Cortisol: good or bad?

Cortisol is it good or bad? While it does have a positive effect on your body, like all good things, how to find a balance before it goes bad.

You’ve heard it a million times, we live in a highly stressful, fast paced and demanding society. But what is actually going on inside your body when it is constantly bombarded by external stressors?

Cortisol is released in response to fear or stress. The pituitary gland sends a message to the adrenal glands that then secrete cortisol. Cortisol is actually an important hormone in the body. It helps to maintain proper glucose metabolism and insulin release; it regulates blood pressure, the inflammatory response and plays a role in the body’s immune function.

In theory it is most present in the body in the morning and at its lowest at night. It has been dubbed the ‘stress hormone‘ since it is secreted in high levels during the body’s fight or flight response to stress. It is also responsible for several stress related changes in the body.

Small increases of cortisol actually have a positive effect, these include:

  1. Quick bursts of energy
  2. Heightened memory function
  3. A boost to the immune system
  4. Decreased sensitivity to pain
  5. Maintained homeostasis of the body

All of these assist as survival triggers to allow for a quick escape when the body/brain detects danger. The problem nowadays is that our nervous system triggers the same messages and chemical processes, however our physiological response is sedentary. There needs to be a physical release of fight or flight to prevent a build up of cortisol levels in the bloodstream. Chronic stress negates our relaxation response. Our modern day lifestyles never allow for down time or proper recovery. We are constantly functioning ‘under threat’ which is not sustainable.

The damaging side effects of excessive cortisol include:

  1. Learning and memory slows down
  2. Thyroid functioning becomes suppressed
  3. Blood sugars drop, such as in hyperglycaemia
  4. Bone density decreases and can increase the chances of osteoporosis
  5. Blood pressure increases
  6. The immune system weakens
  7. Increased abdominal fat which increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke
  8. Increased levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol

Each of us react differently to stress, one person may secrete higher levels of cortisol than another in exactly the same situation. Stressors are relative to each individual. This highlights how important it is to know your body inside and out. Self awareness helps to manage the symptoms of excessive stress.

How can we keep cortisol levels good and not bad?

Some suggested methods to encourage the relaxation response in the body and mind include: 

  1. Regular physical activity
  2. Yoga
  3. Tai Chi
  4. Meditation
  5. Massage
  6. Breathing exercises
  7. Listening to music
  8. Owning a pet

For more information and tools to manage stress, please contact Theresa: