Cortisol: The Stress Hormone

Contributed by Laurel Dierking, M.Ed., NFPT, 200YT

Most have heard of the infamous ‘cortisol’, and there may be some negative associations with the stress hormone. However, cortisol does have many beneficial responsibilities. Healthy and regulated levels of cortisol production are initiated during acute stress situations in which the body responds chemically and adapts to a temporary ‘fight or flight’ state. Some benefits of this naturally produced hormone include:

• Carbohydrate metabolism
• Brain and gut function
• Anti-inflammatory regulation

Cortisol is also called a glucocorticoid. This means that it is a naturally produced steroid. This purpose serves to regulate inflammation in the body. However, when we maintain a chronic state of stress and the body is consistently producing the hormone, its beneficial functions end up yielding the opposite effects. As the saying goes, too much of a good thing can be bad. Cortisol functioning can turn on us when production is continuous and ongoing. Chronic stress levels encourage the constant production of the hormone. In this case, brain and gut functioning are compromised, blood-glucose levels are altered, sugar is stored in excess in fat cells (especially in the belly region), and inflammation runs rampant. Each of these negative side effects can make it extremely difficult to lose weight. Not to mention it causes a harmful effect of inflammation in the body!

The good news is that we have the ability to shut off the production of cortisol. This can be achieved by simply bringing ourselves back into a more centered, and stable frame of mind. The breath is the optimal gateway to influencing the nervous system and achieve a more relaxed and calm frame of mind. Whenever you notice that your thoughts seem to be running wild and out of control, bring your attention onto your breath and enjoy the endless and powerful benefits of taking a few full deep breaths. Yes, it CAN be that simple. 

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