What is Cortisol?

You produce and release Cortisol, a steroid hormone, from the adrenal glands located on top of your kidneys. When you are under stress, your body produces Cortisol, which has a wide range of effects on your body.

Cortisol: What Is It?

To put it simply, Cortisol is the body’s natural alert mechanism. It is also seen to be the primary stress hormone, Cortisol plays a critical role. It affects your mood, motivation, and fear by interacting with some areas of your brain. This alerting can keep you awake by reducing melatonin production.

Hormones are a class of molecules that let your body communicate with its many organs, tissues, and cells through the bloodstream. Using these signals, your body knows what to do and when.

Steroid hormones include glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids also have an impact on the circadian rhythm. All of your body’s tissues, including your muscles, fat, liver, and bones, are controlled in metabolism by these compounds, reducing inflammation throughout. 

Do you know how crucial Cortisol is?

A vital hormone, Cortisol, influences almost every part of your body. It serves a wide range of functions, including:

  • Sustaining control of your body’s stress reaction.
  • Assisting in regulating your body’s fat, protein, and glucose metabolism.
  • Inflammation suppression.
  • Blood pressure control.
  • Blood sugar control.
  • Assisting you in maintaining control of your sleep-wake cycle.

What effect does Cortisol have on your body?

Most of the cells in your body have receptors for glucocorticoids. Because of this, Cortisol can affect almost every part of your body, like:

  • Nervous system
  • Immune system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Respiratory system
  • Reproductive system
  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Integumentary system

How does Cortisol affect your body?

Taking control of your body’s stress response:

To maintain high alertness during stressful situations, your body might create Cortisol after releasing adrenaline. Cortisol can help to keep your body’s stress reaction under control. Furthermore, during stress, Cortisol causes the release of glucose (sugar) from your liver, which provides you with quick energy.

Metabolism control:

Cortisol has a role in regulating metabolism, which is how your body converts lipids, proteins, and carbs into energy.

Inflammation suppression: 

When released in brief bursts, Cortisol may help enhance your immunity by reducing inflammation. Having continuously high amounts of Cortisol in your bloodstream might make your body familiar with the higher amount. It can result in a damaged immune system and inflammation.

Blood pressure control:

It is unknown how Cortisol controls blood pressure in humans; however, it is thought to be via the production of adrenaline. High amounts of Cortisol, on the other hand, may lead to high blood pressure, while low levels of Cortisol, on the other hand, are associated with low blood pressure.

Increasing and controlling blood sugar levels:

Cortisol counteracts the impact of insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas, which helps control blood sugar levels in normal conditions. In people with diabetes, Cortisol may cause blood sugar levels to rise. Cortisol elevates blood sugar levels by releasing glucose from the body’s fat stores, while insulin reduces blood sugar levels. Having chronically elevated cortisol levels may result in persistently high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). Type 2 diabetes may develop as a result of this.

Controlling your sleep-wake cycle:

Under normal conditions, your cortisol levels are lower when you go to sleep at night. And it’s at its highest in the morning shortly before you wake up. As a result, Cortisol seems to play an essential role in the onset of wakefulness and regulating your body’s circadian rhythm.

How does your body maintain a healthy cortisol level?

Your body has a sophisticated mechanism in place to manage cortisol levels.

The hypothalamus, a tiny section of the brain involved in hormone regulation, and the pituitary gland, a small gland underneath the brain, govern cortisol production in the adrenal glands. 

The hypothalamus starts to create CRH or Corticotropin-releasing Hormone. It instructs the pituitary gland to produce ACTH or Adrenocorticotropic Hormone. This hormone controls the production as well as releases Cortisol by adrenal glands. To maintain healthy cortisol levels in your body, the brain, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands must usually work.

How much Cortisol is normal?

There are periods of high cortisol levels in the early morning before it begins to fall during the day, peaking about noon. This pattern may fluctuate for those who work nights, depending on their sleep schedule.

