(BeWellBuzz) Cortisol, also referred to as an adrenal cortisol hormone, is perhaps the most important hormone in our body as it affects nearly all the vital organs. Cortisol falls under a class of hormones known as glucocorticoids and is secreted by the adrenal gland.
The most important job of cortisol is to help the body prepare itself and respond to stress. It also plays a key role in the following functions:
- Immune function
- Normal glucose metabolism
- Blood pressure regulation
- Inflammatory response
- Blood sugar regulation
Why cortisol carries the tag of the ‘stress hormone’
There are three main reasons why cortisol is nicknamed the ‘stress hormone’.
- There is an increased production of cortisol when we are in stress
- It is responsible for numerous changes in the body that occur when we are in stress
- It helps us deal with stress better
Cortisol is an integral part of our body’s response to stress. A small increase in the levels of cortisol allows us to respond better to stress by:
- Providing a temporary surge in energy
- Increasing immunity temporarily
- Reducing sensitivity to pain
- Improving memory function
- Helping the body in maintaining homeostasis
Cortisol is secreted in greater amounts during the body’s natural and automatic ‘fight or flight’ response to stress.
After the initial response to stress, marked by the increased production of cortisol and other changes in the body, it is imperative that the body’s natural relaxation process is activated to allow the body to return to normal. When this does not happen, the cortisol levels in the body remain constantly high, a condition known as hypercortilism. This, in turn, can be detrimental to one’s health.
Dangers of hypercortilism
Hypercortilism is linked with various health risks:
- High blood pressure
Cortisol increases the effects of epinephrine and norepinephrine, two hormones that increase heart rate and blood pressure. High blood pressure (medically known as hypertension), in turn, can increase the risk to various other potentially life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, or stroke.
- Blood sugar imbalance
Cortisol increases the level of glucose in the blood. Hypercortilism, abnormally high levels of cortisol, in turn, leads to abnormally high glucose blood levels, a condition medically known as hyperglycemia.
- Impaired cognitive performance
Elevated levels of cortisol, over time, reduce and damage the number of brain cells found in the hippocampus, a major portion of the human brain that is critical to short-term memory, long-term memory, and spatial awareness.
- Lower inflammatory responses and immunity
Cortisol is a natural anti-inflammatory agent as it inhibits the inflammatory process. This attribute is helpful during the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response to stress. However, the anti-inflammatory properties of cortisol become a problem when its levels are constantly high.
Cortisol lowers the levels of certain white blood cells such as lymphocytes and eosinophils, which are important for maintaining immunity, as well as a proper inflammatory response. A poor immune response, in turn, can lead to various other health conditions. Hypercortilism also leads to lower inflammatory response, which slows wound healing.
- Cushing syndrome
A potentially life-threatening condition, Cushing’s syndrome is caused due to elevated levels of cortisol. The signs and symptoms of this health condition include: diabetes, higher-than-normal blood pressure, fatigue, moodiness, depression, pink or purple stretch marks on/around the abdomen, pronounced fatty tissue deposits on the upper back and face, new facial growth, and irregular menstrual periods in women. Cushing’s syndrome is most common in people aged between 20 to 50 years, with women being five times more likely to develop the disorder than men.
- Increased abdominal fat
Studies conducted to understand the relation between cortisol and weight gain reveals that this hormone promotes weight gain by increasing appetite and storing fat around the abdominal area. Studies also reveal that people who have elevated levels of cortisol are likely to consume carb-rich foods, which also contributes to weight gain.
- Clinical depression
In normal people, the level of cortisol is highest in the morning and then reduces gradually as the day progresses. However, while the level of cortisol peaks in the morning in clinically depressed patients, it does not reduce in the afternoon or evening.
Although the exact role that cortisol plays in promoting depression has not been established, it is largely believed that cortisol contributes to depression by reducing the levels of serotonin, a hormone that promotes a feeling of well-being.
Tips to prevent hypercortilism
Chronic stress is listed as one of the most prominent cause of hypercortilism. You can reduce your risk of hypercortilism by learning and practicing stress management techniques such as:
- Breathing exercises
- Guided imagery
- Listening to music
You can also try NOW® Super Cortisol Support. It is an herbal and nutritional formula designed to support healthy adrenal function and maintain healthy cortisol levels already within the normal range. The adrenal glands help the body respond and adjust to stress generated from both internal and external forces. Super Cortisol Support combines adaptogenic herbs with Chromium, Corosolic Acid and Relora® to help the body manage the negative effects of stress such as excess abdominal fat deposition, overeating, and low energy levels.