Cortisol: The Stress Hormone and Its Impact on the Body

The adrenal gland produces cortisol hormone as a response to stress. (Alena Shekhovtcova/ Pexels)
The adrenal gland produces cortisol hormone as a response to stress. (Alena Shekhovtcova/ Pexels)

Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal gland in response to stress. It is commonly referred to as the “stress hormone” due to its role in the body's stress response system. It plays a critical role in regulating the body's metabolism, immune system, and inflammation response. However, chronic stress can lead to its overproduction, which can have negative effects on the body.


What is Cortisol and How is it Produced?

It is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland, which is located on top of the kidneys. The production of cortisol is regulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain.

When the hypothalamus detects a stressor, it releases the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which signals the pituitary gland to release the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH then stimulates the adrenal gland to produce cortisol.


The Role of Cortisol in the Body

The adrenal gland, situated on top of the kidneys, produces a steroid hormone known as cortisol. (RF._.studio/ Pexels)
The adrenal gland, situated on top of the kidneys, produces a steroid hormone known as cortisol. (RF._.studio/ Pexels)

It plays a critical role in the body's stress response system and is responsible for preparing the body to deal with stressors, such as a physical threats or emotional stress. It increases blood sugar levels, which provides the body with energy to deal with the stressor.

This hormone also increases heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, which helps the body respond to the stressor. It also suppresses the immune system and decreases inflammation, which helps prevent tissue damage during the stress response.


High Cortisol Levels

High levels of this hormone, known as hypercortisolism or Cushing's syndrome, can occur due to several factors. It can be caused by long-term use of glucocorticoid medications, such as prednisone, or by a tumor in the pituitary gland or adrenal gland that produces too much of the hormone.

Symptoms can include weight gain, particularly in the face, neck, and upper back, as well as thinning of the skin, stretch marks, and muscle weakness. High levels of the stress hormone can also lead to mood changes, such as anxiety and depression, as well as decreased libido and menstrual irregularities in women.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause. If it is due to medication, the dose may need to be reduced or changed. If it is due to a tumor, surgery or radiation therapy may be necessary. Medication such as ketoconazole and metyrapone may also be used to lower the levels.


How to Lower The Levels Naturally

Signs and symptoms may involve an increase in body weight, especially in the areas of the face, neck, and upper back, alongside the thinning of the skin. (Andrew Neel/ Pexels)
Signs and symptoms may involve an increase in body weight, especially in the areas of the face, neck, and upper back, alongside the thinning of the skin. (Andrew Neel/ Pexels)

There are several ways to naturally lower the levels, which can help reduce the negative effects of chronic cortisol exposure. These include:

  1. Exercise: Regular exercise, such as cardio or HIIT training, can help reduce levels and improve mood.
  2. Sleep: Getting enough sleep is crucial for regulating its levels. It is recommended to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  3. Stress Reduction: Practicing stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga, can help reduce the levels and improve overall health.
  4. Diet: Eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes whole foods, lean protein, and healthy fats can help regulate it.
  5. Supplements: Certain supplements, such as ashwagandha or rhodiola, have been shown to help lower the levels and reduce stress.

It is a vital hormone that plays a critical role in the body's stress response system. However, chronic exposure can have negative effects on the body, including weight gain, mood changes, and immune suppression.

It is essential to manage stress levels and implement healthy lifestyle habits, such as exercise, sleep, and stress reduction techniques, to regulate the levels and maintain overall health. If you suspect that you may have high levels of this hormone, consult your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Edited by Susrita Das