There are many different hormones produced in our body. All are chemical messengers produced by different glands which help tissues communicate with our organs. In our series on hormones, we have covered those that impact appetite and body composition. The final hormone to discuss is cortisol.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and circulated via the bloodstream. Nearly all our body’s cells have receptors for cortisol, therefore, cortisol can affect nearly all tissues and organs in the body. It has played a significant role in our survival as one of the hormones which function in the “flight or fight” response. It is called the stress hormone. We need cortisol to stay balanced for optimal health.
Cortisol is released daily in what is known as a diurnal rhythm. This is necessary as it is highest in the morning to wake us and lowers off as the day progresses so we can fall asleep at night. It helps to control blood sugar, regulates energy balance by directing the appropriate type of food source (protein, carbs or fats) from our digestion to support our physiological demands. It also maintains the balance of salt and water in the body. As we encounter stress, our adrenal glands have the ability to release extra bursts of cortisol so we can react accordingly.
Acute bursts of cortisol, say to be able to fight off a predator, helped us to survive and evolve. Today, stress can be constant causing repeated bursts of cortisol to be released throughout the day. Chronic stress causes high levels of cortisol potentially leading to adrenal fatigue (burnout). Here are just a few examples of what this hormonal derangement can cause:
What can you do to lessen the odds you are carrying around high levels of cortisol daily? Lower it naturally by:
In summary, our body is always seeking homeostasis or balance, as that is where it functions best. We can help keep our hormones in check by eating nutritious food, getting enough sleep, managing our stress and exercising. If you think your cortisol might be too high or too low, start implementing one of the above four steps to see if you can’t get things back to where they need to be!