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Cortisol and Stress

Updated on December 27, 2012

Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal gland that sits on top of each kidney. Although it is secreted into the bloodstream normally during the day, it is in times of stress that it pumps out heavily and provides the body with energy to run away or fight with a stressor. When the body continues to secrete continuous amounts of cortisol, various organs can become damaged and the body may become obese. Cortisol interferes with the blood sugar and the way fat is stored. Continuous interference with the body's fat stores and blood sugar can also cause diabetes type ll, which is why stress and diet are linked to this condition.

The Stress Hormone

Under normal conditions, the adrenal glands supply cortisol into the bloodstream to support positive changes that regulate the body during a 24 hour cycle. Higher concentrations are found in the morning, with the lowest levels noted in the evening. Cortisol is responsible for the:

  • Regulation of blood pressure
  • Regulation of blood sugar via insulin
  • A decrease in the inflammatory response
  • Boosts the immune system

When a Major Stressor Occurs, Cortisol Creates "Fight or Flight" Response

  • Cortisol is pumped into the bloodstream from a fear response and causes:
  • An increase in blood pressure and heart rate
  • A temporary boost of energy that decreases the effects of insulin on blood sugar
  • Energy to quickly run away for the stressor or stand and fight

The Body is Restored After a Stressor is Passed by the Relaxation Phase

Cortisol is released in the response to small or larger stressors. When acute stress has subsided, the body experiences a relaxation response that restores the body back to its normal functioning level. Unfortunately, when a person is experiencing chronic stress, their body remains on "high alert" and cortisol is pumped into the body continuously. The effects of cortisol on the body may be serious.

Chronic Stress Response Promotes Negative Conditions

Unfortunately, for many people in today's hectic and busy world, chronic stress promotes the production of cortisol on a continuous basis that causes unhealthy responses over a period of time. Chronic stress promotes many chronic diseases and conditions including:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Insulin Resistance in the Body
  • Weight Gain and Fat Storage
  • Heart Disease
  • Insomnia and Sleep Disorders
  • Depression and Mood Disorders
  • Memory Impairment
  • Indigestion and Ulcer Disease
  • Skin Disorders and Disease
  • Stress Related Disease and Conditions

Cortisol Effects Blood Sugar, Weight Gain and Diabetes

Chronic stress causes blood sugar to be redirected and the result is increased fat storage in the abdomen, muscles, and upper body and causes obesity. Overtime, insulin becomes resistant to blood sugar and the pancreas works harder to produce more insulin to convert blood sugar into energy. Often, diabetes develops from this insulin resistance and the pancreas begins to wear out the ability to produce insulin.

Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Stress

Emotional Reactions
Cortisol Response
Physical Signs and Symptoms
Chronic anxiety, fear, or emotional worry
High blood pressure, high heart rate, stomach upset or chest sensations
Unexplained weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes
Abdominal upset, insomnia and worry
High levels of cortisol interfere with the ability to relax and digest your meals
Stomach ulcers, indigestion, tiredness and fatigue. Inability to stay asleep
Startle Reflex, anger,irritability
Adrenal fatigue, chronic state of stress without relaxation
Depression, mood disorders, angry outbursts

Positive Techniques to Cope with Stress

You may not be able to change the stress in your life, but you can change the way you react to it. Simple breathing techniques, Yoga exercises, eating a healthy diet, and seeking professional counseling when you feel overwhelmed are a few good coping mechanisms you can employ in your life's routine. The results of chronic stress can be reversed by returning the body back to the relaxation phase, and adopting a healthy outlook on emotional issues and responses. Managing stress can promote a healthy and longer life.


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    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Very informative. In this high stress world it is important to know the result it can have on our bodies. Voted up.

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 5 years ago from India

      Informative and interesting Article, well written. Thanks for sharing the above good read. Voted UP...

    • CMCastro profile image

      Christina M. Castro 5 years ago from Baltimore,MD USA

      Very well done. I just went through a very difficult year trying to patch up a marriage that couldn't be fixed. So, now I get a fuller picture of what it was in my body that responded to what got me through it all. I am more grateful for my alertness to what goes on within me, but now I will be alert much more now that I know my adrenals really are important.

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hello Sue! Yes, menopause is extremely stressful and the shifting of hormones causes an increase of cortisol. Thanks for reading this hub and I am always happy to see you!

    • profile image

      Sueswan 5 years ago

      Hi eHealer,

      I found this hub very interesting and informative.

      I read women going through menopause tend to experience a higher level of stress and increase in coritsol.

      Voted up, awsome and sharing.

      Take care. :)

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hiya tips! Always great to see you! Stress is a silent killer and causes many physiologic changes in our bodies and our minds. Take it easy, and don't sweat the little things! You'll be healthier~

    • tipstoretireearly profile image

      tipstoretireearly 5 years ago from New York

      Interesting how stress can result in physiological changes to the body. I had no idea that cortisol can have this impact. Its another important reason to stick to a healthy diet, and to find ways to relax and enjoy life!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Deborah, wonderful hub as always. Great analysis and yes, relaxation techniques by way of yoga, breathing exercises as well as changing one's thinking patterns will do a lot to eliminate stress.

      Voted up, useful and sharing on G+1.

    • Dreonelove333 profile image

      Dreonelove333 5 years ago

      This provides some great information that I had never heard of. I wonder if there is any way to slow down or even block the cortisol hormone? Or if that would even be a good idea? I am definitely going to rededicate myself to some of your stress reduction techniques. Thanks eHealer.

    • MazioCreate profile image

      MazioCreate 5 years ago from Brisbane Queensland Australia

      Using the table in this hub has provided succinct information about this reaction in your body. Great hub and I think it is about time I got back to doing my yoga exercises. Liked & shared!

    • FreezeFrame34 profile image

      FreezeFrame34 5 years ago from Charleston SC

      Great hub! We all need to work on becoming less stressed out!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 5 years ago

      Another incredibly useful hub eHealer! Shared for future reference. Love the dividers around the table. It really draws the eye to the information.

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks Epigramman, it is a pleasure to share this info with you. I look forward to your next masterpiece, and see you soon at the hubs!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 5 years ago

      Well my dear Deborah - I am always learning from you everytime I arrive on your hub doorstep - you are a teacher to me; a guru and an endless source of constructive and helpful information.

      I am sending you my sincere warmest wishes to you and your family and friends for continued health, happiness and prosperity in the new year. Meeting you here at the Hub has been a gift because of your loyal friendship and your lofty status as an esteemed colleague.

      lake erie time canada 7:59am with first cup of coffee and The Hilliard Ensemble - waiting for the daylight to come up over the lake

      and yes, stress is something that can overwhelm me at times so this was a most fascianting read, as always

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks Sid, it's an important topic that should be shared. People are so stressed out these days, it's not worth our health!

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hey kejanny, thanks for your kind words and support! I love your hubs too!

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hello Pamela, always great to see you on my hub! Yes, this is proof that stress is really bad for our bodies, and causes major disease and chronic conditions!

    • Kejanny profile image

      Kejanny 5 years ago from Papua New Guinea

      Thank you for sharing these useful information through this well-written hub. I know now why I put on weight when I am stressed.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

      Great information of the effect of stress. I think this is such an informative hub as many people don't realize just how much stress impacts their bodies. Voted up and useful.