The stress hormone cortisol: effects on the body and 13 ways…

Health Tips

Stress has existed at all times. Its original physiological role is to quickly mobilize the resources of our body in response to some external factors that threaten life. It’s kind of like a fight-or-flight response. Thanks to this, we, in fact, survived. Once upon a time, stress was more severe, but short. There was a threat to life – the predator showed the man his teeth, he hid from him in a house or cave, the cycle ended. Direct threats to life could be repeated at least every day. But the main thing is that in this case there was always time for rest and restoration of resources. And this is correct from a physiological point of view.

In today’s world, we do not save our lives from predatory animals. We are affected by smaller stress factors, but there are too many of them and they “bomb” us all the time. And, alas, it is impossible to escape from them. You can’t just leave a job you don’t like, get rid of debts, rebuff your boss, end the pandemic on your own with a wave of a magic wand. All this is sometimes simply ignored, driven inside, but sooner or later, under this weight, the body sags …. Permanent stress triggers physiological changes and health begins to “crumble”.

How stress and cortisol are linked

As you know, any stressful conditions are associated with an increase in the synthesis of the hormone cortisol. It is formed in the adrenal glands from cholesterol and helps the body respond adequately to changing external conditions. Its level rises when the brain notes any external threat. It is clear that now this is not something that threatens life and health directly. It can be an early rise, an unpleasant conversation, disturbing news, too hard sports training.

Cortisol triggers a series of physiological responses that help the body fend off an external attack. With an increase in the concentration of this hormone, the level of sugar in the blood rises, the heartbeat accelerates, the muscles come into tone. As soon as the situation is resolved, the excessive tension disappears. This is a completely physiological process. The problem begins when there is no particular danger as such, but the level of cortisol remains high. It is produced constantly, and the body enters a state of chronic stress. In this case, all organ systems wear out: immune, cardiovascular, endocrine, digestive.

Cortisol curve: how its amount changes throughout the day

It has long been known that it is this hormone that helps us wake up and stimulates vigorous activity. Normally, cortisol rises in the morning. If you live in harmony with circadian rhythms, then most likely you get up easily in the morning, do exercises, and enjoy breakfast. During the day, cortisol remains high enough – this is enough for fruitful work. After six o’clock in the evening, it slowly decreases, relaxation sets in, and by 22-23 there is a desire to go to bed.

But often the peak of cortisol formation occurs in the evening, and its level, on the contrary, decreases in the morning. How does the person feel in this case? He gets up with difficulty in the morning, drinks only coffee, refuses breakfast, is inactive in the morning, slowly sways by the middle of the day and after 14-15 tries to do the entire amount of daily work. In the evening, his cortisol is at its peak, and he is ready to develop vigorous activity. He falls asleep badly, the dream itself is intermittent. The reasons for this imbalance are the same as in the case of increased cortisol production.

Elevated cortisol – does it concern you?

How does a person who is in a state of chronic stress feel? He is emotionally unrestrained, irritable, gets tired quickly … But there are also not so obvious symptoms that indicate that cortisol may be going through the roof:

  • Physique change. More precisely, the arms and legs become very thin, and the stomach increases in volume. From this point of view, cortisol is a very interesting hormone. It stimulates the breakdown of fat in the limbs and stimulates its deposition at the waist.

  • Weight gain. Only those who follow him regularly will notice. As a rule, it is insignificant, but it seems like “from scratch”. Nutrition is the same, physical activity has not changed, but on the scales + 1-2 kg. Stress is an energy-consuming process, the body will definitely put reserves on the shelf just in case.

  • Craving for sweets. Especially if you were indifferent to him. This is due to the fact that cortisol reduces the flow of glucose into the cell and its sensitivity to insulin. That is, there can be a lot of sugar in the blood, and the cells will starve. That is why prolonged stress often leads to insulin resistance and diabetes.

