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Mental clarity & focus: how cortisol plays a role

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that's produced and released by your adrenal glands. Commonly known as the stress hormone, cortisol is often released in response to stress or danger. But beyond playing a key role in your natural stress response, cortisol also affects your metabolism, inflammation, blood pressure, blood sugar and your sleep cycle.

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Achieving the right balance of cortisol in your body is essential for maintaining your health and well-being. When your body is constantly under stress and producing high cortisol levels, it may negatively impact mental clarity and overall cognitive function.

Understanding the adrenal system and its function

Your body has two adrenal glands that each sit on top of your kidneys. As part of the body's sympathetic nervous system, your adrenal glands produce several important hormones, including adrenaline, aldosterone and cortisol.

When your brain perceives a threat or danger, it sends a stress signal to your adrenal glands. Your adrenals respond by releasing adrenaline into the bloodstream which triggers a number of immediate physiological changes known as the fight or flight response. From increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure to heightened alertness, these effects help to prepare the body for action.

At the same time your body is producing adrenaline, the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis is activated. It's at this point that the hypothalamus in the brain releases a hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH signals the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) into the bloodstream.

ACTH then stimulates the adrenal glands to produce and release cortisol. Cortisol also has a number of physical effects on the body, including:

  • Increasing glucose production in the liver to provide the body with a quick energy source,
  • Enhancing the body's ability to metabolize fat for energy,
  • Suppressing the immune system to prioritize resources for immediate survival,
  • Modulating inflammation and regulating the body's response to injury or stress, and
  • Influencing mood and alertness.

The release of cortisol continues to keep the body on high alert until the threat passes and cortisol levels start to recede, and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to take the edge off the stress response.

In some instances, people may struggle to control their stress levels. Chronic stress can lead to prolonged or excessive cortisol production, which can have negative effects on the body, including impaired immune function, weight gain and negative effects on brain health.

Cortisol's direct impact on the brain

A rush of cortisol isn't all bad for your brain function. In fact, cortisol offers several key short-term benefits, including heightened alertness, memory formation and quick decision-making. It's these speedy responses paired with a fast burst of energy that allows you to respond quickly in times of danger.

This is a completely normal and natural response, but issues arise when chronic low-level stress keeps your stress response activated, which can start to impede important brain functions. Prolonged elevated cortisol levels can have a number of negative impacts on cognitive function, including issues around memory retention and memory loss, brain fog and even neuron damage.

The double-edged sword: short-term boost vs. long-term drain

There's no denying that the short bursts of stress that come with the release of cortisol can help to enhance focus and mental clarity temporarily. Ultimately, it's an adaptive mechanism that's evolved to help you respond effectively to immediate threats or challenges by increasing alertness, enhancing memory, boosting reaction time, heightening the senses and providing emotional clarity.

With that said, too much of a good thing can negatively impact your mental performance over the long term. Prolonged or chronic stress can have detrimental effects on your brain function, mental health and physical well-being. Chronic stress can lead to cognitive impairments, brain fog, mental fatigue, memory problems and other health conditions.

Symptoms of Chronic High Cortisol

Chronic stress and prolonged elevated cortisol levels can have a significant impact on mental clarity and cognitive function, leading to symptoms like brain fog, indecisiveness, and forgetfulness. Here's how these symptoms manifest:

Chronic stress and prolonged elevated cortisol levels can lead to a wide range of physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms that can have a significant impact on your overall health and well-being. Chronic high cortisol can manifest as:

  • Mental fogginess,
  • Indecisiveness,
  • Memory problems,
  • Poor concentration,
  • Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, and
  • Physical symptoms, including muscle tension, headaches and poor sleep quality.

Strategies to Balance Cortisol for Optimal Mental Function

There are a number of different strategies you can implement into your daily life to reduce stress and manage your cortisol levels.

Lifestyle changes

From moving your body to eating a healthy, balanced diet, there are several simple lifestyle changes you can introduce to help manage everyday stressors and improve mental clarity.

Stress can reduce the blood flow to the brain resulting in mental fog and poor memory. Regular exercise can help to boost blood flow and improve mental clarity.