The usual ranges for blood cortisol levels are as follows:

In the early morning (6 a.m. – 8 a.m.): 10 – 20 mcg per deciliter (mcg/dL).

In the early afternoon (4 p.m.): 3 – 10 mcg per deciliter (mcg/dL).

All individuals have their own unique set of normal ranges.

What leads to high cortisol levels?

Long-term unusually high cortisol levels (hypercortisolism) are commonly considered Cushing’s syndrome, an uncommon illness. High cortisol levels and Cushing’s syndrome may be caused by:

  • Large doses of corticosteroids (prednisone, prednisolone or dexamethasone) for various ailments.
  • ADH-producing tumor’s (ACTH). The pituitary gland produces these. Rarely, neuroendocrine tumors in other organs, such as the lungs, may induce elevated Cortisol.
  • Adrenal gland tumors or hyperplasia cause excessive cortisol production.

What are the signs and symptoms of high Cortisol?

Cushing’s syndrome symptoms vary according to your cortisol levels. The following are some of the more common indications and symptoms of elevated cortisol levels:

  • Weight gain, particularly around the face and abdomen.
  • Between your shoulder blades, fatty deposits.
  • Your abdomen is dotted with large, purple stretch marks (belly).
  • Upper arm and thigh muscle weakness.
  • Hyperglycemia often progresses to Type 2 diabetes.
  • Hypertension (hypertension).
  • Excessive hair growth (hirsutism) in individuals born feminine.
  • Fractures and brittle bones (osteoporosis).

Why is your Cortisol low?

Primary adrenal insufficiency:

The most frequent cause of primary adrenal insufficiency is an autoimmune response in which your immune system assaults healthy cells in your adrenal glands for no apparent reason. This condition is referred to as Addison’s disease. Additionally, your adrenal glands might be harmed by infection or blood loss to the tissues (adrenal hemorrhage). All of these circumstances result in decreased cortisol production.

Secondary adrenal insufficiency: 

If you have an underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism) or a pituitary tumor, your pituitary gland may produce insufficient ACTH. Because ACTH stimulates your adrenal glands to produce Cortisol, low ACTH levels result in low cortisol production.

What are the signs and symptoms of low Cortisol?

  • Fatigue.
  • Weight loss that occurs unintentionally.
  • Appetite deficit.
  • Blood pressure is too low (hypotension).

What can you do to control your cortisol levels?

Get enough sleep

Sleep problems such as obstructive sleep apnea, sleeplessness, or working a night shift are all connected with elevated cortisol levels.

Exercise regularly: 

Numerous studies have shown that regular exercise improves sleep quality and reduces stress, resulting in a gradual decrease in cortisol levels.

Acquire the ability to manage stress and unpleasant thought patterns: 

Being aware of your thoughts, breathing patterns, pulse rate, and other symptoms of tension enables you to identify and avoid the onset of stress.

Perform exercises for deep breathing: 

Controlled breathing helps activate your parasympathetic nerve system, sometimes known as your “rest and digest” system, reducing Cortisol. This is usually done by holding the exhale or out breath longer than the inhale.

Enjoy yourself and laugh: 

Laughing increases endorphin release and decreases Cortisol. Participating in hobbies and enjoyable activities may also help you feel better, which can help reduce your cortisol levels.

Build healthy relationships:

Maintaining solid connections is critical in our life. Having stressful and toxic relationships with family members or colleagues might increase stress and cortisol levels.

Be Aware!

Cortisol is a critical hormone that has various effects on your body. While there are multiple things, you can do to regulate your stress and hence your cortisol levels, having excessively high or low cortisol levels is not always within your control.

It is critical to consult your healthcare professional if you develop signs of elevated or decreased cortisol levels, such as weight gain or loss and high or low blood pressure, respectively. They may do some easy tests to determine if your adrenal glands or pituitary gland causes your symptoms. You can also consider helping your body recover with additional supplements such as Tok Wellness, which uses researched adaptogens to help the body recover.

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