Cortisol and Your Body – What You Should Know

Cortisol and Your Body: What You Should Know by Jessica Hegg

Jessica Hegg is the content manager at Interested in all things related to living a healthy lifestyle, she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.
I hope you’ll find her article helpful. — Lynn R. Webster, MD


Ever wonder what’s really happening in your body when you are stressed? Stress, anxiety, feelings of frustration — these can all manifest with physical and mental effects including back pain, muscle tension, headaches, and mental fog, just to name a few. But what causes these bodily responses? Introducing our primary agent, cortisol – the stress hormone.

What Causes Too Much Cortisol

Cortisol is the naturally occurring hormone produced by the body’s adrenal glands (which sit on top of your kidneys) that gets pushed out through your blood. Your body releases cortisol in response to stress and low blood sugar, aiding in the metabolism of carbs, fats, and proteins, influencing memory formation and blood pressure, as well as stimulating glucogenesis (the formation of glucose) and fighting inflammation. Cortisol is vital to living, but an overproduction can lead to serious problems.

Chronic stress can result in an overproduction of cortisol, as well as can longterm use of corticosteroids (like prednisone and cortisone). Some hormonal diseases of the adrenal glands like Cushing’s Syndrome and tumors can also cause an unhealthy increase in cortisol.

What Happens If You Have Too Much Cortisol

Like with all the hormones and chemicals in your body which regulate functions to help power a happy and healthy you, an imbalance can lead to noticeable problems. Too much cortisol can come to life in a variety of symptoms including:

  • Immune system suppression – making you more vulnerable to colds and infections
  • Cravings for sugary foods – a boost in cortisol means increased blood sugar, and when your body ups insulin production to make up for it, blood sugar drops and you’re suddenly yearning for candy bars and ice cream
  • Weight gain – fluctuating metabolic functions cause weight gain, especially around the midsection, and no matter how well you eat and exercise, it’s hard to lose
  • Trouble sleeping – heightened cortisol levels deplete adrenal glands leaving you fatigued but also making it hard to relax and fall into a state of restful slumber at night
  • Headaches and back pain – pain sensitivity becomes much more keen when cortisol levels are high, making muscle, back and headaches much more noticeable
  • Stomach trouble – nausea, constipation, heartburn and other gastrointestinal ailments can flare up in response to too much stress hormone
  • High blood pressure and bone loss – Cushing’s Syndrome (hypercortisolism) which is caused by too much cortisol can cause an increase in blood pressure, loss in bone density and can lead to Type 2 Diabetes

If you are experiencing a mix of symptoms and unsure if your cortisol production may be out of whack, consult your primary physician right away and they can run screenings and tests to rule anything out.

How Can I Naturally Reduce Cortisol Levels?

Wondering how to lower cortisol levels fast without pharmacological aids? The good news is there are lots of practical and effective ways to fight high cortisol production. Knowing that cortisol release is largely induced as a stress response, finding ways to lessen the stress you experience is a priority. Daily meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness practices like yoga and tai chi offer gentle, relaxing activity that truly helps you address the cause of your stress and work to relieve it.

Exercise and diet play important roles in lowering cortisol levels too. Regular exercise as frequently as a half hour most days of the week is effective in maintaining hormonal balance, combating high blood pressure and heart disease, and boosting bone density and muscle strength. A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins also offers anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to aid in weight and blood sugar management, both which benefit normalizing cortisol levels.

Getting a good night’s sleep is hard when cortisol levels are high, however, it could be key to lowering them (your body’s natural cortisol rhythm peaks in the morning and should die down in the evening). Evaluate your mattress and make sure it supports comfortable spine alignment. Avoid the blue light from your smartphone screen before you go to bed to help your brain start to relax for sleeping. And winding down with natural supplements like chamomile tea or melatonin capsules can help as well.

If you’re wondering if chronic stress can physically take its toll on your body? The answer is, absolutely. The human body is a miraculous piece of machinery and is in the business of self-healing, but if an imbalance occurs in something as seemingly simple as your stress hormones, physical and mental effects can and will be seen. Be aware, and be prepared with cortisol know-how and resources.

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