Cortisol is a hormone from the group of steroids normally referred to as glucocorticoids. Under the direction of the hypothalamus, cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands through the pituitary gland. Although cortisol hormones are created daily as part of the normal hormonal cycle, they are also an important part of the body’s response to physical and emotional stress.
Cortisol suppresses the immune system, increases blood pressure, and increases blood sugar levels which are all part of the body’s fight-or-flight response and necessary for survival. The cortisol hormone boosts the body’s energy during stressful times by converting protein into glucose and helps to restore homeostasis after stress.
The Vicious Cycle Caused by Stress
Cortisol can have both positive and negative effects on the body’s fat. When stress first occurs, a rapid supply of energy is provided to the body by breaking down fat. During this time, the digestive system in temporarily shut down and appetite is suppressed.
After the stressful situation is over, the cortisol hormones remain in effect to restore the body’s balance. Appetite increases drastically in order to replace the carbohydrate and fat that should have been burned up during the fighting or fleeing. The body believes it has been physically exerted when, in reality, most of the time no action has been taken.
Experts believe that many individuals are living in a constant state of stress. Overexposure to cortisol for long periods of time can cause weight gain because the insulin and appetite levels are constantly increased. When stress and cortisol levels remain high, insulin levels will stay high as well.
High levels of Prolactin, during stressful situations, cause an increase of dopamine production which results in a suppression of the hormones, FSH and LH. Constant stress leads to an incessant production of cortisol hormones which, in turn, promotes the creation of even more glucose.
The glucose is then transformed and store as fat. Chronic overexposure to cortisol causes the body to feel exhausted and lethargic, consecutively causing overeating in an attempt to restore energy and comfort. It creates a never-ending cycle that results in the accumulation of excessive fat.
If an individual can become more resistant to stress, cortisol hormone levels can be decreased. Regular exercise can improve insulin sensitivity and help reduce stress. Exercise not only neutralizes the effects of stress, it also helps burn off calories and encourages weight loss.
Improving time management and allowing the body to get adequate sleep can aid in reducing its physiological response to stressors. Activities such as yoga, meditation, and controlled breathing exercises can also help reduce stress. Finding ways to cope with stress is the key to a happier, healthier life.