Cortisol: What You Need to Know. And Why!

If someone told you they knew why you’re feeling miserable, would you be buying lunch?

Well, get ready to shell-out the dough – we’re going out.

Have you heard of cortisol? Science was already aware of its functioning and power. But the emotional and mental health carnage it can cause is becoming better understood – and getting more press.

Let’s take a peek (chipur reader Ann will be pleased I spelled it correctly this time around) at some general cortisol information.

And we’ll meet again tomorrow to discuss new research regarding cortisol’s contribution to the emotional and mental health disorders.

“What is Cortisol, and What Does It Do?”

Cortisol (hydrocortisone) is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands. It’s released in response to stress and low levels of glucose (our numero uno source of body energy – a simple sugar). Cortisol is often referred to as the stress hormone.

Cortisol’s primary functions?

  1. Increase blood sugar
  2. Suppress the immune system
  3. Assist in metabolizing protein, fat, and carbohydrates

Of particular interest to us is the release of cortisol in response to stress. Actually, it’s pivotal in our fight/flight response and works to maintain homeostasis (balance/regulation of functioning) throughout the crisis.

Key here is an anatomical/physiological phenomenon known as the HPA axis. The letters stand for hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands. Here’s a link to an article I wrote on it – necessary reading.

Wonderfully, blood cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day. Peak time is around 8 a.m., and levels bottom-out sometime between midnight and 4 a.m. And since we human-types are meant to be day-active and night-sleepers, the pattern makes perfect sense.

“Why Do I Need to Know About Cortisol?”

The negative impact of cortisol can be emotionally, mentally, and physically far-reaching. And as I always say here on chipur, how can you neutralize a potential enemy if you don’t know anything about it?

Though cortisol is vital to our survival, if it’s chronically over-secreted – say, due to chronic stress – trouble is at the front doorstep.

To name a few potential physical issues – hyperglycemia, abdominal fat production, obesity, decreased bone density, compromised immune and inflammation response, increased blood pressure, and more.

And, of course, damage to the heart is always a possibility.

Cortisol’s potential involvement with the emotional and mental health disorders? Let’s see – depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, impaired learning, inhibition of memory retrieval, and then some.

By the way, here are just some of the things that may generate cortisol problems…

  1. Caffeine consumption
  2. Sleep deprivation
  3. Prolonged physical exercise
  4. Burnout
  5. Stressful events and severe trauma
  6. A difficult commute to work or school
  7. Anorexia

All of which can be addressed…

Be Sure to Come Back Tomorrow

Stop on by tomorrow, as we’ll continue our discussion. We’ll talk about some specific cortisol-related emotional and mental health situations.

Not to be missed are the results of a new study that link the over-secretion of cortisol with bipolar disorder.

See ya’ then…