Understanding Cortisol the Stress Hormone


Daily stress can, and does affect our general health and well being. We are all hard-wired at birth to react to stress in ways that protect ourselves from things that are perceived as harmful. The hypothalamus, a small region at the base of the brain sets off an alarm when we are faced with a threat. Nerves and hormones signal our adrenal glands (located near the kidneys) to release hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. Our bodies are prepared to respond in either fight-or-flight. The adrenaline that is released when we are stressed will increase heart rate, raise blood pressure and ready the body’s energy supplies. Cortisol, often referred to as the stress hormone also increases blood sugars. Small increases in cortisol have positive effects on our response to stress. We often gain a quick burst of energy, heightened memory and a lowered sensitivity to pain. Once your body has been alerted, it becomes ready for fight-or-flight through these physiological changes.

If your body is prepared for fight-or-flight and is ready for action, there has to be a physical release of cortisol or it will build up in the blood and have negative effects on our health. Your fight-or-flight response is “all dressed up with no place to go.” Increased cortisol, caused by chronic stress can be responsible for decreased immune functioning, an increase in weight gain, difficulty losing weight and increased blood pressure, cholesterol and heart disease. Too much cortisol for a sustained period of time can actually harm the brain and impair thinking, memory and learning. It is not unusual to have difficulty thinking and processing, “going blank” when cortisol is interfering with brain activity.

As important as cortisol is in assisting our body when we are threatened it is just as important that we learn ways to lower cortisol when we are stressed by everyday problems and concerns.

If your struggling with losing weight and you’re tired of fighting the battle of stress and fatigue you might want to take a look at 20/30 Fast Track program at Stafford Wellness Center in Longview, Texas.  Go to www.LongviewWellness.com for more information.

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