How Cortisol Levels Affect the Body

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How Cortisol Levels Affect the Body

According to health experts, cortisol – the stress hormone – is our worst enemy. It triggers inflammation, promotes fat storage, and increases the risk of chronic disorders. If left uncontrolled, it can take a toll on your mind and body.

But why is cortisol so harmful? After all, our adrenal glands produce this hormone on a daily basis. The problem occurs when cortisol levels go above normal. This triggers a chain reaction in the body, messing up your hormones, metabolism, and energy levels.

What Is Cortisol?

Under normal conditions, your body releases cortisol in response to stress. This chemical reaction is meant to protect you against immediate threats.

For instance, when you’re in traffic or getting ready for a job interview, you experience acute stress. Your body perceives these situations as dangerous. Your cortisol levels go up and then return to normal when the danger is gone. This is known as the fight-or-flight response.

With trauma and prolonged or chronic stress, it’s a different story. In these circumstances, your cortisol levels remain elevated for weeks or even months. This puts your body in a constant state of stress, leading to:

  • Hormonal imbalances
  • High blood sugar
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Fat storage in the abdominal area
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Metabolic slowdown
  • Thyroid disease
  • Adrenal gland dysfunction
  • Catabolism
  • Poor sleep
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Weight gain
  • Immune system suppression
  • Digestive distress
  • Fertility issues

These are just a few of the many side effects of chronic stress. Elevated cortisol messes up hormone production, which in turn, affects every system in your body.

High Cortisol and Your Health

More than 33 percent of American adults feel they are living with extreme stress. About 77 percent regularly experience physical symptoms because of it. Dizziness, low libido, increased appetite, upset stomach, headaches, and fatigue are among the most common complaints.

Chronic stress is the primary cause of high cortisol levels. It drains your energy, affects your work performance, and triggers anxiety. Over time, you lose your motivation and no longer find joy in the things you used to love.

Elevate cortisol production affects your gains too. Since your body uses its energy to fight stress, it becomes less efficient at building muscle and recovering from training. Plus, you have a hard time staying focused in the gym. You feel hungry all the time and crave unhealthy foods, especially sugar. This can lead to weight gain and chronic diseases.

When your cortisol levels increase, testosterone levels go down. This causes muscle loss and makes you feel weaker overall. It also affects recovery, which in turn, may increase injury risk. At the same time, your body produces more insulin, putting you at risk for weight gain.

The sleep problems caused by stress only make things worse. Even when you sleep well, you still wake up tired. Too much cortisol also weakens your immune system, so you’ll get sick more often. This hormone deactivates your body’s natural defense mechanisms, leaving you vulnerable to infections.

Considering these facts, it makes sense to keep your stress levels in check. Seek ways to relax and calm down after a long day. Practice meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises. Get more sleep and clean up your diet. Learn to say No and squeeze more “me” time into your schedule.

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