A Response To Stress
The cortisol hormone is a key player in your body’s timeless
fight or flight
stress response and vital for supplying energy - fast! Cortisol stimulates the release of glucose, fats and amino acids into the bloodstream to meet those demands.
But… too much of it for too long is a recipe for disaster!
Today, each of us responds to stress on an almost non-stop basis. Issues dealing with family, money, your job, deadlines, bills, traffic, noise, rushing here and there… you get the picture. Your switch is always ON pumping out needless cortisol hormone!
If you live with a lot of pressure or are routinely being challenged in any way, it’s quite alarming to know how this little stress hormone is affecting your health in a BIG way!
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a steroid and one of the primary stress hormones. Production is stimulated within the endocrine system’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Secretion comes from the adrenal glands, which sit just above the kidneys.
Ironically named the master “stress” hormone, cortisol regulates the way your body uses various fuel sources and is essential for recouping energy following stress.
Normal cortisol hormone levels tend to follow a 24-hour circadian rhythm. The lowest level being at night during sleep that gradually increase to when you need to wake up and get moving. The high cortisol levels present in early morning rapidly drop off and then continue to decline for the remainder of the day.
Under ideal conditions, your cortisol levels should be neither consistently high nor low, but fluctuate in a fairly rhythmic pattern. A cortisol rhythm that is keeping balance, adjusting to BOTH stress and relaxation is most desirable and considered a healthy response.
Cortisol and Stress
Unfortunately, a “normal” day for most people is a far cry from what you would call “ideal”. In the real world, your day is more likely than not, to include a fair amount of distress... sometimes a LOT!
Factors such as emotional and physical stressors, exercise, lack of sleep, illness, injury, hunger, dieting, anxiety and depression, estrogen hormone therapy, or pregnancy can raise your cortisol hormone levels—so can mild stimulants such as caffeine.
Scientific and medical evidence clearly show that persistent elevated cortisol is associated with chronic health conditions such as:
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
Those who have hectic lifestyles and who are under pressure - always feeling rushed, eating a diet of fast food and not getting enough sleep or exercise are prime candidates for having an overexposure to cortisol.
Your body was designed to respond to stress very quickly by using up that surge of fats, sugars, and protein for fuel. Stress hormones were meant to come onto the scene and immediately get depleted - NOT get stored and stick around!
Much like Addison's disease where normal function is lost from the adrenal glands, a continuous activity of over-responding and regulating may result in a flat non-adaptive cortisol metabolism. This exhaustion means that the hormone level now stays constant, never fluctuating at all!
Problems develop with elevated blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and body fat levels. This group is what sets the stage for the most common diseases of modern life to skyrocket.
High Cortisol Symptoms
As mentioned, the cortisol hormone maintains the important role in the body’s metabolism of regulating blood sugar, fatty acids and proteins.
A term, metabolic syndrome has been given for people suffering the effects of cortisol overload. They can be recognized by their apple-shaped accumulation of stored abdominal fat.
Other symptoms that stress-cortisol hormone levels may be too high:
- Increased appetite and food cravings
- Rapid weight gain
- Increased body fat
- Decreased muscle mass
- Decreased bone density
- Mood swings – irritability and anger
- Increased anxiety and depression
- Reduced sex drive
- Impaired immune system
- Learning and memory impairment
- Increased PMS and menopausal symptoms
- Irregular menstrual periods
Certainly, once you understand the relationship that stress and the cortisol hormone has on your long-term health, you will be motivated to seek out ways to relax and get your metabolism back into balance.
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