Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, which are located on top of your kidneys. It belongs to a class of hormones called glucocorticoids and plays a crucial role in the body's response to stress.
Here are some key functions and effects of cortisol:
- Stress Response: Cortisol is often referred to as the "stress hormone" because it's released in response to stress or low blood glucose levels. It helps the body respond to stress by increasing blood sugar (glucose), providing an immediate energy source to cope with stressors.
- Regulation of Metabolism: Cortisol is involved in the regulation of metabolism. It helps control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, and influence the storage of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
- Immune Function: It has anti-inflammatory properties and plays a role in regulating the immune system's response to infections, injuries, or stress.
- Sleep-Wake Cycle: Cortisol levels typically follow a natural daily rhythm known as the circadian rhythm. Levels are usually highest in the morning, helping to wake you up, and gradually decrease throughout the day, reaching their lowest point at night.
While cortisol is essential for various bodily functions, prolonged high levels of cortisol due to chronic stress or certain medical conditions can have negative effects. These effects can include increased blood pressure, impaired immune function, weight gain (especially around the abdomen), sleep disturbances, mood changes, and cognitive difficulties.
Managing stress through relaxation techniques, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a balanced diet can help regulate cortisol levels and promote overall well-being. If you suspect you have high or low cortisol levels impacting your health, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.