The Stress Hormone Cortisol and How It Works

The Stress Hormone Cortisol and How It Works

The stress hormone cortisol. You’ve probably heard about it by now. If you’re frustrated about stubborn midsection weight, read the article How Stress Can Make You Hold Onto Weight for better insight.

What is the stress hormone, cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands in response to stress. It’s commonly referred to as “the stress hormone.” Cortisol is absolutely necessary to help maintain a normal physiological state. Cortisol helps regulate all parts of the body’s metabolism of each glucose, amino acids and fatty acids. This hormone is also important when it comes to controlling mood, well-being, immune system and inflammation, blood vessels and blood pressure and maintenance of connective tissues (bones, muscles and skin).

What is stress?

Stress is essentially what you personally feel like when life’s demands exceed your ability to meet those demands. Equally important to understand is that everybody’s capacity to cope with stress differs.

The biggest difference between stress now versus stress from the “animal world” is stress from animals is acute (they stress about survival) whereas stress in the modern world is complex – we have multiple types of stress in addition to it being repeated, chronic stress. We should be thankful for our stress hormone because it helps us react to stress in the best way (as long as we don’t abuse it! Unfortunately, it’s beyond common in modern society). Now let’s talk about the connection between the stress hormone, cortisol and its effect in your body.



How does cortisol work in the body?

Again, cortisol is our body’s natural stress hormone. It responds to all types of stress such as environmental, physical, socio economic (money stress) and emotional. You can learn more about the impact of stress in your life with this stress test.

The stress response is considered the “fight or flight” response. With that, your body quickly goes through a series of neurological, biochemical, hormonal and physiological actions which are all meant to help you survive through the event. Imagine a lion chasing a zebra. The zebra goes into its “fight or flight” response to survive. In a short period of time, cortisol levels increase to make the cascade of body events take place and then go back to normal. This is the most optimal situation.

When the brain perceives a stressful event, it responds by releasing several hormones, namely: adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is that rush or “up” feeling while cortisol works to modulate how energy is used and how our body uses various fuel sources. This article will tell you exactly how cortisol stimulates the body to “forfeit” their stored fuel to use as energy (but also how you can inevitable hold onto stubborn weight)!

How Cortisol Levels Stay Elevated

In today’s world, we experience constant daily stressors from credit card bills to traffic to mortgage payments to tight deadlines. These problems are chronic – meaning they continuously happen.  Your brain continuously goes “YIKES,” cortisol continues to be released which ultimately leaves chronically high levels of cortisol in your bloodstream. Unfortunately in the modern day world we all inevitably experience stress. It’s not a question of how to eliminate stress, it’s a question of how to better manage stress.

Symptoms of Elevated Cortisol Levels

  • Increased appetite and food cravings (especially for carbs)
  • Blood sugar fluctuations
  • Increased body fat
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Decreased bone density
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased depression
  • Mood swings (irritability and anger)
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Compromised immune system
  • Memory and focus impairment
  • Increased symptoms of PMS (cramps and increased appetite predominantly)
  • Increased menopausal side effects (hot flashes, night sweats predominantly)

The Effect of Elevated Cortisol

Elevated cortisol levels have a cascade of events leading to elevated blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and body-fat levels. Now, this is the detrimental effect of elevated cortisol levels and metabolic dysfunction. Most commonly, fat accumulates in the mid-section area (to distinguish cortisol issues you are apple-shaped and most likely have stubborn midsection weight).



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