Cortisol, also known as hydrocortisone, is a steroid hormone produced by your adrenal gland. Your body has a fight-flight syndrome. Whenever confronted with a crisis, you have to decide to fight the crisis or run away. The stress could be physical or emotional. When faced with stress, your body produces cortisol and epinephrine or adrenaline.
The effect of cortisol
Adrenaline binds to receptors on your heart and increases the heart rate. The increased heart rate increases respiration and muscle contraction. Cortisol, on the other hand, attaches to your fat cells and your liver and pancreas. This action increases the amount of glucose available for your muscles to use. Temporarily it also shuts downs other bodily functions such as digestion, growth and immunity. Your body is now primed to deal with the crisis at hand.
Our lives in modern society have evolved to include stress that is ongoing on chronic. Our sleep is disturbed, our waking time is used to cope with stressful events. From producing cortisol and adrenaline a couple of times a year, we are now producing it daily. Prolonged stress increases the risk of heart disease, cause alterations in your brain and induces the proliferation of cancer.
Possibly the worst effect of elevated cortisol is on the insulin that your body produces. As you know, insulin helps digest carbohydrates or sugar. Too much of cortisol induces insulin resistance resulting in high blood sugar. Over time this can result in Type II Diabetes and its resulting devastating effects on your health.
Reducing anxiety and stress is therefore essential for preventing long-term chronic diseases. Easier said than done, you might say. Perhaps, but several things can help. Meditation can help relax your muscles and reduce elevated hormones. So can exercise. A good night sleep can go a long way in reducing stress in your body. Counter-intuitively we sit up reading, watching television or scanning our phones. What your body badly needs instead is peace.