The human body is designed to automatically react to stress in order to protect you from potential dangers and aggressors. In today’s world, we face many stressful situations, be it work pressure, caring for your family, or paying the bills. The higher your frustration or stress levels, the more your body would feel under attack.
The release of cortisol helps the body to manage these obstacles and plays a vital role in regulating many bodily functions. However, if the level of cortisol isn’t maintained, then it can create havoc on your body.
Over the years working 2-3 jobs at once while prepping for competitions, I know firsthand how hard it can be to manage stress and regulate cortisol. This article will help you to understand what Cortisol is and how it affects your body to help you achieve your best physique!
What is Cortisol?
It is a hormone that is released by the adrenal glands, typically during stressful situations. When cortisol is released in your bloodstream, it can affect various parts of your body and assist with:
- Responding to danger or stress
- Enhancing the glucose metabolism of your body
- Controlling your blood pressure
- Decreasing inflammation
This hormone is required for your body’s fight or flight response, which is a natural and healthy reaction to any danger or threat. The amount of cortisol, which is produced, has to be regulated by your body to make sure the balance is right.
Cortisol is highly significant for your health, but its elevated amount can cause major health issues. When a perceived threat is encountered, the hypothalamus, which is a small region in your brain, alerts your body.
With a mixture of hormonal and nerve signals, your body’s internal alarm system alerts the adrenal glands to release hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline.
Adrenaline enhances the rate of your heart, increases energy supplies and the blood pressure. Cortisol enhances the supply of sugars (glucose) in your bloodstream, and increases the usage of glucose by your brain, while also promoting the substances needed for tissue repair.
This stress hormone restricts the usage of various functions that are detrimental or non-essential during a fight or flight mode. It affects the responses of your immune system and restrains your digestive system, the growth processes, and the reproductive system. Your internal alarm system also interacts with your brain, which manages fear, motivation, and mood.
Cortisol’s Effect on the Body
This response to stress is a normal reaction of your body. When the threat or danger has passed, the levels of hormones become normal once again. As the levels of cortisol and adrenaline drops, your blood pressure and heart rate return to their normal levels, and other functions of your body resume their usual activities.
However, if you are constantly under stress or feel under attack, this fight or flight response is constantly switched on. The overexposure of cortisol and prolonged fight or flight reaction can be harmful to your overall health and result in a number of health issues, including:
Diabetes and Imbalance of Blood Sugar
Cortisol increases the supply of glucose when your body is under stress, by raising your body’s protein store. This causes a surge in energy, which helps you deal with the perceived stressor. However, when your body is in constant stress, this results in elevated levels of blood sugar.
This means your risk for type 2 diabetes increases. The main aim of cortisol is preventing the insulin effect, thereby placing your body in an insulin-resistant state. Eventually, your pancreas starts struggling to keep up with the increased insulin demand, the levels of glucose in your bloodstream stay high and your cells don’t get a sufficient supply of sugar. If not treated, the cycle keeps happening and leads to major health issues.
Obesity and Weight Gain
Increased levels of cortisol result in weight gain mostly increased storage of visceral fat. Cortisol mobilizes triglycerides, which are stored in your body and transfer it to the visceral fat cells. It also encourages the development of adipocytes in mature fat cells. The higher the amount of cortisol produced in your body, the greater the amount of visceral fat cells.
Moreover, the continuously increased blood glucose and insulin suppression mean that your cells are starving for energy. This means your body keeps sending your brain hunger signals, which leads to overeating. The unused glucose is also eventually converted into body fat. Check out our recipe page which will help you with ideas on food to improve your health.
Elevated Cortisol and Your Body
Other ways cortisol can affect your body include:
- Impairment of concentration and memory
- Sleep issues
- Heart diseases
- Digestive issues
- Fertility issues
- Suppression of the immune system
- Thyroid disorder
All of these can significantly affect your body unless you maintain your stress levels, which restores the balance of cortisol so that all the functions of your body return to normal.
Managing Stress Levels
There are numerous ways you can manage your stress levels and maintain the right balance of cortisol in your body. Here are a few things you should try:
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Get sufficient sleep
- Opt for meditation exercises like yoga, and deep breathing
- Make time for things you enjoy doing, like reading or watching movies
Cortisol is integral to the proper functioning of your body, but excessively high or low levels of this hormone can result in major health issues that can alter your body. If you are constantly under stress and are unable to lower your stress levels, it is important to seek professional help. Moreover, if you are experiencing constant health issues, you need to seek immediate medical attention. Visit our blog page to keep up to date and find out more about related topics on health and fitness.