Although this stress hormone is vital, it shouldn’t always be in overdrive.
Because it plays a major part in our biological stress response, cortisol has earned the moniker “stress hormone”. However, people frequently have unfavorable opinions about this hormone, despite the fact that it is essential to many bodily systems and processes.
The hormone cortisol is essential to the functioning of the human body. It is produced by the adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys. According to board-certified bariatric physician Kevin Huffman, DO, it controls stress, lowers inflammation, helps build memories, and regulates metabolism.
The adrenal glands release more cortisol into the bloodstream during an emergency or terrifying event, raising blood pressure and heart rate in preparation for a potential threat. This is your body’s instinctive “flight or fight” reaction to any threat it senses, alerting you to either flee (avoid) or confront it (fight).
Given its critical role in survival, cortisol isn’t harmful in and of itself. The problem arises when your body either never regains homeostasis or creates excessive amounts of cortisol, leaving you under a persistent condition of chronic stress. The effects of too much cortisol in the bloodstream can be detrimental to your physical and emotional well-being.
Here’s how to determine whether your cortisol levels are elevated, along with practical methods for naturally reducing cortisol and easing chronic stress.
“High cortisol” is a physiologic state, not merely a trendy self-diagnosis you see in your social media stream. Nevertheless, as acute cortisol levels naturally fluctuate by design, high cortisol is not a clinical diagnostic. You may recover from stress with healthy habits and lifestyle choices, such as getting regular exercise and getting enough sleep and other forms of rest, because the body has the natural ability to heal itself. Only when stress turns chronic and/or is linked to a medical condition will a diagnosis be made.
Tests for cortisol can identify abnormal levels in the urine, blood, and saliva; if you are worried about your health, you should see a doctor for regular lab testing and assessment. Additionally, a high cortisol concentration may be indicated by a few specific symptoms.
- Disrupted sleep: It might be difficult to unwind and get a decent night’s sleep when you’re under a lot of stress. It’s possible that you struggle to stay asleep, go asleep, or do both.
- Weakness in muscles: This impacts the body’s ability to digest proteins and carbs. A cortisol rise could be the cause if, following a regular workout, you feel particularly weak and exhausted.
- Anxiety: Additional symptoms of anxiety include irritability, palpitations, and dyspnea.
Memory impairment and trouble concentrating: When under a lot of stress, it may be difficult for you to remember details or to concentrate on a task at hand.
- Recurrent colds: Your body’s defenses against viruses and infections might be weakened by an excessive level of cortisol in the body, which can affect immune response.
- Irritable bowel syndrome: The gut-brain axis, as experts refer to it, is a strong connection between the nervous system and the gut microbiota. Stress may have an impact on gut motility and possibly lead to digestive problems.
- Hirsutism, or excessive hair growth in females from birth: An overabundance of cortisol can cause hair follicles to become overstimulated, which results in abnormal hair growth.
Individuals with preexisting conditions impacted by elevated cortisol levels may exhibit more severe symptoms. The effects and intensity of above-normal cortisol levels vary from person to person.
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