Cortisol is a biologically active hormone that is involved in many metabolic processes. The functions of cortisol are to regulate carbohydrate metabolism, as well as to form a reaction in dangerous situations. That is why it is called the “stress hormone”.
An increased level of cortisol helps to respond more quickly in stressful situations, but it negatively affects the body's work in the long term. In particular, chronically high cortisol lowers immunity and can cause diabetes.
// Cortisol - what is it?
Cortisol is a key hormone that helps the body mobilize energy in emergency situations. Increased cortisol makes carbohydrates more accessible for both the brain and metabolic functions - which gives a sharp burst of energy. Also, high levels of stress hormone affect the production of adrenaline, helping to focus on the source of danger and make quick decisions.
One of the functions of cortisol is to control the number of white blood cells. On the one hand, it helps to block allergic immune reactions - synthetic analogues of cortisol relieve allergy attacks and have a pronounced anti-inflammatory effect. On the other hand, it suppresses the immune system. That is why taking cortisone preparations is prohibited for symptoms of coronavirus ¹.
The dangers of high cortisol include the risk of diabetes and obesity . Since the hormone actively accumulates glucose in muscles and other tissues, this leads to a decrease in blood sugar². As a result, a person experiences a craving for sweets, although there is enough energy in the body. Against the background of a sedentary lifestyle, this can lead to the growth of a hormonal abdomen.
📌 // Cortisol - briefly:
- stress hormone
- affects carbohydrate metabolism
- increases adrenaline
- affects immunity
How to lower cortisol?
Cortisol increases not only when in a state of stress³. A high level of the hormone is observed with active physical exertion, prolonged fasting, as well as with the use of large doses of caffeine. In addition, chronic diseases also have an effect - a noticeable deviation of cortisol from the norm can be associated with the development of neoplasms in the brain.
In order to reduce cortisol, it is recommended to limit the amount of fast carbohydrates in daily nutrition, minimize the use of coffee and nicotine, and also maintain an active lifestyle. In particular, monitor compliance with the norms of steps per day . Also, a method of lowering cortisol levels is yoga, meditation and other methods of dealing with stress.
High cortisol - symptoms
One of the symptoms of high cortisol is gaining excess weight even when observing calorie standards and a high level of physical activity. Other symptoms include chronic fatigue, nervousness, depression, insomnia, digestive problems (bloating, constipation, diarrhea), sweating, and frequent urination. In men, there may be a decrease in testosterone and impaired potency.
Another feature of elevated cortisol levels is an increase in the resting heart rate. This effect occurs due to the fact that the hormone causes a narrowing of the arteries, causing the heart to work more actively - which, again, negatively affects health. A daily heart rate measurement in the morning after waking up is a simple home-based method to control cortisol levels.
📌 // Symptoms of increased cortisol:
- weight gain
- nervousness and depression
- trouble sleeping
- increased heart rate
Cortisol increases blood glucose twice. First, reducing the secretion of insulin, which complicates the task of utilizing excess sugar, and then starting the processes of the breakdown of amino acids to glucose. The result is that a chronically high level of stress hormone leads to the development of insulin resistance and its associated type 2 diabetes mellitus.
We also note that against the background of increased cortisol, attempts to lose weight through fasting or following a strict diet with a sharp restriction of calories only aggravate the situation. Additional problems are caused by an increase in the hormone of hunger for leptin , which is expressed in the appearance of uncontrolled hunger. That is why with high cortisol it is forbidden to starve.
Cortisol - functions and dangers
The functions of the hormone cortisol in the human body are extremely diverse. It is involved in carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism, forms glycogen stores in the liver and is involved in the synthesis of a number of cellular enzymes. It also affects the water-salt balance of the body - in particular, high cortisol acts as a diuretic and has diuretic properties.
Under stress, the hormone activates the production of adrenaline, strengthens the heartbeat and increases blood pressure. Also, an increase in cortisol above a normal level changes the mechanism of energy use in muscles, triggering catabolic processes. The recommendation of taking fast carbohydrates immediately after training (“ carbohydrate window ”) is aimed specifically at lowering cortisol.
// Harm of increased cortisol:
- destroys muscles
- provokes fluid loss
- upsets glucose metabolism
- increases cravings for sweets
High cortisol and obesity
One of the effects of increasing cortisol levels is an obsessive feeling of hunger and a constant desire to eat something sweet. Since sugar and other foods with fast carbohydrates reduce cortisol levels for a while, the habit of “stress seizing” gradually develops. Ultimately, this leads to overeating and gaining excess weight.
Given that the normal metabolic function with high cortisol is impaired, obesity progresses according to a special scenario. Fat begins to form strongly not under the skin, but under the muscles and in the internal cavity of the abdomen. Especially fast are the reserves of visceral fat , pushing the stomach forward and shaping the shape of an apple.
How to lower cortisol?
A key factor in increasing cortisol levels is chronic stress. This is followed by a sedentary lifestyle, malnutrition and bad habits. For example, a cup of strong coffee raises the level of the hormone by about 30%. Regular caffeine intake maximizes cortisol secretion - especially when combined with stress and insomnia. Smoking is also negative.
In order to return cortisol to normal, you first need to deal with stress, its symptoms and consequences. If you have trouble sleeping, then taking melatonin in tablets may help. With irritability and a bad mood - the use of a sufficient amount of tryptophan products to normalize the production of serotonin .
// Methods of reducing cortisol:
- regular cardio
- sleep normalization
- rejection of bad habits
- yoga and meditation
The effect of meditation on stress levels
Studies show that regular meditation lowers stress levels, and, accordingly, cortisol - in some cases, its level can be reduced by half (5) . Also helps breathing exercises and yoga. The mechanism of the influence of meditation on the brain and on metabolism is being actively studied, but its benefits are unambiguously accepted by modern scientists.
In order to learn how to meditate , you need to develop the habit of doing it daily. Best of all - in the morning, immediately after waking up. Sit in a comfortable position for you, close your eyes and focus on breathing. Beginners are advised to close one nostril with their hands, slowly breathe air into the lungs, then exhale slowly too - but through the other nostril. Breathing meditation takes 5-7 minutes.
Cortisol is one of the most important hormones in the body, responsible for the reaction in dangerous situations. The main consequences of a high level are fat gain (especially in the abdomen), insulin resistance, sleep problems, depression and a decrease in testosterone in men. In order to reduce cortisol, you need to learn how to deal with stress.
- WHO officially says avoid taking this over-the-counter drug if you have Covid-19 symptoms, source
- Cortisol - Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy, source
- Cortisol and stress, source
- Yoga, Meditation and Mind-Body Health: Increased BDNF, Cortisol Awakening Response, and Altered Inflammatory Marker Expression, source