Cortisol — The Stress Hormone

Stress affects health in many ways, unfortunately none of them affects well-being in a good way. Many health specialists claim, as normal human experience would confirm, that stress and depression can have negative effects on physical health. In the long run, persons under high stress can develop eating disorders and sleep disturbances. These conditions could also possibly lead to decreased physical energy, chronic pain, and sexual dysfunction.

Physical illnesses are almost always present whenever a person is under extremely stressful conditions. Even the body’s internal processes respond to external difficulties experienced by a person. During stressful situations, the adrenal glands inside the body release a substance called cortisol. Cortisol is a natural steroid hormone that science experts refer to as the “stress hormone.” It is known as the“stress hormone” because large amounts of this substance are released whenever a person feels stressed out. It is an important hormone in the human body because it is involved in proper glucose metabolism, regulation of blood pressure, and control of immune system functions, and inflammatory response.

In general, cortisol is present in the body at elevated levels in the morning and lowest in the evening. Small increases of cortisol have some positive effects like quick bursts of energy, improved immunity, heightened memory function, and lower sensitivity to pain. In addition, moderate doses of cortisol helps maintain homeostasis in the body. Homeostasis is the property of living organisms that regulates its internal environment to maintain a stable and constant state in terms of body temperature, acidity, and nutrient and waste balance. Health experts stress that this process is critical for survival and good health. With minimal or no thought at all, people maintain and restore homeostasis all the time. For example, people drink if they are thirsty, wear a sweater when it is cold, or take a rest after an intense physical activity. All these actions contribute to ones state of homeostasis. Dilemmas occur when the body’s cells fail to communicate properly, and cause breakdown in homeostasis. This disturbance can lead to poor health and later into serious health conditions.

Sustained and prolonged levels of cortisol, however, may lead to many harmful effects like high cholesterol, suppression of the immune system, and acceleration of the aging process. Prolonged stress may lead to imbalance of cortisol in the body which causes disturbance in the components of the digestive, cardiovascular, respiratory, and other major systems of the body. Medical specialists conclude that such imbalance may lead to several illness like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to these harmful effects, high levels of cortisol may lead to weight gain. When people become stressed, the adrenal glands produce more cortisol that release sugar in the blood which then leads to additional weight gain. Studies add that people who secrete higher levels of cortisol as a reaction to stress tend to eat more food that is high in carbohydrates. To keep cortisol levels under control, the body’s relaxation response is activated during stressful situations. The following methods have been proven by many health experts to be very beneficial helping the mind and the body relax and, in the process, control the body’s production of cortisol:

· Journaling or keeping a diary
· Self-hypnosis
· Exercise
· Yoga
· Listening to music
· Meditation
· Sex

Cortisol production varies from person to person. People are biologically designed to react differently to different forms and intensities of stress. There are many kinds of medication out in the market that are designed to reduce high levels of cortisol in the body. However, it is important to understand that certain illnesses are caused by too much stress. Keeping our lives as stress-free as possible and by practicing stress management techniques, living life would not be so hard as it seems.