Cortisol, Stress, and Overall Health

Cortisol, Stress, and Overall Health

Cortisol is our body’s primary stress hormone. Our levels of cortisol fluctuate throughout the day, with morning typically being when we have our highest levels of cortisol with a decrease throughout the rest of the day. The changes in our cortisol levels throughout the day is known as diurnal cortisol slopes.1

What is the function of cortisol in the body?

In the context of mental health, we often associate cortisol with stress, however, it plays a role in many essential bodily processes, such as our immune response, regulating blood sugar, metabolism, and decreasing inflammation. Cortisol belongs to a group of steroid hormones, known as the glucocorticoids, and is produced from the two adrenal glands found on top of each kidney.2 Throughout your body, almost every cell has cortisol receptors, so cortisol’s function varies depending on the type of cell receiving it.3

Nutrition Coach Philadelphia
Sarah Tronco, CMHIMP, is a 
Philadelphia Nutrition Coach specializing in mental nutrition. Sarah offers individualized mental health nutrition coaching that empowers you to make sustainable changes to improve your overall well-being.

When cortisol levels are too high…

When we face a stressful situation, our body experiences a hormonal response, including the release of cortisol in the body. The function of cortisol release is to help the body prepare for fight or flight response (check out my post Soothing the Stressed Amygdala). However, when our lives are full of stressors that don’t necessarily warrant a fight or flight reaction, the frequent release of cortisol can cause issues over time, including gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease, immune system suppression, fertility issues, weight gain and obesity, and blood sugar imbalance and diabetes.2

Managing stress

Certain lifestyle changes, such as incorporating meditation, having a social support network, and exercising, are important for managing stress levels. Being mindful about food choices is another essential tool for caring for yourself, reducing stress, and regulating cortisol. For instance, making sure you are hydrated, choosing black or green tea instead of other caffeinated beverages, incorporating probiotics and prebiotics, dark chocolate, and avoiding excess sugar are all ways to support a healthy stress response.4

Nutrition Coach Philadelphia Sarah Tronco, CMHIMP, is a Philadelphia Nutrition Coach specializing in mental nutrition. Sarah offers individualized mental health nutrition coaching that empowers you to make sustainable changes to improve your overall well-being.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568897/
  2. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111609p38.shtml
  3. https://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/cortisol/
  4. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ways-to-lower-cortisol#TOC_TITLE_HDR_13
  5. Photo by Marcus Dall Col on Unsplash

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