males leads to low libido, moodiness, fatigue, decreased muscle and bone mass, increased belly fat and decreased body hair.
Research has established that high levels of cortisol have a negative effect on testosterone levels. This study found that cortisol inhibits production of testosterone in the Leydig cells within rat testicles. In a human study, administration of doses of pharmacological cortisol induced decreased production of testosterone.
Quick tips to reduce cortisol
If you are chronically stressed and have high cortisol levels, you can naturally reverse this by following the following 5 natural ways to reduce cortisol:
1. Sleep more
Getting adequate sleep every night can help reduce stress and cortisol levels. On average, sleeping for about 8 hours per night provides you with enough rest to control your cortisol level. It is worth to note that you need to sleep at similar time every night to help your body establish and maintain a healthy sleep (circadian) rhythm that is necessary for healthy cortisol levels.
To maintain healthy cortisol levels, you will also need to make other lifestyle changes including eating a healthy diet and exercise.
In case you can’t get adequate hours of sleep because you work at night or on shifts, take time to nap during the day so as to reduce fatigue and help decrease your cortisol levels. Sleeping more also helps your body to produce more testosterone.
2. Eat healthy
A poor diet composed of refined foods, transfats and high in sugar is usually deficient in fiber and essential nutrients. This can lead to unhealthy blood glucose levels, cause inflammation and increase stress and cortisol levels beside other hormonal issues including low testosterone. It also leads to unhealthy weight gain and overall poor health.
But stress and cortisol levels can be reduced by regularly eating a healthy diet composed of whole, unrefined foods which are rich in fiber, healthy fats, essential nutrients and antioxidants. Healthy foods that can help reduce cortisol levels include whole grain, fruits, probiotics, dark chocolate, tea and fish oil.
Such foods help the body to regain hormonal balance, provide adequate energy and maintain a healthy weight. Once this is achieved, you can get adequate sleep at night and become healthier overall.
3. Exercise but avoid cardio
Exercise helps your body maintain your overall health including reducing stress. And while it may raise adrenal and cortisol levels during and immediately after working out, in the long-term, regular exercise helps your body to reduce stress and cortisol levels. It aids metabolism and also helps to regulate general hormonal levels, maintain healthy blood sugar levels as well as help you sleep better at night.
However, excessive exercise, including cardio can stress the body even more and thereby increase cortisol levels. Exercising for about half an hour to one hour for at least three days in a week is usually adequate.
Studies have found that meditation can reduce cortisol levels considerably. This suggests that taking time to relax is one of the easiest ways to, not only reduce stress and cortisol levels, but to also increase your testosterone levels. Meditation calms the mind and ultimately the body and thereby helps reduce stress and cortisol levels.
5. Avoid stressful people and environments when possible
While socializing is a good practice to help you reduce stress and cortisol levels, involving yourself with stressful people can increase your stress and make matters worse. According to a research study at Germany’s Frindrich Schiller University, when you are exposed to negative emotions from negative or toxic people, the stress gets to your brain and causes serious stress responses. In other words, stress from other people can rub off onto and into you, and chronic exposure to stressed individuals can raise your stress and cortisol levels. You should therefore avoid or minimize contact with stressed people as much as possible.
Testosterone and cortisol are two important hormones, responsible for different functions in the body. The two are critical for metabolism to provide the body with its energy requirements as well as maintain overall health. To do this, a delicate hormonal balance is required between the two. But when this balance is absent and cortisol levels rise too high, it leads to a drop in testosterone levels. The results can be devastating especially for men. Low testosterone levels interfere with male sexual libido, energy level and body strength. However, by following the above 5 natural ways to decrease stress and cortisol levels, you can get back healthy testosterone levels. This way, you will regain your sexual as well as overall health.