Have you found yourself feeling extremely stressed, tired, and gaining weight despite not making any changes in the diet or exercise? If the answer is “YES”, then it is possible that the level of cortisol in your body is messed up. To put it more bluntly, this level can be very high. The production of cortisol (also called cortisol stress hormone) is essential for life, it helps to keep us motivated, awake and responsive (able to respond quickly and positively) to our surroundings. Abnormally high levels of cortisol in the bloodstream can be dangerous and increase problems in the long run.
WHAT IS CORTISOL (STRESS HORMONE)?
Have you ever felt stressed? Most of us have experienced this. Stress has a profound effect on all systems of our body. When you are under stress, your body responds by releasing a hormone, called cortisol.
Cortisol belongs to a group of hormones, called glucocorticoids. Hormones in this group are involved in the regulation of metabolism in cells and they also help us to control different types of stress in the body.
Cortisol, also known as hydrocortisone, cortisone and corticosterone, are all glucocorticoids. Steroid hormones are a class of hormones naturally synthesized in the body from cholesterol. Collectively, they perform a variety of functions in the body. Cortisol helps maintain blood pressure, immune function, and the body’s anti-inflammatory processes.
Cortisol is an important hormone made in the body by both adrenal glands (located on top of each kidney) and it is a very essential hormone for our life. The amount of cortisol released from the adrenal glands is controlled by the pituitary gland located inside the brain.
There are many benefits of secreting cortisol in small amounts. It prepares you for physical and emotional challenges, generates a burst of energy in your body during times of trauma and boosts immune activity when your body is exposed to infectious diseases. After this cortisol-induced active state, your body goes through a needed relaxation response.
The production of cortisol becomes a problem when you are in a state of constant or prolonged stress, resulting in a constant production of cortisol. Prolonged high levels of cortisol may lead to high blood sugar, high blood pressure, decreased ability to fight infection, and increased body fat deposition, which can lead to weight gain.
In other words, an increase in cortisol secretion for a short period of time can help us survive, but if its levels remain high for a long period of time, the effects can be quite the opposite.
SYMPTOMS OF HIGH CORTISOL LEVELS:
When the cortisol levels are abnormally high, it can show the following symptoms:
- Sudden weight gain
- Mental and physical fatigue
- Hair loss
- Depression and anxiety
- Irregular periods
- High blood pressure
- Being sick most of the time
- Weak bones
- Excess acne and pimples on the skin
- Skin thinning
- Increased irritability and getting more angry
- Loss of concentration
- Decrease in sex drive.
CAUSES OF HIGH CORTISOL:
The common cause of high cortisol level may include:
- Chronic stress
- Taking more medicines
- Being a victim of malnutrition
- Tumor in the adrenal gland
- Problems with the pituitary gland.
RISK OF HIGH CORTISOL:
Risk factors of high cortisol stress hormone include:
- Risk of heart diseases
- Having mental trouble
- Risk of developing insulin resistance i.e. diabetes.
Keep in mind that the level of cortisol in our body keeps going up and down. This is a natural physiological response. It triggers our body when there is some kind of danger or damage to the body.
It is vital to regularly check the level of cortisol in the body. Keep getting blood test or urine test done from time to time.
CORTISOL HORMONE FUNCTIONS:
Cortisol, like all steroid based hormones, is a powerful chemical. Steroid-based hormones have a general mechanism of action in that they enter cells and modify the activities of genes in DNA.
The amount of cortisol in your body depends on your eating patterns and the amount of physical activity you engage in. As a general rule, your body’s highest levels of cortisol are highest in the morning just after you wake up and the lowest levels are in the evening as you go to sleep.
The main function of cortisol is to stimulate the cell to make glucose from proteins and fatty acids. This process is known as gluconeogenesis. Cortisol stores glucose for the brain and forces the body to use fatty acids from stored fat as energy. In other words, it helps the body convert fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into usable energy.
Cortisol receptors are scattered throughout our bodies, they are found in almost every cell and serve a variety of essential functions. When incorporated into the bloodstream, cortisol can travel to many different parts of the body and help the body perform the following functions:
- Enables your body to respond to stress
- Increases the metabolism of glucose in your body
- Regulates your blood pressure; and
- Reduces inflammation.
EFFECTS OF CORTISOL HORMONE ON THE BODY:
Cortisol can produce positive effects in the body as well as some negative effects when natural amounts are disturbed. Although, cortisol is often viewed as a negative, we need it to live. The problem is that medications, lack of exercise, processed foods and high levels of stress can increase the amount of cortisol in our bodies too much.
