Cortisol 101

Cortisol 101

Nicknamed the “stress hormone,” cortisol often comes with a negative connotation and a bad rap. But there is more than meets the eye with cortisol. It is an essential glucocorticoid hormone that affects almost every organ and tissue in the body. It’s produced and released by the adrenal glands, which sit on top of your kidneys.

What in the World is Cortisol Responsible for?

Glucocorticoids are a type of steroid hormone that suppress inflammation in all bodily tissues and control metabolism in muscles, fat, liver, and bones. They also affect sleep-wake cycles. Most of us are aware of the connection between cortisol and sleep, but you may be surprised to find out what else it does.

Some important roles cortisol plays in our bodies

  1. Regulating the body’s response to stress – In stressful times, your body may release cortisol after releasing its "fight or flight" hormone, like adrenaline, so you continue to be on high alert. Cortisol also triggers the release of glucose for fast energy during these times.
  2. Helping control metabolism – This is done through the body’s use of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates for energy.
  3. Suppressing inflammation – When used sparingly, cortisol can boost immunity by limiting inflammation. If you maintain consistently high cortisol levels, however, your body can become accustomed to too much cortisol in your blood which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system.
  4. Regulating blood pressure – It is unclear exactly how cortisol does this in humans, but high levels of cortisol are associated with high blood pressure while lower levels are associated with low blood pressure.
  5. Regulating blood sugar – Cortisol counterbalances the effect of insulin under normal circumstances. Cortisol raises blood sugar by releasing stored glucose, while insulin lowers blood sugar. Chronically high cortisol can lead to persistent high blood sugar which can lead to Type 2 diabetes.
  6. **Helping control the sleep-**wake cycle – Normal cortisol levels are low in the evening and high in the morning right before you wake up, which suggests that cortisol plays a significant role in the initiation of wakefulness and plays a part in the body’s circadian rhythm.

The Different Kinds of Biological Stress

It should be noted that there are different types of stress, and each has a specific classification.

  • Acute – This kind of stress happens when you’re in sudden danger for a short period of time. Example: You narrowly escape a car accident.
  • Chronic – This type of stress happens when you experience ongoing situations that cause frustration or anxiety. Example: A chronic illness or a job that you hate.
    • Chronic stress can lead to a number of health problems, including anxiety and depression, headaches, heart disease, memory and concentration problems, problems with digestion, trouble sleeping, and weight gain.
  • Traumatic – This is when you experience a life-threatening event that includes fear and a feeling of hopelessness. Example: Experiencing an extreme weather event such as a hurricane.

Are Your Cortisol Levels Too High or Too Low?

While there is a lot of talk about high cortisol levels being bad, low levels can also cause unwanted health issues. The goal should be to keep them balanced in a way where they’re neither high nor low.

Symptoms of High Cortisol Levels

  • Weight gain – particularly in the face or abdomen
  • Fatty deposits between shoulder blades
  • Wide, purple stretch marks on the abdomen
  • Muscle weakness in upper arms and thighs
  • High blood sugar
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive hair growth in people AFAB
  • Weak bones and fractures

Symptoms of Low Cortisol Levels

  • Fatigue
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Low blood pressure

With the world we live in today, it’s more likely our cortisol levels are higher than they should be, but if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms associated with low levels, chat with your doctor.

Things You can Do to Lower Cortisol Levels

  • Get quality sleep – If you have chronic sleep issues, such as insomnia or if you work a night shift, it’s likely you’d have higher cortisol levels.
  • Exercise regularly – Studies have revealed that regular exercise can help improve sleep quality and reduce stress, which can lower cortisol levels over time.
  • Learn to manage stress – The more aware you are of things like your thinking patterns, breathing, heart rate, and general signs of tension when they arise, the more likely you are to be able to prevent it from escalating.
  • Take deep breaths – Conscious breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, your “rest and digest” system. This helps lower cortisol levels.
  • Laugh – Laughing suppresses cortisol and promotes the release of feel-good hormones, endorphins. If you have hobbies, they can promote feelings of well-being, which may also lower cortisol levels.
  • Invest in healthy relationships – People are a huge part of our lives. If the relationships in your life cause tension and are unhealthy, this can cause stress that could impact your cortisol levels.

    Semaine Supplements for Extra Support

    Cortisol affects so much in our bodies. Symptoms can manifest that point to levels that are out of whack. We have several supplements that help support hormone balance that can in turn help support cortisol levels.

    Cortisol plays a vital role in many bodily functions, so ensuring it’s at optimal levels is crucial. Luckily, there are so many simple shifts you can make to help keep it in check and ditch the unwanted symptoms that come with levels that are too high or too low.

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