Meet Mr. Cortisol: Here’s what you should know about him

Are you familiar with what cortisol is?  If not, it is a steroid hormone that could be the reason why you are under constant stress. If you are a person that is constantly stressed out, or feeling anxious, with tendencies to feel blue somewhat out of the, well, blue, you probably would be surprised to know that you are that way due to external factors that probably you are not aware of.  In a vicious circle, stress is one of the main causes that result in the creation in excess cortisol, a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands located on each kidney. This excessive level of cortisol generates negative reactions in our body that translate into symptoms such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, aging, etc. However, it is in our hands to change unhealthy habits of life and stressful situations to feel healthier and happier.

Here’s what Mr. Cortisol does

Cortisol is directly produced from cholesterol and it is normally released to our system as a natural response from the body to activities such as waking up, exercising and being under acute stress.  Cortisol is the hormone in charge of our “fight-or-flight” response to stressful situations; it helps us become more alert and it makes for a temporary surge in energy. It is a part of us that is very important for our survival skills since the dawn of mankind. However, pumping out constant cortisol in large amounts can wreak havoc on our heath. (see this also Why am I getting sick so often?)

Having Cortisol in excess can be damaging

  • One of the consequences that people with high cortisol levels may experience is weight gain. This is due to the accumulation of fat that takes place by a type of sugar found in the liver and released into the blood, where it becomes fat. This problem is most prominent in people with high levels of stress, so that adequate foods are very important. Foods rich in phenylalanine, an amino acid that stimulates dopamine, helps to reduce the desire to eat foods with high levels of fats and sugars.
  • High cortisol levels in the blood can also lead to elevated levels of glucose in the blood, thus putting the system at risk of diabetes.
  • High cortisol production can affect our immune system. When released in large amounts into our blood stream, it can help reduce inflammation but over time it can suppress our immune system. Hence, people that are under constant stress are constantly getting sick. Also, long term effects of having a compromised immune system can expose us to serious health conditions, such as cancer, food allergies and…
  • Gastrointestinal problems. Latching on to our previous note, this effect of large amounts of cortisol directly compromises our digestive system, making it very vulnerable to irritation and inflammation.
  • Stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Keeping large amounts of cortisone in our blood stream can cause those affected to fall in a state of constant stress, and/or develop an anxiety complex, or make them vulnerable to depression. Also, high cortisol levels is one of the many factors that is being studied as a cause of chronic fatigue syndrome.

What can be done?

Asking a person to change their lifestyle might be troubling at first, but the good news is that the very first step can do wonders for your health. Learning to manage stress and take effective steps to avoid it will reduce the cortisol levels in our blood dramatically.  Altering our diet to keep it balanced, performing more physical activities, working out, and being able to deal with stress are just few simple key modifications that could even save your life.

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