You’ve probably heard of cortisol referred to as “the stress hormone”, right? That’s because when you get stressed out (emotionally and physically), levels of cortisol heighten. But cortisol is more than a marker of stress – it is also extremely important for how our bodies function as a whole. Both deficiencies and too much cortisol can be detrimental.
Then vs. now
So in ancestral times, cortisol was what kept us alive. Levels would rise when, say, a tiger was coming to attack us or we needed to hunt for food on the verge of starvation. But nowadays, in the modern world, cortisol gets released in high amounts for very minor stressors – I mean, you don’t see a lot of tigers running around and we really don’t have to hunt for our food anymore.
Nowadays, too much cortisol can be released from things like:
· Being stuck in traffic
· Arguing with someone
· Getting to work late
· Becoming extremely anxious about an upcoming test
· Worrying about the future
· Getting sick
· Changes in temperature
These all seem quite minor in comparison to a tiger attack, right? Well, that’s part of the problem. Today, we release too much cortisol for such minor things, and this can seriously mess with the ways our bodies function. When we stress our bodies emotionally or physically, cortisol is released.
Cortisol is known as a steroid hormone that our adrenal glands produce. It regulates blood pressure, how your heart functions, and how your body uses things like proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. When cortisol is released, muscle proteins break down and amino acids are released into your blood. Immediately, the liver uses these amino acids to make glucose in order to get energy. After all, since cortisol was released, your body is wired to think something major is about to happen and it’s going to need some serious energy to combat it. Glucose production triggers a spike in blood sugar and fatty acids, which will provide even more energy.
There’s a feedback system in your body that controls this hormone secretion. Basically, if your body releases cortisol, it will know when there’s been too much and production will halt. It’s to ensure there’s never too little or too less of what you need. But, of course, this system can get out of whack and cortisol levels can run amuck.
Too much cortisol is actually catabolic – which means it puts you in a muscle-losing state, which is not what you want. And it’s easy to get too much cortisol from being stressed, over-exerting yourself, not getting enough sleep, and worrying. So if you want to keep yourself in a muscle-growing state and keep cortisol levels down, calm down and relax.