Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone which acts as a natural in-built alarm system. The levels of cortisol affect your mood, your daily activities, and your social life.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone which acts as a natural in-built alarm system. The levels of cortisol affect your mood, your daily activities, and your social life. Researchers have linked weight gain to stress, and according to an American Psychological Association survey, about one-fourth of Americans, rate their stress level as 8 or more on a 10-point scale.

So where does cortisol come from?

The triangle-shaped glands on the kidneys, known as adrenal glands, produce cortisol. Cortisol plays a role in how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Also, it plays a major role in regulating your blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and influences your sleep/wake cycle. So imbalance in the levels of cortisol can severely affect your mental and physical health.

Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal axis

How does it work?

The levels of cortisol in the blood is controlled by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland located in the brain. The brain regulates the production of hormones which in turn triggers the adrenal glands to release cortisol when needed.

Cortisol is used by most of the body cells for various activities or functions of our body such as digestive or reproductive systems, your immune system, or even your growth processes. Altered levels of cortisol have an immense psychological effect on you.

Abnormal levels of cortisol can affect various functions of the body

Too much stress

Usually, after a period of hard work or stressful situations, the cortisol levels should get back to normal along with your heart rate, and blood pressure. But what if you have a prolonged period of stressful situations? Stress can easily derail your physical, and, more importantly, your mental health. Prolonged periods of stress can lead to memory and concentration problems along with problems associated with sleep, weight, and even digestion.

Too much cortisol

High level of cortisol is an indicator of a serious underlying problem. An unexpected mass in the adrenal gland or even a tumor in the pituitary gland of the brain can lead to excess production of cortisol leading to a condition known as Cushing Syndrome. Such excess production of cortisol leads to rapid weight gain, muscle weakness, diabetes, and many other issues.

Too little cortisol

Not only the overproduction but also the underproduction of cortisol can lead to serious health issues such as Addison’s disease. Addison’s disease has a profound effect on your skin, like darkening on scars and in skin folds. Low levels of cortisol make you feel tired all the time, progressive muscle weakness, diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, and loss of weight.

Monitoring cortisol levels

Cortisol is a well-known biomarker of chronic stress and currently there are multiple standard laboratory tests available to reliably measure cortisol in urine and blood. On the other hand, tests based on the detection of cortisol in saliva can be an excellent option for accurately gauging the real-time cortisol levels at home.

Managing your cortisol levels

Recreating a fight response by kicking and throwing punches at a sandbag is one great way to bring down cortisol levels. On the other hand, aerobic or cardio activities such as jogging, running, etc help in recreating flight response and help in decreasing the cortisol levels.

Yoga and meditation is a great way to gain control over your anxiety. Taking deep breaths helps you calm your nerves down and slow down the heart rate and lower your blood pressure. Spare 15–20 minutes every day for meditation to keep yourself calm and composed. This, certainly, will have a positive impact on your health by reducing the cortisol levels.

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