5 Ways Meditation Can Help You Release Stress & Potentially Balance Hormones
Over time, chronic stress takes a toll on the body and impacts hormone health. Beyond throwing off cortisol levels, constant stress can surge a release in insulin, adrenaline, and norepinephrine—which leads to cravings, sleep issues, etc.
Anecdotally, people who meditate frequently report that it helps them de-stress and approach life with a steadier mind. And there is some initial research to show that meditation can help ease stress by keeping our hormone levels in check—though more rigorous, large-scale studies still need to be done to support this. Here's what we know so far.
1. Meditation might help keep cortisol and adrenaline in check.
Thousands of years ago, if we were being chased by a saber-toothed tiger, our bodies would release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to give us an extra dose of strength and speed. This fight-or-flight reaction is hard-wired into our bodies so that we can defend ourselves or get away from danger. Once the danger has passed, our levels return to normal.
But today, this same hormonal reaction can be triggered by several different (and less severe) circumstances, such as a car alarm, our boss dropping a last-minute assignment on our desk, or screaming kids in the kitchen.
There may not be any man-eating beasts in the area, but there are countless situations in today's world that are going to keep you stimulated and dump those stress hormones into your system.
When this happens, adrenaline works to increase your heart rate and blood pressure, while cortisol increases the sugar in your bloodstream, lowers your immune system, and suppresses your digestion. This all stresses your body out and undermines your health.
While more studies need to be done, early research shows that mindfulness-based interventions like meditation can actually lower cortisol1 and adrenaline levels in your body, helping to normalize blood pressure and heart rate temporarily.
2. Meditation might increase melatonin levels.
In one study, advanced, dedicated meditators were found to have higher melatonin levels2 on average than those who didn't meditate. Melatonin is a hormone that controls your sleep and wake cycles, and your body has its own internal clock that controls how much is produced. When we are stressed out, our melatonin levels decrease closer to bed which makes it harder to sleep.
3. Meditation might boost dopamine.
Meditation, specifically Yoga Nidra meditation, was shown to increase dopamine levels3 in one 2002 study.
Dopamine is one hormone that's thought to be responsible for the "high" we feel during exercise. It acts like an information filter that can help our brains get ready for peak performance. Dopamine also improves our memory, our attention, and our ability to solve problems—all pretty important stuff.
4. Meditation might increase DHEA.
Simply put, DHEA plays an important role in stress and aging by reducing inflammation and promoting cellular health. When we get stressed out, our levels of the hormone decrease.
In one study, middle-aged men and women who took up a steady yoga and meditation practice had significantly higher levels of DHEA4 after 12 weeks than those in the control group.
5. Meditation might help out our sex hormones.
Ever notice how your libido becomes nonexistent when you're stressed? The last thing on your mind is an intimate evening for two. That's because your body thinks it's in danger (remember that saber-toothed tiger?) and has shifted from procreation to survival mode. It revs up the cortisol and changes your sex hormone production.
Since meditation might lower cortisol levels, there's a chance it can help you get back in the mood too, though no science has looked into this specifically.
Again, the research on meditation and hormone health is sparce. But considering all the other health benefits of mindfulness, it's definitely worth giving it a try.
Lynne is a certified meditation coach and the co-founder of the OMG. I Can Meditate! app. For more information on Lynne, please visit www.omgmeditate.com.