The Health Dangers Of High Cortisol
What Does High Cortisol Mean?
Cortisol is the stress hormone.
You probably remember times when you were more wound up than usual. When you can tell your body feels “off”. Maybe your sleep pattern or appetite changed, maybe you can feel your heart racing more frequently, maybe you feel a nagging worrying feeling as you go throughout your day.
Your body is likely producing higher amounts of cortisol.
Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone” is meant to react and adapt your body to states of “fight or flight”.
When you encounter a situation that’s startling, threatening, or stress-inducing, your adrenal glands release cortisol into your bloodstream.
Many bodily risks accompany high cortisol and chronically high stress so it’s important to keep it under control.
1. High Cortisol Means Inflammation
Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that long term mental stress is related to the body losing its ability to properly regulate the inflammatory response.
Cohen, a psychology professor from Carnegie Mellon said “Inflammation is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol and when cortisol is not allowed to serve this function, inflammation can get out of control."
During a study, they found that those experiencing high amounts of stress were more likely to develop colds when exposed to the virus.
When the body experiences chronic inflammation, it can lead to damage to healthy cells, tissues, and organs, possibly resulting in more serious complications.
Inflammation is influenced by all sorts of factors from diet to lifestyle and how much stress you're experiencing. You should do your best to avoid stress and inflammation from your mental discomfort.
2. High Cortisol Means Weight Gain
If you’re trying to lose weight or stay in shape, high cortisol is out to sabotage you.
High cortisol levels break down muscle tissue. Less muscle means fewer calories burned and a lower metabolic rate.
Having more muscle on your body generally makes it more efficient. Also, when you experience extra stress and your cortisol levels rise it can affect your appetite.
At first, you may actually experience a reduced appetite, but over time the extra cortisol can cause you to have cravings, especially for very sugary foods.
If you care about keeping weight gain off and maintaining a fit body shape you definitely want to keep your stress and cortisol levels down.
High cortisol can cause one of the worst and most hated types of fat gain.
Also known as belly fat. The kind that’s very difficult to get rid of.
If your cortisol gets out of control your stress and anxiety can become a weight issue as well.
3. High Cortisol Means Potential Issues With Mental Health
High cortisol results in a decreased frontal lobe. This can affect your personality, ability to concentrate, memory and mood.
High cortisol is known as the stress hormone but it’s also related to depression as well.
The Stress-Vulnerability Model states that people who are already biologically vulnerable to mental health issues, such as addiction, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, are more likely to develop an issue when they’re experiencing stress.
One big area to be careful about this is when you’re dealing with your job. The number one cause of stress for most American adults is work related and anywhere from 75-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related issues.
Environmental stress can push you over the edge when you’re already predisposed to mental health issues.
4. High Cortisol Means Fatigue
There’s actually a natural circadian rhythm involved with the bodily release of cortisol. It’s naturally higher in the mornings when you wake up and it’s meant to taper off in the evening before you get ready for bed.
This is why excessive stress/anxiety can hurt your overall sleep quality and mess with your natural sleep cycle.
Your cortisol levels will remain higher for longer, and you’ll have trouble having quality sleep.
The stress you experience throughout your daily life can interfere with these natural rhythms, thereby decreasing sleep quality and affecting other systems and functions in your body including your energy levels.
5. High Cortisol Means A Lower Sex Drive
High cortisol can result in lowered libido. It can cause erectile dysfunction and irregularities from regular menstrual cycles.
Especially in men who are experiencing lots of stress and anxiety, their sexual performance can be significantly affected.
In addition, cortisol is created in the same glands that also produce your sex hormones so overactivity can stop your other hormones from being produced.
If you want to reinvigorate your sexual performance or raise your libido, you may want to consider taking a look at how much stress you're dealing with.
As you can see there are many bodily functions that can get thrown out of rhythm if you don't keep your cortisol levels under control.
Thankfully there are some simple and natural ways to adjust your lifestyle to keep your cortisol lower:
- Exercise - Exercise while overall being good for your health, helps to reduce anxiety and stress. Finding time before or after work to get at least 15 minutes of exercise each day can make a real difference.
- Sunlight - Many people who work indoors, especially with a 9-5, might go all day without getting sunlight. You need Vitamin D! Lack of natural light in the workplace is associated with physiological, sleep and depressive symptoms.
- Walking - One tactic you can use to address both exercise AND sunlight is to take a 10-15 minute walk every day at work or sometime during your day. Regular walking helps with keeping your heart and lungs healthy, as well as overall health and fitness.
- Supplements - Ashwagandha has a proven effect on lowering cortisol. One study showed a 44% reduction from those taking ashwagandha.
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