Cortisol is the hormone that is always released during stressful situations. It serves several functions in the body. Producing too much or too little cortisol can pose a threat to human health. Having the right amount of cortisol balance is therefore important.
The steroid hormone is usually produced by the adrenal, which is located on top of the kidney. It is responsible for producing energy from the stored nutrients in the body.
When stressed, cortisol helps to increase the heart rate, controls sex drive, elevates blood sugar levels, and more.
What are the Functions of Cortisol In the Body?
All hormones in the body perform one major function or the other, and cortisol is not left out.
Here are the functions of cortisol in the body.
1. It helps the body respond to stress.
2. The hormone helps the body to regulate gluconeogenesis, proteolysis, and lipolysis. It controls how the body uses proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
3. Cortisol regulates the body’s metabolism and immune responses.
4. It suppresses the immune response and other functions such as reproductive, digestive, and growth that are not affected under stress.
5. Cortisol hormones play a major role in the contractions of the uterine and myometrium, and also the relaxation of the pelvic ligaments.
6. The hormone helps the breast to release milk during breastfeeding.
7. It increases blood sugar and promotes the release of energy to handle stressful conditions.
8. These hormones help control blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
9. It helps to maintain fluid balance in the body.
10. Cortisol produces anti-inflammatory reactions to keep inflammation in check.
Naturally, cortisol fluctuates throughout the day at different times. In the morning, for instance, cortisol is at higher levels and is at the lowest level at night. That’s how the cycle repeats itself.
Certain situations also contribute to cortisol levels by making them increase or decrease. During the body’s stress response, cortisol is secreted into the bloodstream. That’s why it’s called the “stress hormone”.
This hormone is also responsible for other stress-related changes in the body.
When there’s a slight increase in cortisol, it produces positive effects.
Here are the positive functions of cortisol in the body
1. Boosts Immunity
2. Increase in energy levels for survival
3. Increased Alertness
4. Helps the body maintain homeostasis
What are the Signs of High Cortisol in the Body?
Just like other hormones, cortisol shouldn’t be too high in the body. It could produce unpleasant symptoms. High and long-term release of cortisol in the bloodstream has been shown to have adverse effects.
Here are the effects of high cortisol in the body:
1. Suppressed thyroid function
2. Decreased bone density
3. Blood sugar imbalance
4. Increased abdominal fat
6. Impaired cognitive performance
7. Decrease in muscle tissue
8. Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body such as slow healing of wounds.
Note that the effects listed above can also lead to other health consequences. Abdominal fat is linked to other health problems such as the increased risk of strokes, heart attacks, high “bad” cholesterol, and low “good” cholesterol.
How to Control Cortisol
Since high cortisol levels can cause unwanted symptoms in the body, it is important to keep the hormone under control.
Stress should be limited in every way possible by the use of relaxation techniques and making a few changes in your lifestyle.
These are some techniques that have been found helpful in relaxing the body and mind to maintain healthy cortisol levels:
2. Listening to music
3. Exercise such as running, swimming, walking and more
4. Breathing exercises
10. Nutritious Diet
11. Social Relationships
12. Professional Counselling
As easy as it seems to avoid stress completely thereby keeping cortisol levels in check, it may not be achievable by everyone. These are the possible reasons:
1. People who are depressed may have elevated cortisol levels in their bloodstream. Stress management techniques can help them lower their cortisol levels.
2. Individuals secrete cortisol differently as the reaction to stress varies. When faced with a stressful situation, an individual may secrete higher levels of cortisol than another person in the same situation.
3. Research has shown that people who secrete higher levels of cortisol in response to stress also eat more food.
Unarguably, cortisol is important for the body’s general functioning. However, if you are always experiencing signs of high cortisol, meet with your health care provider.
Joshua is a certified diet planner. He has been researching extensively in nutrition, pain, obesity, and diabetes. He joined our team in February 2021 as an author.