When working in harmony, cortisol suppresses inflammation, regulates our blood pressure and even helps our bodies utilise fat, protein and carbohydrates. It also plays an important role in our ability to get a good night’s sleep. As well as sharing the same neuroendocrine pathway as sleep (the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA axis), cortisol tends to follow our circadian rhythm, with production dropping to its lowest level in the middle of the night, and peaking again in the morning.
When something disrupts our HPA, it will disrupt cortisol production as well as sleep patterns. It is why we often feel more wired or anxious following a restless night. In fact, research has shown that insomnia and other forms of sleep deprivation cause our bodies to release more cortisol during the day, perhaps in an effort to keep us alert.
We now know that menopause can biochemically impact our resilience to stress. Put simply, that means we are likely to trigger cortisol production as a result of internal and external stressors that may not have bothered our bodies or minds as much in the past. And, because cortisol pushes us into fight or flight mode, it makes sense to our primal wiring to reduce the production of sex hormones to focus on keeping us alive.
So, how can nature help us regulate cortisol levels in midlife - and optimise the production of our sex hormones? Here are a few simple interventions that can make a big difference:
- Ashwagandha: A superhero ingredient in our Meno-Boost blend, Ashwagandha has a growing body of evidence supporting its value in reducing cortisol levels. As an adaptogen its impact on our bodies and our menopause symptoms can be very broad; from helping us to manage anxiety and getting a good night’s sleep - it has also shown real potential in the lab in supporting cognitive function and libido.
- Lemon balm: Lemon balm is also a favourite ingredient in our Meno-Boost formulation, and has been used for centuries by herbalists to combat anxiety. Research shows it can support mild-moderate anxiety and sleep issues as well as mood and brain function. We love it as a soothing tea - either sipped through the day or as a final drink before bed.
- Motherwort: a loved plant by our naturopath and herbalist Dr Martins, this powerful herb can be useful in addressing heart palpitations associated with nervous tension.
Finally, there is growing recognition that nature itself is one of the most powerful ingredients in supporting our stress levels, at all stages of life. Getting outside in the first morning light, and ensuring your eyes catch the sunset can help your body clock reset following periods of anxiety or heightened stress. And forest bathing - the conscious practice of simply ‘being’ in beauty - is now credited by researchers for its ability to swiftly shift our bodies from fight or flight to calm.
As always, please remember nature packs a powerful punch. Always check with your doctor before introducing new habits to your day, particularly if you have an underlying medical condition.
With love Rebekah and the MPowder team.
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