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CORTISOL – THE STRESS HORMONE
What Is Cortisol ?
Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone” because of its connection to the stress response, however, cortisol is much more than just a hormone released during stress. Understanding cortisol and its affect on the body will help you balance your hormones and achieve good health.
Think of cortisol as nature’s built-in alarm system.. It works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation, and fear.
HOW OUR BODY PRODUCE CORTISOL?
Your adrenal glands — triangle-shaped organs at the top of your kidneys — make cortisol.
Cortisol production by the adrenal glands is regulated by the pituitary gland. The pituitary is a pea-sized gland at the base of the brain that is sometimes referred to as the “master gland” because of its wider effects on the body.
When you wake up, exercise or you’re facing a stressful event, your pituitary gland reacts. It sends a signal to the adrenal glands to produce just the right quantity of cortisol.
Cortisol receptors — which are in most cells in your body — receive and use the hormone in different ways. Your needs will differ from day to day. For instance, when your body is on high alert, cortisol can alter or shut down functions that get in the way. These might include your digestive or reproductive systems, your immune system, or even your growth processes.
Problems associated with high cortisol levels
Sometimes tumors on the pituitary or adrenal glands can contribute to a condition known as Cushing syndrome, which is characterized by high levels of cortisol in the blood. Individuals with Cushing syndrome will experience rapid weight gain in the face, abdomen, and chest. Often doctors will notice this because of the individual’s slender arms and legs compared to the heavy weight in the core of the body. Cushing syndrome also causes a flushed face, high blood pressure, and changes in the skin. Osteoporosis and mood swings are also a factor considered with Cushing disease.
High cortisol levels can also contribute to changes in a woman’s libido and menstrual cycle, even without the presence of Cushing disease. Anxiety and depression may also be linked to high cortisol levels.
The effects of low cortisol levels
Low cortisol levels can cause a condition known as primary adrenal insufficiency or Addison disease. While rare, primary adrenal insufficiency is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the adrenal glands. Symptoms may start slowly, but they can be quite serious. Patients with primary adrenal insufficiency can experience fatigue, muscle loss, weight loss, mood swings, and changes to the skin.
Tips for Controlling Cortisol
To keep cortisol levels healthy and under control, the body’s relaxation response should be activated after the fight or flight response occurs. You can learn to relax your body with various stress management techniques, and you can make lifestyle changes in order to keep your body from reacting to stress in the first place.
The following have been found by many to be very helpful in relaxing the body and mind, aiding the body in maintaining healthy cortisol levels:
- Breathing exercises
- Guided imagery
- Listening to music
Getting more information on stress and resources to help you to manage it can help you to build habits that can help you to cope with stress once your stress response is triggered.
If you’re more sensitive to stress, it’s especially important for you to learn stress management techniques and maintain a low-stress lifestyle. This is a great way to get cortisol secretion under control and maintain a healthy lifestyle at the same time