Cortisol: The Stress Hormone
Stress affects health in many ways, unfortunately none of them affects well-being in a good way. Many health specialists claim, as normal human experience would confirm, that stress and depression can have negative effects on physical health. In the long run, persons under high stress can develop eating disorders and sleep disturbances. These conditions could also possibly lead to decreased physical energy, chronic pain, and sexual dysfunction.
Physical illnesses are almost always present whenever a person is under extremely stressful conditions. Even the body’s internal processes respond to external difficulties experienced by a person. During stressful situations, the adrenal glands inside the body release a substance called cortisol. Cortisol is a natural steroid hormone that science experts refer to as the “stress hormone.” It is known as the”stress hormone” because large amounts of this substance are released whenever a person feels stressed out. It is an important hormone in the human body because it is involved in proper glucose metabolism, regulation of blood pressure, and control of immune system functions, and inflammatory response.
In general, cortisol is present in the body at elevated levels in the morning and lowest in the evening. Small increases of cortisol have some positive effects like quick bursts of energy, improved immunity, heightened memory function, and lower sensitivity to pain. In addition, moderate doses of cortisol helps maintain homeostasis in the body. Homeostasis is the property of living organisms that regulates its internal environment to maintain a stable and constant state in terms of body temperature, acidity, and nutrient and waste balance. Health experts stress that this process is critical for survival and good health. With minimal or no thought at all, people maintain and restore homeostasis all the time. For example, people drink if they are thirsty, wear a sweater when it is cold, or take a rest after an intense physical activity. All these actions contribute to ones state of homeostasis. Dilemmas occur when the body’s cells fail to communicate properly, and cause breakdown in homeostasis. This disturbance can lead to poor health and later into serious health conditions.
Sustained and prolonged levels of cortisol, however, may lead to many harmful effects like high cholesterol, suppression of the immune system, and acceleration of the aging process. Prolonged stress may lead to imbalance of cortisol in the body which causes disturbance in the components of the digestive, cardiovascular, respiratory, and other major systems of the body. Medical specialists conclude that such imbalance may lead to several illness like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to these harmful effects, high levels of cortisol may lead to weight gain. When people become stressed, the adrenal glands produce more cortisol that release sugar in the blood which then leads to additional weight gain. Studies add that people who secrete higher levels of cortisol as a reaction to stress tend to eat more food that is high in carbohydrates. To keep cortisol levels under control, the body’s relaxation response is activated during stressful situations. The following methods have been proven by many health experts to be very beneficial helping the mind and the body relax and, in the process, control the body’s production of cortisol:
- Switch to a whole foods, anti-inflammation diet.
- Reduce and manage stress using healthy coping strategies including meditation, breathing exercises, acupuncture, spending time in nature, etc.
- Exercise regularly, but don’t overdo it (exercising too much can actually increase cortisol).
- Use adaptogenic herbs (ashwagandha, for example)
- Get enough sleep.
Why My Muscles Won’t Grow?
Cortisol Destroys Muscle Tissues
There are many reasons why your muscles wont grow or are slow to grow. One main culprit for your muscle tissue to in a catabolic and not in an anabolic state is the stress hormone called cortisol. This stress hormone, cortisol, is produced by your body when you are under stressful situations.
Yes, any type of stress, whether they are mental stress, physical stress or just emotional stress will trigger off an increased in the production of cortisol hormones. A high level of cortisol is always a bane for bodybuilders and that in itself, is creating more stress.
When you exercise or especially weightlifting body building exercises, you are placing a tremendous stress on your body. This in turn will cause the cortisol hormone in your body to rise to unacceptable level which may destroy your muscle tissues, bone density and causes weight gain especially abdominal fat. Ohhh…that abdominal fat that would not go away.
This hormone hates your muscles and wants you to grow fat. It takes away protein from the muscles. However to be fair to this hormone, the cortisol hormone has its positive functions.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex and is commonly known as a stress hormone because the level of cortisol in your body rises sharply when you are under stress. This hormone plays an important role in your bodys metabolic function, it facilitates cardiovascular function, carbohydrate metabolism and controls inflammation. After all, it is a steroid hormone.
As more cortisol is being produced, your muscle tissue breaks down further since the amino acids from your muscle protein is being converted into glucose for energy. This hormone also blocks new muscle tissues from growing because it interferes in protein synthesis in your muscles.
How to lower cortisol levels?
- Get enough sleep. Let your body recuperate from the days stress and let the body rebuild its wears and tears. A lack of sleep will put your body under further stress and thus increasing cortisol levels.
- Avoid stress. Take up yoga, read a book, take a break from whatever you are doing. Learn meditation and breathing techniques to reduce everyday stress. Take a week or so break from your exercise routine after 6-8 weeks of regular training. As your body learns how to relax, the level of cortisol hormone will fall correspondingly.
- Do not over train. Over training is a common issue among athletes of all types. This is especially so in bodybuilding and weight lifting. You are already damaging your muscles when you lift weights- don’t let cortisol hormones rob your muscles of the much needed proteins and preventing muscle repair and growth.