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Have you ever barely avoided a car accident and felt a wash of warmth/panic/relief flush throughout your body? That was a combination of increased adrenaline and cortisol rushing through your body. As one of the main stress hormones, cortisol plays an important role in the stressors of everyday life.

What are the effects of cortisol on the body?

Cortisol is classified as a steroid hormone under the category “glucocorticoid,” which means that it impacts your blood sugar. Cortisol’s immediate effect on the body is as a long-term stress hormone, released from the adrenal glands. Many people think of cortisol as the hormone released when you’re actively running away from a tiger (like epinephrine or norepinephrine). However, I think of it more as the hormone released when you need to be on-guard that the tiger may still be stalking you! When you’re always on “alert” you are releasing an excessive amount of cortisol. 

As a glucocorticoid, cortisol acts in supplying vital organs with glucose and aids in shutting down the systems not needed when you are being stalked by a tiger. The systems that take the back-burner include the immune system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. Granted, most of us are luckily not actively being stalked by larger predators. However, we may be dealing with a constant stream of deadlines, stress at home, the list goes on and on, and of course, an ongoing global pandemic. Our modern-day “tigers” can lead to constantly high levels of cortisol. 

What causes high levels of cortisol?

Chronic stress is the most common cause for high levels of cortisol, however there can be other causes for high cortisol including cortisol-secreting tumors, over-activity of the adrenal glands causing Cushing disease, or long-term use of corticosteroids.

What are the symptoms of high cortisol levels?

Symptoms of high cortisol levels include increased stress, weight gain, fatigue, difficulty fighting off common colds or frequent illness, muscle weakness, thinning hair and acne. Because high levels of cortisol also decrease reproductive ability, decreases in libido and changes in menstruation are also common symptoms women in particular experience.

What does cortisol do in stress?

Cortisol and stress work in a cyclical motion. High cortisol levels can cause stress, and chronic stress from life can cause increased levels of cortisol. When one ramps up, the other ramps up as well. It’s a cycle that is difficult to break but it comes at us from every angle. 

For example, let’s adjust the tiger analogy just slightly… Imagine being chased by a tiger (financial stress). Narrowly, you escape the tiger (you make your mortgage payment but you’re unable to pay the gas bill). You feel a little bit of relief but you know the tiger is still out there lurking and is not alone (these same deadlines will enviably come again next week and maybe some new ones too).

This cycle, will continue to happen until we address it at the source. The problem with stress, is that it’s almost impossible to eliminate. So that leaves us with cortisol. Cortisol helps us handle the everyday stressors of life. As a result, it’s important to support cortisol function so we can handle the stresses of life a little better.

 

Can cortisol cause belly fat?

Cortisol can result in belly fat, as it plays a role in your blood sugar levels during times of stress. High levels of cortisol over extended periods of time cause increased levels of blood sugar. These increased levels of blood sugar in the body can cause an increase in fat production. With excess sugar circulating in the blood your body is forced to convert it to fat cells. Chronically high cortisol levels result in the development of more fat cells. These fat cells deposit themselves in the abdomen, around the hips (in women), and along the neck and face.

 

Cortisol and the Stressors of Everyday Life: How to truly understand your cortisol level

We offer an at-home adrenal and hormone salivary test kit. This kit not only tests your cortisol levels, but the most important sex hormones to help you understand the full picture of your hormone health. We offer a single test with no appointments or fully inclusive programs to help balance your hormones in a long lasting, healthy way.

 

Reach out to if you need help on keeping the tiger away! Schedule a free informational consultation to see how we might be able to help you!