Cortisol is a hormone produced by cholesterol and belongs to the glucocorticoid class. It is secreted by the adrenal glands after a signal is sent by the pituitary gland.
Normally, the body produces between 10 - 30 mg of cortisol every 24 hours, its levels varying throughout the day - they are highest in the morning and lowest in the evening and at night.
Cortisol is called the stress hormone and not without good reason - the primary factor which stimulates its synthesis are the different types of stress - consumption of unhealthy food, strenuous workouts, trauma, powerful emotions, malnutrition, lack of sleep, diseases, pain.
Benefits of Cortisol
When cortisol is within the normal range it provides only benefits for the body. Its normal secretion is key for numerous important processes. It relieves pain sensitivity, boosts the body's resistances, improves memory and the ability to concentrate.
Dangers of Cortisol
High levels of cortisol for an extended period bring a series of negative consequences. Immunity is gradually decreased, as well as the secretion of the hormones testosterone and somatropin, the function of the thyroid gland is suppressed, there's an imbalance in blood sugar, blood pressure increases, cognitive abilities are reduced.
Muscle tissue gradually decreases, fatty tissue increases, cell aging quickens. High levels of cortisol cause ulcers, diabetes and stretch marks, bone density loss (a primary factor for the occurrence of osteoporosis).
Symptoms of High Cortisol
Symptoms of high cortisol differ. A person suffering from such a problem begins to experience various kinds of changes in mood - anxiety, depression and increased irritability. This is due to the fact that cortisol has an effect on the synthesis of dopamine and serotonin.
Cortisol levels are highest in the morning when a person has to wake up and feel fresh and energetic. Persons with high levels of cortisol in the morning feel tired but then alert at night.
Body weight slowly rises because cortisol not only stimulates appetite but also the craving for sweet foods. High levels of this hormone cause skin dehydration, which in turn leads to the appearance of premature wrinkles and aging.
High cortisol caused by constant stress may cause a blood pressure increase and thus raise the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
A cortisol test is done to determine its levels in the blood. Usually, 2 blood samples are required - one in the morning and one in the evening since levels fluctuate. This type of study is usually done to diagnose problems with the pituitary or adrenal glands.
Prior to undergoing this test, a person needs to prepare. The person needs to avoid physical activity the day before the test, while also lying down half an hour before the actual samples are taken. Taking certain medications can alter the results so if the person is taking any they need to inform their doctor about them.
A cortisol test should not be administered right after the person has experienced psychological or physical stress, during pregnancy or low blood sugar, while on certain medications.
Deviations from the norm can be due to certain diseases and problems. High levels can be the result of damage to the kidneys or liver, obesity, depression, hyperthyroidism. The most common cause is Cushing's syndrome.
Low levels of cortisol may be caused by the internal bleeding of an organ or Addison's disease.
Avoiding high levels of cortisol for extended periods is a crucial prerequisite for good health. To prevent the negative consequences, each person must try to follow a few main rules. Firstly, it's necessary to reduce stress as much as possible.
It is the main culprit for high cortisol and needs to be regulated. Good quality sleep is important, excessively demanding workouts need to be substituted with moderate ones. Avoid extreme diets, your food needs to be high quality and wholesome. Limit your intake of energy drinks and coffee, avoid cigarette smoke.
Everyday stress, born out of running errands, inactivity, the intake of caffeine, alcohol and cigarette use, lack of sleep and unhealthy eating need to be replaced by exercise, the practice of yoga and meditation, a fundamental change in the way of life.
Eating and Cortisol
As with many other hormones, here it also turns out that eating is among the most important factors for maintaining normal cortisol levels.
To maintain cortisol levels, especially in people who actively work out, they need to follow a suitable diet, which includes about 6 meals a day, divided into small servings. A significant drop in caloric intake can raise cortisol levels by up to 40%.
An increase in cortisol levels also results from the consumption of foods containing way too much sugar, chocolate and coffee, foods with a very high fat content.