The human body is cleverly designed to deal with stress by using the hormone cortisol to trigger an automatic reaction that helps us deal with the problem. A lot of media attention has surrounded cortisol, frequently called the stress hormone, and its role in weight gain, inflammation, and poor overall health. In order to counteract this over-active process, it is important to understand what cortisol is, how it functions, and how to reduce stress in a healthy manner that extracts you from its grip.
What is Cortisol?
This steroid hormone comes from the metabolism of cholesterol in the adrenal glands. Its association with the flight or fight response of the sympathetic nervous system makes it extremely important for your body to function properly in times of stress. This is excellent if you're being chased by a vicious dog or threatened by a mugger. It is not so great if you are under constant pressure from your boss, family, or self-imposed ideals.
Cortisol triggers your body to prepare for action. It increases blood glucose and inhibits insulin production, raises your blood pressure, reduces thyroid function, effects testosterone and reproductive systems, and increases gastric acid production. All of these things may sound unpleasant, but if your body needs extra energy and focus to escape a predator, all of them will help you survive.
The Negative Role Cortisol Plays
The reason cortisol is viewed negatively in these modern times is that humans very rarely needs to escape from danger or fight off predators. Instead, stress at work, family troubles, internal issues like self-doubt and guilt, and even an awful morning commute can maintain an elevated level of stress all the time. The cortisol keeps pumping and keeps affecting many other body systems negatively.
After so much stress-triggered cortisol production for so long, the automatic mechanism that should shut it off gets confused or damaged and no longer functions properly. All the physical changes that cortisol causes last too long and start perfecting other parts of your body.
Increased blood sugar and insulin production decrease can easily lead to insulin resistance or even diabetes. Reduced thyroid function can affect the same processes. Weight gain is nearly unavoidable. Most people recognize that they may reach for comfort food in times of stress. Cortisol may be the culprit.
While cortisol begins to reduce system-wide inflammation, the chronic inflammation many people experience due to their diet or lifestyle triggers more cortisol production. This also affects the immune system, your ability to fight off cold and flu, and can increase the risk of developing allergies.
Whether you are primarily concerned with weight gain or digestive issues or want to decrease chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer, understanding how cortisol works and what makes this natural process malfunction are important. This stress hormone performs important jobs that can help deal with unexpected stressors or danger. However, to keep it functioning normally, your everyday life must be as stress-free as possible. All the accepted methods for improving the types of problems excess cortisol can bring, healthy eating and exercise etc., also help prevent stress that causes its overproduction.