Stress Hormones 101

Cortisol, or the stress hormone, is known to be our body's natural alarm system. It is in direct communication with your brain that controls your mood, motivation, and fear. Hormones are essentially chemical messengers that are developed in the endocrine glands. For example, your adrenal glands, located at the top of your kidneys develop the hormone cortisol. The cortisol is then released into the bloodstream as a response to stress.



Your hypothalamus and pituitary gland, that are located in your brain, can sense if you have the right amount of cortisol present in your bloodstream. If it is too low, your brain then sends signals to prompt the adrenal glands to make more cortisol. Cortisol receptors, that are present in almost every cell in the body, then receive and use this hormone in a variety of ways.


Now, cortisol affects many bodily functions that are necessary for optimal well-being. This hormone controls inflammation, blood sugar, and metabolism, and is most commonly known for activating the fight-or-flight response in the body. Let’s discuss how cortisol influences the way your body functions and what to do about it…


Fight-Or-Flight

Did you know that 80% of people report being overly stressed out on the daily basis? This means most people are in a constant state of fight-or-flight mode. Over time, when chronic stress is present in the body for long periods of time, it can cause imbalance and encourages the development of diseases.


Vitamin D Deficiency

Most people do not realize that vitamin D is actually a hormone and is impacted by high cortisol levels. When your body is under high, chronic stress it deactivates your vitamin D receptors, making it difficult for your body to absorb and synthesize vitamin D.


Thyroid Function

High cortisol levels have a direct effect on the production of thyroid hormones. If not addressed, the imbalance in thyroid hormones can impact your metabolism long term. This usually results in excessive weight gain that exercise and dieting cannot overcome.


Diabetes

There is a clear link between the development of diabetes and high cortisol levels. Cortisol actually stimulates the release of blood glucose for energy. Insulin is produced in the pancreas and helps balance blood sugar levels so they are not too high. However, when high levels of cortisol are present, it causes the body to release more glucose in the body than it needs to. When this happens, the pancreas starts to produce more insulin if the blood sugar is not being used. Over time, the body starts to turn off the insulin receptors to balance out the high levels of insulin, which can result in insulin resistance and pre-diabetes.


Auto-Immune Disease

Did you know that cortisol is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory substances that is produced in the body? When we get hurt and have a cut or bruise, the body secretes cortisol to reduce inflammation. However, when cortisol levels are too high for too long, the body tries to balance itself and starts to desensitize the cortisol receptors. When the cortisol receptors are downregulated it can result in auto-immune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, and many others.


Dealing with high levels of cortisol is not always easy, but there are many habits you can incorporate into your lifestyle to reduce stress and improve your overall wellness. I urge you to not overcomplicate when making some of these changes and keep it simple.

  1. Focus on a diet based on whole foods.

  2. Exercise regularly, even if you take a long, brisk walk.

  3. Try adopting a relaxation technique like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing regularly.

  4. Occupy your mind by reading or listening to a podcast.

  5. Practice gratitude daily and focus on the positive aspects of life.

  6. Try taking a natural supplement that promotes relaxation, like Stress Less.