Often called the “Stress Hormone,” Cortisol is known to have a direct impact on the body’s response to stress. However, because Cortisol receptors are found throughout your entire body, this particular hormone is involved with more than just stress levels. It important to understand what Cortisol is and the affect it has on your body – especially when it comes to stress and anxiety. So, with that said, here is everything you ever wanted to know about Cortisol but were afraid to ask.
What Exactly Is Cortisol?
Often thought of as the “fight or flight” hormone, Cortisol has a direct impact on your body both physically and mentally. It is produced by the adrenal glands, which are found just above your kidneys — and it is important that your body has this tricky hormone in proper balance, or problems can occur. For instance, too much Cortisol could lead to weight gain, acne, and brittle skin — whereas those who lack a healthy level of Cortisol could experience continual fatigue, unhealthy weight loss, muscle weakness, and more.
The release of Cortisol is controlled by the Pituitary Gland. Often referred to as the “Master Gland” due to its involvement triggering multiple biological effects, this gland regulates Cortisol after the adrenal glands carry out production of the hormone. The pituitary gland gets to work as soon as your body awakens. Plus, other events such as physical activity and stressful encounters all lead to Cortisol production.
So Why Is Cortisol Important?
As mentioned, Cortisol is involved in a number of key areas of your body and has a direct impact on your body’s reaction to stress. Plus, it is known to control blood pressure, increase your body’s metabolism levels, and reduce inflammation. But controlling stress in a healthy manner is vital on your healthy aging journey, so it might be a good idea to gain a deeper understanding as to why Cortisol is important.
Similar to virtually every other living creature, the human body is wired to naturally protect itself from danger and other things that the brain perceives as a threat. Although humans don’t exactly have to hunt for food and fend off predators, we do encounter our fair share of stressful situations – especially in the workplace. As a result, a series of brain signals trigger our adrenal glands to produce Cortisol. This response is otherwise known as “fight or flight” – the healthy and natural response to potential threats.
The importance of this stress hormone should not be overlooked; heart rate, blood pressure, glucose in the bloodstream, and brain function through the use of glucose are all linked to Cortisol. That said, the manner in which your body reacts to stress is most likely different than that of the person next to you. In fact, how you react to stress is dependent on genetics and life experiences, according to Mayo Clinic.
Fortunately, there are ways to combat stress in a healthy and responsible manner, so be sure to check out The Top 10 Ways For Dealing With Stress for some key tips on keeping stress at bay.
Why Does Cortisol Sometimes Cause Problems?
Like all things in life, too much of a good thing is unhealthy and may end up becoming something bad. For example, there is nothing wrong with basking in the great outdoors and allowing the sun to shine on your skin. However, too much exposure to sunlight – combined with the failure to use the appropriate amount of sunscreen – will likely result in burnt skin and even greater health issues down the road. The same idea applies to Cortisol, as too much – or too little – is likely to cause problems throughout your body.
Cortisol could cause issues because it impacts a lot of functions in the body. As your body encounters stress, this hormone flows throughout your blood stream and helps manage blood sugar, metabolism, and more. Obesity is one of the leading factors that Cortisol associates itself with, as the body’s natural response to Cortisol release is to send hunger signals to the brain. In turn, a surplus in Cortisol could lead to overeating.
Elevated blood pressure is another potential issue, and we all know that high BP could lead to future health issues. Put simply, Cortisol narrows the arteries which causes blood to pump harder than usual. As a result, your heart rate could increase and lead to increased blood pressure. Although a hard-working heart is helpful in the short-term – especially during physical activity – it is simply not sustainable on a long-term basis.
As mentioned, an overflow of the stress hormone is known to cause weight gain, high blood pressure, and changes to your skin – including acne and thin, fragile skin. On the other hand, one who is deficient in Cortisol may experience weight loss, unhealthy stress and anxiety, fatigue, muscle weakness, and more.
So How Do I Maintain Healthy Cortisol Levels?
Good question! As mentioned, there are a lot of ways to deal with stress in a healthy manner – including physical activity. Granted, stress-inducing situations do have a direct impact on Cortisol production – but for the sake of this Cortisol-based article – we’ll dive into the top nutrients you can take in order to manage this particular hormone.
On the surface, Ashwagandha is best known for its stress-reducing effects. Granted, as valid of a statement as this may be, it’s good to know why this is the case. In order for Ashwagandha to work its magic on stress and anxiety, it must be able to control Cortisol levels as well. Fortunately, studies have concluded that KSM-66® Ashwagandha exhibits a significant reduction in stress levels. For a duration of 60 days, this particular study focused on 64 subjects complaining of mental stress and fall between the ages of 18 and 54 years.
According to the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, “The findings suggest that high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract improves an individual's resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.” This means that KSM-66® safely and effectively improves the body’s reaction – and resistance – to stress. For statistical purposes, the official KSM-66® Ashwagandha website points out that 27.9% of participating adults experienced a decrease in Serum Cortisol levels at the conclusion of the study.
Since Cortisol is a commonly used hormone to measure stress, the study deemed it appropriate to assess the effect of treatment based on Serum Cortisol levels in each subject. In short, the Ashwagandha root extract lowered – and safely managed – the levels of Cortisol in this study.
Based on clinically studied trials, it is quite evident that KSM-66® is one of the leading nutrients for stress relief. However, Fish Oil is another nutrient that supports anxiety – especially mental stress – by managing Cortisol levels.
For this particular study, scientists called upon 7 human volunteers on two separate occasions. Each volunteer supplemented their diets by taking 7.2 grams of Fish Oil each day. After three weeks, the steady diet of the n-3 fatty acids found in Fish Oil demonstrated a notable reduction of Cortisol, as triggered by a mental stress inducer.
Although there are a number of nutrients that claim to promote a healthy reaction to stress and manage Cortisol levels, you might want to try Ashwagandha or Fish Oil first. The reason for this is the fact that these two nutrients fared relatively well in clinical studies and are backed by science to achieve the results you strive for.
The Cortisol Conclusion
Now that your Cortisol related questions have been answered, it might be a good idea to reiterate how the stress hormone works. Cortisol production occurs when your body encounters a stressful situation. It starts in the Pituitary Glands, then enters your bloodstream, and leads to a direct impact on various functions in the body. These functions include blood sugar levels, blood pressure, metabolism, and inflammation.
As mentioned, each person handles stress differently, so be sure to consult your doctor or other medical professional for more in-depth ways to manage stress in a healthy manner. That said, it’s important to maintain healthy levels of Cortisol every day, especially when it comes to healthy aging. We all battle stress – and although everyone handles it different – we can all manage it in a safe and effective manner.