Everything You Need to Know about Cortisol Excess

September 11, 2020
Cortisol is an important hormone in our body during stressful situations. It provides the necessary energy to be able to confront them. However, its excess can be harmful.

Have you ever heard of excess cortisol? It’s a surge that aided our human ancestors whenever they had to flee from danger. However, the role of stress no longer serves the same purpose and neither does the function of this hormone.

Cortisol is produced and secreted by the glands located above each kidney — adrenal glands. The brain sends a signal to these glands to release cortisol when the body needs more energy to perform certain tasks under stressful situations.

We all have certain levels of cortisol in the blood and these depend on the situations we face. However, excess cortisol can be detrimental to our health.

What leads to excess cortisol in the body?

Cortisol is the stress hormone the body secretes every time we go through a stressful situation, such as a prolonged fast or when fleeing from danger.

Furthermore, cortisol is a hyperglycemic hormone. That is, it forces the body to produce and release glucose. Once in the blood, the tissues can use the sugar for the production of the energy they require under stress.

The ultimate goal of cortisol is to produce more energy for the body. In addition, cortisol plays a role in the balance of water and minerals in the body, as well as in blood pressure levels.

Also, it regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the brain since we must remain alert to act quickly in stressful situations. Similarly, it contributes to memory and concentration processes.

A distraught person.
Cortisol is the stress hormone and increases its concentration when we go through difficult situations.

You may be interested in Symptoms and Causes of the Main Hormonal Problems

What to do about excess cortisol?

Prolonged fasting or escaping from animals who want to eat us is no longer a problem for most people these days. However, we must deal with other types of stress, most of which are psychological, at work or in school.

The brain doesn’t differentiate between these types of stress and reacts the same way to all, thus, activating cortisol. However, the action of cortisol, a surge of energy, is no longer necessary during periods of psychological stress.

Excess cortisol fills our blood with glucose and quickly mobilizes fats and proteins. Besides, it inhibits the production of insulin, the hormone in charge of filling the cells with glucose.

Elevated blood glucose and insulin resistance can lead to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Similarly, fats go straight into the abdomen and promote obesity.

Other causes of excess cortisol

It isn’t just stress that produces excess cortisol. There are diseases that stimulate the adrenal gland so it produces more of it, among them:

  • Cushing’s disease. The brain’s in charge of “telling” the adrenal gland to release cortisol, sometimes due to the existence of a brain tumor.
  • Hyperfunction of the adrenal gland. That is, it works more than it should, either by external stimulation or by internal cellular mechanisms.
  • Ectopic synthesis of ACTH. This is the signal to our brain to activate the production and release of cortisol in the adrenal glands. Certain tumors, such as some lung cancers, can synthesize and secrete this hormone.
  • Iatrogenic Cushing. Here, the increase in cortisol may be due to the chronic taking of pharmacological corticosteroids.
A stethoscope checking some kidney glands.
The adrenal glands are the main producers of cortisol.

Read this article Six Signs of High Cortisol Levels in Your Body

What to do about it?

The stress of everyday life increases cortisol levels; however, there’s no need for treatment unless it becomes pathological. It’s important to reduce stress in these situations. You can do so through relaxation exercises or through any activity that allows you to expend the excess of energy due to a cortisol surge.

Similarly, if you’re under a corticosteroid treatment, if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or osteoporosis, or if you’re gaining too much weight for no apparent reason, then your levels of cortisol might be excessive. Thus, they might be behind these conditions.

You must consult a doctor in any of these situations. This is because excess cortisol can be easily corrected under certain circumstances. The doctor will also work on tracing different sources of the substance in tumors, or in malfunctioning organs. They’ll suggest complementary methods for this purpose.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article.

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