In Part 1 we discussed what the hormone cortisol is and how the stress response works in your body. Lastly we covered how stress causes the release of cortisol and some of the benefits of cortisol.
Today we are continuing to look at cortisol and the many jobs that it plays in the body, and how dysfunction happens when there is too much cortisol in the body.
Cortisol and Insulin
Insulin is our main storage hormone that allows us to organize smaller molecules into larger molecules. Building smaller molecules into larger ones makes insulin an anabolic hormone.
However during a time of stress the body’s focus is to break down larger molecules into smaller molecules to use as a fuel. Breaking larger molecules down into smaller ones make cortisol a catabolic hormone.
Because the body is primarily concerned with fueling the stressful event it prioritizes the catabolic processes of cortisol.
Cortisol decreases insulin sensitivity so that glucose remains in the blood stream to meet immediate energy needs whether that be running or fighting.
As a result you will have much higher blood glucose levels which is a definite advantage in a real fight or flight situation, but can be harmful if you are just stressing about social relationships or paying bills all day long.
Cortisol and Immune Function
There is a well recognized connection between cortisol, and a weakened immune system. Cortisol suppresses the immune system during stressful events.
Your immune system is instructed to lower the defenses while cortisol runs its course in the body and helps to deal with a potential stressor.
Constantly elevated cortisol is suppressing the immune system to the point of leaving you more vulnerable to sickness and disease on a more regular basis.
Next to our skin and throat the immune system is our main line of defense against foreign invaders to the body.
With your main line of defense significantly reduced your ability to fight off infections and bacteria will leave you more likely to get get sick.
Cortisol and Bone Health
Your bones are in a constant state of breakdown and remodeling. The bone builders in your body are named osteoblasts, and the bone deconstructors are named osteoclasts.
The rate at which someone’s bones are broken down and rebuilt depend on multiple factors including nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management and having the right vitamin and mineral co-factors.
Most people assume that their bones are made up entirely of calcium but there is a protein matrix that helps to solidify and make bones flexible.
The main protein in our bones is collagen is combined with calcium, magnesium and phosphate to create strong yet flexible bones.
We require collagen to have healthy joints, ligaments and connective tissues, but the body will always prioritize the stress response above all else, because stress is perceived as life or death situation.
Excessively elevated cortisol increases collagen breakdown to create glucose through a process known as gluconeogenesis.
Excessive cortisol in the body also inhibits osteoblast formation which prevents bone rebuilding and reduced bone density.
Is It Stress Or Cortisol Hurting Our Health ?
All of the functions discussed above are beneficial when they happen acutely to support a short term stress response. These short term reactions are part of the reason that you and I are alive today.
We require cortisol for basic stress management and it is needed to keep us alert and give us energy throughout the day.
The dysfunction that is harmful to your health happens when infrequent stress responses turn into a chronic stress response.
The problems that we have as a society are blamed on cortisol however these problems have a lot less to do with cortisol, and a lot more to do with the root cause or cortisol secretion… stress!
Without our stressful lifestyles, and poor nutrition habits there would be no chronic cortisol responses that happen all day long.
If you stop to look at what causes cortisol to be secreted, it’s easy to see you have a lot more control over your stress levels and cortisol than you think!
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