In some rare cases, it can be the root cause of tumors, usually benign tumors that are non-cancerous, when cortisol levels are high. Your doctor or healthcare provider may ask regular tests to check your cortisol level and give you some advise to lower it.
The level of cortisol hormone naturally rises and falls throughout the day. Adrenal gland disorders can arise when the adrenal glands produce too much or too little cortisol. Cushing’s syndrome is caused by excess cortisol production, while adrenal insufficiency (AI) is caused by too little cortisol production.
When the pituitary or adrenal glands produce abnormally high levels of cortisol over a long period of time, your doctor may identify a serious, chronic disorder, called Cushing’s syndrome.
Cushing’s syndrome is usually caused by a tumor on the adrenal or pituitary glands and often causes symptoms such as rapid weight gain, fatigue, facial swelling, water retention or swelling around the abdomen and upper back. It most commonly affects women between the ages of 25 to 40. Although, people of any age and gender can develop this condition.
EXPERIENCING ADRENAL INSUFFICIENCY:
Abnormally low cortisol levels can result in a disease, known as Addison’s disease (also called adrenal insufficiency, or adrenal fatigue). Addison’s disease is also rare and is considered a variant of the autoimmune disease, as it causes the immune system to attack the body’s own healthy tissues.
In this case, the tissues within the adrenal glands themselves are damaged, altering the process of how they produce adrenal hormones.
Some of the symptoms of Addison’s disease are essentially the opposite of those of Cushing’s disease, in that they are caused by a decrease in cortisol rather than an increase. Addison’s symptoms may include weight loss, thinning muscles, fatigue, mood swings and skin changes.
HIGH CORTISOL LEVEL TEST:
To determine if you have high cortisol, your doctor may recommend following methods:
Blood Test — Blood test is done in the morning on an empty stomach to know the level of cortisol hormone in the blood.
Urine Test — To know the level of cortisol in the urine, your doctor may recommend doing this test.
Saliva Test — This test is done by taking a sample of saliva by putting a slab in the mouth.
Imaging Test — In this test, it is advised to do many tests like CT scan, ultrasound or X-ray, so that tumors occurring in the body can be detected.
WHY IS THE CORTISOL LEVEL IN THE BODY TESTED?
Cortisol are tested to find out the level of the cortisol stress hormone. To know whether the level of cortisol hormone in the body is low or high, as some diseases occurring in the body affect the level of cortisol. These diseases include Addison’s disease, adrenal disease and Cushing’s disease.
After examining the level of cortisol, an attempt is made to diagnose diseases. Cortisol hormone helps in the smooth functioning of many functional systems in our body. In this, the immune system, stress reactions, nervous system, circulatory system are prominent.
TIPS TO REDUCE HIGH CORTISOL:
1. TRY TO BE HAPPY:
Being happy reduces the level of mental stress. Laughing and having fun reduces the level of elevated cortisol hormone. According to a research, people who always laugh and smile have lower levels of cortisol stress hormone in their body.
2. DO EXERCISE REGULARLY:
Exercise regularly to reduce the rising cortisol level. Keep in mind that the increase or decrease in cortisol hormone may also depend on the intensity of the exercise. Exercising vigorously increases the level of cortisol hormone in a very short period of time.
Therefore, do exercise in slow or moderate speed, such as yoga. Yoga helps calm your mind. Also, it increases the chance of lowering the level of cortisol stress hormone.
3. EAT A BALANCED AND NUTRITIOUS DIET:
Eat a nutritious and balanced diet to reduce the level of cortisol. Keep in mind that you have to reduce the amount of sugar in the diet. By eating banana, pear, dark chocolate, green tea, black tea and yogurt, you can reduce the rising levels of cortisol in your body.
4. GET ENOUGH SLEEP:
Not getting adequate sleep can affect cortisol levels. When you don’t take enough sleep for a long period of time, it can also increase your cortisol levels. So, try to get enough sleep.
5. STAY AWAY FROM STRESS:
Try to stay away from stress. It helps reduce the level of cortisol hormone in the body. For this, first try to find out things that increase your stress. Stay away from them!
6. TAKE THE HELP OF SPIRITUALITY:
Research has revealed that people who believe in spiritual things have lower stress levels. Cortisol levels remain low in such people. So, if you feel that cortisol levels are rising in your body, then focus your mind on things like prayers and spirituality.
Cortisol is also known as “stress hormone”. This is because the level of cortisol in the body increases during times of high stress. If stress or anxiety increases, take the help of yoga and consume a balanced diet. If you notice any changes in your body, contact your doctor immediately.
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