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Stress Hormones --- Top 10 Tips to Reduce
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Last updated June 5, 2017, originally published March 7, 2012
By Alison Turner, Contributing Columnist

Ever heard the story of the mom who lifted a 2-ton car off her baby caught
underneath? Or the man who managed to run 5 miles with his 100 pound
wife to get her to a hospital. What turns these ordinary humans into
Supermen and Superwomen?  
Stress. Adrenaline. The same stress hormones
that can, in other circumstances, make you sick with worry and disease.
What can we  do to manage our stress hormones so they work for us not
against us? Are there tips we can use to reduce the amount of stress
hormones in our bodies?

Stress hormones, including
cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline,
glucocorticoids, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and catecholamines,  are
meant to protect us, initially from predators.   When something large and
powerful wanted to kill us, our stress levels rose, and we were able to
(presumably) run away to safety.  Now, of course, many of us are fortunate
enough to not be stressed about a direct threat to our lives, though we
encounter stressful situations of a different nature everyday: deadlines, bills,
standards, familial expectations, just to name a few.  A kicked-up stress level
may help us in these situations as well (how many of us know someone who
“works better under stress?”).  However, if our bodies are constantly on red
alert, that is, constantly turned on as “under stress,” there could be long
term consequences.  

How Does This Stress Response System Work, Anyway?

When a large animal attacks us or a deadline sneaks up in the night, a
“stressor” is perceived and the stress responses system, also known as the
hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, is activated.  

First, the hypothalamus, a small area of the brain, sends a chemical message
to the pituitary gland, which sends another chemical message into the blood,
heading towards the adrenal glands (near our kidneys), where the message
is read: “secrete stress hormones.”   
Cortisol and adrenaline are the most
common types of stress hormones, as they each perform crucial functions.  

Second, when adrenaline is released it increases the heart rate, elevates
blood pressure, and increases energy supplies.  Cortisol increases sugars in
the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose, improves tissue
repair, prioritizes areas necessary for flight-or-fight situations (thereby
curbing “nonessential” operations at that time, such as the digestive
system), and communicates with the brain in a way that influences mood,
motivation and fear.   

Stress hormones have receptors nearly throughout the body, which allows
for their use in many biological functions.  When stress hormone secretions
from the
adrenal glands reach their specific receptors, other cells are
activated to perform whatever task is necessary.  

For example, if we feel threatened and need to run fast, very fast, cortisol
hormones are released, and cortisol receptors in the leg muscles will be

Why Should We Worry About Stress Levels if They Are For Our Own

All is well and good when a stress is perceived and the body responds.  But
how does the stress hormone system know when enough is enough?  

When more cortisol is no longer needed in the receptors in the legs,
regarding the example above, the receptors do not bind with cortisol but
send the hormone back to the adrenal glands.  When cortisol binds to
receptors at the adrenal glands, the system knows that it’s time to shut
down (this is an example of a negative feedback system).   However, if
stressors are constantly present, so that the flight-or-fight switch is stuck to
"ON", the body becomes overexposed to stress hormones.  This over-
exposure not only means that you will feel stressed all the time, but that
other parts of your body’s processes could be disrupted, putting you at an
increased risk of
heart disease, digestive problems, sleep difficulty,
depression, obesity, and memory impairment.

How Much Stress Hormone is Too Much Stress Hormone?  

Most of the time, we know when we are stressed.  We recognize that
panicked feeling that first started when we weren’t prepared for a high
school exam.  

For many of us, however, there are times when we don’t realize we are
stressed until someone either points it out
to us, or a more serious health
condition develops (see above).  You can have the levels of your stress
hormones tested if you are unsure whether or not they are too high.  Using
the example of cortisol, the level of which can be determined through a
blood sample, a normal level at 8
AM in the morning is 6-23 micrograms per
decileter (mcg/dL).   (These values range throughout the day, because our
base cortisol rates vary, the highest levels being in the early morning from 6-
AM, and the lowest levels around midnight).

If you have been tested and your stress hormones are too high, or if you
simply feel stressed out all the time, there are steps you can take to help
reduce your level of stress hormones, thereby decreasing your risk for
several diseases later in life.
Here are 10 of them:

Indulge in Coriander.  The herb "Coriandrum sativum" provides two
distinct flavors.  The first flavor, from the foliage, is cilantro, which you have
most likely enjoyed in Mexican or Southeast Asian cuisine.

