Our body's response to changing conditions is handled by the secretion of hormones. One such hormone is cortisol, which plays a large role in the body's response to stress.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the body in the adrenal cortex, which is an integral part of the adrenal gland. It is widely known as the body's 'Stress Hormone', as it triggers a response to stress and anxiety. Its secretion is controlled by corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH).
Cortisol levels in the blood vary throughout the day and it shows diurnal variation. Early morning, its levels are highest, as it assists the body to wake up and derive energy for the day ahead. Then, these high levels of cortisol progressively drop as the day progresses, reaching the lowest after midnight. The functions and the effects of cortisol on the body are as follows:
- All the effects of cortisol increase are directed towards restoring a state of homeostasis, after a stressful period.
- Cortisol negates the effect of insulin, leading to an increase in blood sugar levels.
- It causes an increase in gastric acid secretion.
- It weakens the overall strength of the immune system.
- It indirectly leads to a reduction in bone formation and lowers calcium absorption through the intestine.
- It enables the formation of memories related to short-term emotional responses.
- High cortisol levels lead to an increase in blood pressure.
- It stops the secretion of CRH hormone and thus, inhibits its own production through a feedback mechanism.
- Cortisol acts to shut down the operation of the reproductive system thus, leading to temporary infertility in some people.
- Cortisol has an anti-inflammatory effect by causing a reduction in secretion of histamine.
- Production of cortisol is connected to stress, and a reduction in stress, automatically reduces its levels.
Consistently high levels of cortisol can cause a condition known as Cushing's syndrome. Following are the observed symptoms of persistent and prolonged high cortisol levels.
- Fatigue and tiredness throughout the day is a major symptom. It may disrupt your sleep cycle too, leading to difficulty in sleeping peacefully.
- Depression, compromised cognitive abilities, and a reduced ability to handle stress are other symptoms.
- It can lead to weight gain, which is indirectly an effect of depression. Also, the hormone causes the fat to get stored predominantly in the area of the abdomen.
- High levels of this hormone can cause persistently high blood pressure problems.
- A drop in libido and temporary infertility is a symptom.
- High blood sugar is another reason.
- The elevated levels of this hormone can also cause a decrease in bone density and muscle tissue.
Here are the prime causes of high cortisol levels:
- One of the major causes is consistent and high amount of stress for a prolonged period of time.
- High caffeine intake is another trigger.
- Sleep deprivation is another cause of high production of cortisol.
- Drugs like glucocorticoids can lead to high levels of cortisol.
- Very high amount of physical activity and travel can induce an increase in the production of this hormone.
An effective treatment of high cortisol level condition can be undertaken in the following ways:
- Relax and learn to de-stress. Stress relief and its management are the cure. This is the best and most natural way of bringing down the levels of this hormone.
- Listening to relaxing music or massage therapy is known to bring down elevated levels.
- One of the major ways in which you can reduce stress and thereby, reduce cortisol levels, is through laughing. Laughter is literally the best medicine here.
- Intake of vitamin C and magnesium supplements can lower the levels of this hormone.
- Research has revealed that black tea contributes to an easy and fast recovery from a high cortisol condition.
- Overall, a balanced diet, regular exercise, with adequate period of relaxation, can effectively counter the buildup of cortisol.
So, these were the symptoms, causes, and treatment methods of a condition, characterized by high cortisol levels. Anything done in the extreme, leads to an imbalance in the body's functioning, as it responds adversely to overuse. Checking the buildup of cortisol early, through lifestyle changes, can save you from debilitating diseases like Cushing's syndrome. The key idea to remember is that relaxation is an effective antidote to this condition.