Eating a balanced diet can help you to meet your daily dose of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are important for brain health. Healthy fats, like omega-3s, antioxidants and vitamin E are essential for supporting cognitive function and boosting brain power. Steer clear of processed foods and instead opt for whole grains, polyunsaturated fats, fruits and vegetables.

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques

Beat mental exhaustion by giving your brain a break. Practicing meditation, mindfulness and relaxation techniques can be a great way to destress, step away from everyday distractions and boost mental clarity. Relaxation practices like deep breathing exercises, visualization, yoga and tai chi can help to counter your body's stress response.

Sleep hygiene

Good quality sleep plays an important role in a number of bodily functions, especially when it comes to your brain. A lack of sleep can severely impact your mental clarity, resulting in brain fog, mental fatigue and poor concentration as well as impacting your overall health.

Healthy cortisol levels help to maintain your sleep-wake cycle. By establishing a consistent sleep schedule you'll be better positioned to regulate your body's internal clock and promote the regular release of cortisol. You should aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. It's also important to get at least seven hours of quality sleep each night.

Nutritional and herbal supplements

Nothing beats a healthy diet, but there are some instances where your body may benefit from herbal supplements to help support adrenal health and balanced cortisol levels. Adaptogens, like Ashwagandha and Rhodiola, support your body's stress response helping to reduce the negative impacts of stress.

MitoQ's adrenal +balance is formulated with Sensoril® Ashwagandha, Rhodiolife® Rhodiola, Maritime Pine and MitoQ to help support healthy adrenal function and balanced cortisol levels. When paired with a balanced diet, regular exercise and an efficient sleep schedule, MitoQ adrenal +balance can help to support your cells and your body to better respond to everyday stress.

Man going swimming on beach looking at view

Strategies to Balance Cortisol for Optimal Mental Function

There are a number of different strategies you can implement into your daily life to reduce stress and manage your cortisol levels.

Lifestyle changes

From moving your body to eating a healthy, balanced diet, there are several simple lifestyle changes you can introduce to help manage everyday stressors and improve mental clarity.

Stress can reduce the blood flow to the brain resulting in mental fog and poor memory. Regular exercise can help to boost blood flow and improve mental clarity.

Eating a balanced diet can help you to meet your daily dose of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are important for brain health. Healthy fats, like omega-3s, antioxidants and vitamin E are essential for supporting cognitive function and boosting brain power. Steer clear of processed foods and instead opt for whole grains, polyunsaturated fats, fruits and vegetables.

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques

Beat mental exhaustion by giving your brain a break. Practicing meditation, mindfulness and relaxation techniques can be a great way to destress, step away from everyday distractions and boost mental clarity. Relaxation practices like deep breathing exercises, visualization, yoga and tai chi can help to counter your body's stress response.

Sleep hygiene

Good quality sleep plays an important role in a number of bodily functions, especially when it comes to your brain. A lack of sleep can severely impact your mental clarity, resulting in brain fog, mental fatigue and poor concentration as well as impacting your overall health.

Healthy cortisol levels help to maintain your sleep-wake cycle. By establishing a consistent sleep schedule you'll be better positioned to regulate your body's internal clock and promote the regular release of cortisol. You should aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. It's also important to get at least seven hours of quality sleep each night.

Nutritional and herbal supplements

Nothing beats a healthy diet, but there are some instances where your body may benefit from herbal supplements to help support adrenal health and balanced cortisol levels. Adaptogens, like Ashwagandha and Rhodiola, support your body's stress response helping to reduce the negative impacts of stress.

MitoQ's adrenal +balance is formulated with Sensoril® Ashwagandha, Rhodiolife® Rhodiola, Maritime Pine and MitoQ to help support healthy adrenal function and balanced cortisol levels. When paired with a balanced diet, regular exercise and an efficient sleep schedule, MitoQ adrenal +balance can help to support your cells and your body to better respond to everyday stress.

Discover MitoQ adrenal +balance

Formulated with Sensoril® Ashwagandha, Rhodiolife® Rhodiola, Maritime Pine and MitoQ to help support healthy adrenal function and balanced cortisol levels.

MitoQ adrenal +balance bottle

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