The second flavor comes from the dried seeds. The dried seeds from the
same plant are called
"coriander", a spice often added to European and
Middle Eastern sweet breads and cakes.  

Coriander is native to southern Europe and the western Mediterranean, and
is one of the oldest spices recorded in history.  Currently, coriander is grown
almost everywhere for either the leaves (cilantro), the seeds (coriander), or
for both.  

In 2011, Sushruta Koppula and Dong Kug Choi with the College of
Biomedical and Health Sciences at Konkuk University in Korea,  analyzed how
Corandrum sativum (coriander) extract influenced the stress levels in rats.  

Daily administration of the coriander extract one hour before the induction
of stress “significantly decreased” the presence of a stress-induced chemical
in the rats’ urine.  Also, coriander reversed “amnesic deficits,” that is, the
retention and recovery of memory was increased with coriander in the diet.  
The researchers conclude that coriander “may be a useful remedy in the
management of stress and stress related disorders on account of its multiple
actions such as anti-stress, anti-amnesic and antioxidant effects.”

Bottom line: Sprinkle on the coriander and prepare to relax.

Indulge in Even Spicier Pleasures.  If adding coriander to your diet isn’t
adequately lowering your stress hormones, try engaging in activities that are
highly to your liking:  Princeton University researchers recommend sex.   

In 2010, researchers with the Department of Psychology with the
Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University, including Elizabeth Gould,  
analyzed how a “rewarding stressor,” more specifically, “sexual
experience,” affects the hippocampus and the levels of glucocorticoids, a
stress hormone, in adult rats.  Male rats were “exposed to a sexually-
receptive female” either once, or once daily for 14 consecutive days, and the
glucucorticoids were measured.  Results showed that the rats with a single
sexual experience experienced “increased circulating” stress hormone levels,
whereas those who had the experience 14 days in a row “no longer
produced an increase” in stress hormones.  

The team concludes that a “rewarding experience,” such as sex, “buffers
against the deleterious actions” of the elevated stress hormone

These findings may help to kill two birds with one, relaxed stone: increasing
your frequency of sexual activities will not only help keep the stress
hormones in your body low, but it could also keep the happiness between
you and your partner high.

See the De-Stressing Light!  It could be that we are extra-stressed simply
because we’ve been sitting in the dark too long.  In 2010 a large team of
researchers from institutions in Colorado, Boston, and Switzerland, led by
Kenneth Wright with the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the
University of Colorado, performed tests in order to clean up the previous  
“inconsistent findings” on how light influences cortisol levels.  

Cortisol levels of twenty healthy men and women were measured during the
rising and descending phases (when cortisol levels are highest, see
introduction).  The subjects were in an environment “free of time cues” for
up to ten days, and received various intensities of light, ranging from
“bright” to the intensity just after sunrise, to dim, what they termed as the
brightness equivalent to that of candlelight.  The team found that “bright
light exposure significantly reduced plasma cortisol levels,” while “dim” light
had little effect.

If you’re feeling stressed, try exchanging a candlelit dinner for a bright,
cheery lunch under the sun.


Researchers have suggested that getting enough sunlight is so important to
regulating stress levels, that it actually improves your ability to recover from
a serious illness. A study led by Dr. Richard Castro and Dr. Derek Angus of
the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center entitled " The Effect of Light on
Critical Illness" argues that we can improve the survival rates of the
seriously ill by just ensuring they get enough sunlight during recovery.

Sunlight is the ticket --- bright hospital or office lights just won't due. It
turns out that only sunlight is strong enough --bright enough -- to reduce
the levels of cortisol in our bodies.

Scientists measure brightness of light in a measurement called a "lux". A
typical bright office light has 400 lux. But sunlight on a bright sunny day in
spring has 40,000 lux. You need a daylight with 20,000 lux minimum to
affect cortisol levels. Dim light has no effect at all.  You simply have to get
out into the daylight and enjoy a bit of sun to improve your health.

There is, of course, a balance to be struck. Too little sun is associated with
sub-par health, as we have seen. But too much sun also carries ricks,
principally an increase in your risk for skin cancer triggered by exposure to
UVB and UVA radiation.

How Can I Relax Without Peace and Quiet?  

Continue reading  page 1  
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Use coriander to spice up your food if
you want to reduce stress hormones