How does cortisol relate to stress?
If you’ve asked yourself these questions, then this series of posts are for you. Discover what the stress hormone is, its importance in the body, and why cortisol gets a bad rap by guest author Michael Murdy.
What is stress?
Stress is undoubtedly a useful response in certain circumstances warrant it. Just think about the last time you prepared hard for a project? Exam? Race?
What did you feel inside your body?
Likely, it was a strong rush of adrenaline coupled with perhaps an uneasy stomach, red skin, and heaven forbid, a little nausea too?
Well just like anything in the body, overstimulating something good can ultimately make it bad.
Overstressing, for example, can lead to drastically higher cortisol levels in the blood. Consistently high cortisol levels can wreak havoc on the body’s homeostasis and leave you feeling tired, overweight, and anxious.
Thankfully, there are actions we can take to help balance our cortisol and get it back to its optimal level. Although there are surely countless ways to lower cortisol, it’s probably best to start with the most fundamental.
The food we eat.
The diet is undoubtedly one of the pivotal ways we can bring our cortisol levels back to normal. But, before we can get to those foods you need to eat, we need to define what cortisol is.
What is cortisol?
For the sake of keeping this post at a reasonable length, let’s keep it simple. You don’t need to thoroughly understand cortisol to know how drastic of an effect it can have on your life.
Here are the basics…
Cortisol is a hormone that is critical for proper immune, metabolic, and blood pressure regulation.
What are hormones?
Hormones are the ultimate messengers of the body.
Since organs cannot physically move and communicate with other parts of the body, they send messengers (hormones) into the blood stream to transmit information for them.
Simplified Hormone Process
Step 1: Body experiences stimulus
Steps: Glands get the signal from various parts of the body.
Step 3: Glands secrete hormone into the blood
Step 4: Hormone binds to receptors throughout the body and body’s systems respond. (specific example below)
Cortisol in Action
Cortisol (and every hormone for that matter) has countless jobs in the body. Jobs that we still have yet to completely map out.
But let’s look at a common scenario to familiarize ourselves with how cortisol is crucial to our survival.
Your placed in a high stress situation! It can be life threatening or trivial, but ultimately you interpret it as a serious matter.
The brain senses your distress and sends signals throughout the body. Eventually, your adrenal glands get the signal and begin to secrete cortisol into the blood.
The cortisol binds to receptors throughout your body, which all respond in their own unique way to give your body exactly what it needs for optimal performance and survival.
Ever heard the story of the 100lb mom who effortlessly lifts a car to rescue her babies from danger?
Well cortisol, amongst other hormones, are the primary reason this seemingly impossible event can take place.
Why the Bad Stigma with Cortisol?
So if cortisol is such a critical component of our body, why does it have such a negative stigma attached to it?
Well, when cortisol is secreted in excessive amounts throughout the day, it can lead to some serious side effects. Side effects that can wreak havoc on your body without you even knowing about it.
So what causes high cortisol?
-Eating unhealthy foods
-Lack of Sleeping (quality or quantity)
This is not an exhaustive list, but a good baseline for some of the major risk factors in chronically high cortisol levels.
So how do consistently high cortisol levels affect us?
What Do Cortisol Imbalances Do to the Body?
Let’s look at some of the ways high cortisol levels can affect the body.
(Lower cortisol levels are far less common but can also lead to some pretty serious symptoms. If you think you might be suffering from lower cortisol levels, make an appointment with your doctor to get the proper blood work done.)
Consistently High Cortisol Symptoms
- Compromised immune system (slower healing)
- Weight gain (usually uncontrollable)
- Increased blood sugar (increases chance of insulin resistance and diabetes)
The scary thing is a lot of us experience these life-crippling symptoms on a daily basis and WE HAVE NO IDEA what’s going on.
Self-diagnosing ourselves can be risky business. It’s always a good idea to see a doctor to make sure you cortisol levels are within a good range.