  • Decreased muscle mass. Elevated cortisol increases the breakdown of proteins by 20 percent. Namely, our muscles are made up of them. If this condition is prolonged, the overall endurance decreases. And it seems to be the right advice – go in for sports. Indeed, good advice. Only in case of prolonged stress, you simply will not have the strength for it. They won’t even exist in everyday life.

  • Deterioration of the skin. This is the largest organ of our body and in case of stress it will be supplied with everything it needs last. The priority will be, for example, the brain, the heart …. And an excess of cortisol has a destructive effect on skin proteins – collagen and elastin.

How to measure cortisol levels

At the moment, there are several medical tests that allow you to understand whether cortisol is really produced in your body in excess. To do this, you can do a biochemical blood test, a general urine test and examine saliva for this hormone. All of the above tests are done twice in one day – in the morning and in the evening. This is important in order to understand fluctuations in cortisol throughout the day. A few days before such tests, it is important to give up sports, smoking and alcohol. If saliva is taken for diagnosis, the integrity of the oral mucosa and the absence of inflammation on it are important.

Important! An increase in cortisol levels may be associated with impaired activity of the hypothalamus and adrenal glands. Do not be surprised if you are assigned the appropriate laboratory tests, ultrasound and MRI.

Cortisol production balance – how to maintain it yourself

In order to maintain it, you need to eat rationally, observe the daily routine and monitor your psycho-emotional state. It would seem that everything is simple. But we decided to put together a checklist for you of what you can do in the coming days to stabilize the stress hormone cortisol.

  1. Reduce the amount of coffee. This drink stimulates the production of cortisol. Two cups of coffee a day is the norm. But 3, and even more so 5-7 – an obvious bust!

  2. Drink coffee and tea without sugar. This may be the first step to reduce the amount of simple sugars in the diet. If you find it difficult to drink these drinks unsweetened, add a natural sweetener like stevia.

  3. Adjust the amount of fruit in your diet. Few people know that four large pears or apples can contain a daily intake of simple carbohydrates! And, of course, eat fruit before 4:00 pm.

  4. Start feeding your microbiota. It is involved in 70% of all processes in our body, including the regulation of the synthesis of various hormones. Eat more prebiotic foods. This is primarily any vegetables and herbs. Thermally processed, they will be absorbed more easily. An excellent food for them will be fermented foods, in particular, sauerkraut.

  5. Train yourself to eat breakfast. It is desirable that at the first meal you eat enough protein and a small amount of carbohydrates, and not vice versa.

  6. Eat oily fish regularly. For example, salmon, mackerel, herring. The omega-3 fatty acids it contains increase the sensitivity of cells to cortisol. And this significantly reduces its synthesis as a whole.

  7. Take malatonin. If you have a disrupted daily routine, it is difficult for you to fall asleep in the evening, this will help you get back into normal circadian rhythms. Dosages can be physiological and therapeutic. The appropriate doctor will select.

  8. Use blue-blockers glasses to block blue and blue light. You can use them periodically during the day or only in the late afternoon. They will minimize the impact on the retina of this color spectrum and reduce the load on the nervous system.

  9. Take care of your stretching. Flexibility exercises are always associated with mild discomfort. And this, in turn, increases the adaptive capabilities of our body as a whole.

  10. Take a break from work during the day. Take short breaks of 10-15 minutes every two hours of work. This is a great relief for the brain, much more useful than a full vacation for a couple of weeks. So he will quickly highlight stress factors and launch an adequate response to them.

  11. Remove acute stress with a rhinestone. So you will process in a short time the cortisol that was formed at that moment and was not fully used. What can be done? Several physical exercises at a fast pace or breathing exercises.

  12. Sleep in silence. Thicker curtains, earplugs or special headphones for sleep will help you provide it.

  13. Take herbal preparations-adaptogens. They are inexpensive and work great! They will be especially appropriate during periods of increased mental and physical activity. The most famous and affordable among them are rhodiola rosea, ginseng, ginkgo biloba.

Photo: depositphotos

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