What Cortisol Does and How to Regulate It
WHAT IS CORTISOL? UNDERSTANDING TYPES OF STRESS
Cortisol, popularly known as the "stress hormone," is a steroid hormone that plays an indispensable role in many of our body's functions. This hormone is produced in the adrenal glands, two small organs located on top of the kidneys. Its secretion into the bloodstream allows it to travel to various parts of the body, impacting multiple physiological systems.
Understanding cortisol requires an appreciation of stress and its various forms. Stress is typically classified into three types: acute, episodic acute, and chronic. Acute stress is the most common form and arises from the demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated future. Episodic acute stress is more frequent, and people who frequently experience acute stress often live a life of chaos and crisis. Chronic stress is the most harmful type of stress and grinds away over a long period. It's often due to persistent life situations that feel inescapable.
Another form of stress is traumatic stress, which occurs due to experiencing or witnessing deeply distressing or disturbing events. This form of stress can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition triggered by trauma.
Cortisol plays a pivotal role in our body's response to these various forms of stress, priming our body for action and ensuring we can effectively react to stressful or threatening situations.
THE ROLE OF CORTISOL IN OUR BODY
Cortisol, in its capacity as a stress hormone, prepares our body to deal with stress by initiating the "fight or flight" response. This response is a survival mechanism that primes us to either face a threat head-on (fight) or flee to safety (flight).
However, the role of cortisol extends far beyond stress response. It also aids the metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, providing the body with the energy it needs to function. Moreover, cortisol plays a critical role in maintaining blood sugar levels, ensuring they remain constant to provide the body with a steady supply of fuel.
Additionally, cortisol suppresses the immune system, preventing overreactions that could lead to inflammation and illness. It plays a crucial role in our sleep-wake cycles as well, regulating our circadian rhythm, and has potent anti-inflammatory effects. Therefore, cortisol affects nearly every part of the body and is essential for our survival.
NORMAL CORTISOL LEVELS AND TESTING
Cortisol levels in the body follow a diurnal rhythm – they're highest in the morning and lowest around midnight. Normal levels are usually within the range of 6 - 23 mcg/dl in the morning and drop to 2.3 - 11.9 mcg/dl by the evening. However, these ranges can vary slightly depending on the lab that analyzes the test.
Several tests are available to measure cortisol levels, the most common of which are the blood cortisol test, urine cortisol test, and saliva cortisol test. The blood cortisol test involves taking a blood sample, usually from a vein in the arm. The urine cortisol test requires a 24-hour urine sample, while the saliva cortisol test involves collecting saliva at various points throughout the day to measure changes in cortisol levels. All these tests can provide valuable insights into whether your cortisol levels are within a healthy range.
WHAT CAUSES CORTISOL LEVELS TO RISE?
Several factors can contribute to an increase in cortisol levels, such as:
- Stress: This is the most common trigger for cortisol release. Whether the stress is acute, chronic, or traumatic, the body will release more cortisol to initiate the "fight or flight" response when it perceives a threat.
- Certain Medications: Some medications can potentially contribute to high cortisol levels.
- Physical Exertion: High levels of physical activity or exertion can also cause a surge in cortisol.
- Health Conditions: Conditions like depression, anxiety, and physical injuries or trauma can trigger increased cortisol production.
- Lifestyle Factors: Poor sleep, an unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise can disrupt the balance of cortisol in the body.
SYMPTOMS OF HIGH CORTISOL LEVELS
High cortisol levels, especially when sustained due to chronic stress, can cause a variety of physical and psychological symptoms such as:
- Physical Symptoms
- Rapid weight gain, occurring in the face, chest, and abdomen but often not in the arms and legs
- A flushed and round face
- High blood pressure
- Skin changes, including bruises and stretch marks that are purplish in color
- Muscle weakness
- Increased thirst and frequent urination
- Psychological Symptoms
- Anxiety and depression
- Difficulties with concentration and memory
- Reduced libido
As high cortisol continues over time, it can lead to more severe health complications like:
- Cushing's syndrome
- Cardiovascular disease
REDUCING CORTISOL LEVELS WITH TOUCHPOINTS
Given the potential adverse effects of high cortisol levels, finding effective stress management techniques is critical. One innovative and promising solution lies in a novel technology, TouchPoints. These wearable devices use scientifically-proven BLAST (Bi-lateral Alternating Stimulation Tactile) technology, which aids in altering the body's stress response.
TouchPoints work by delivering gentle, alternating vibrations on each side of the body. This intervention works to shift the brain from the default "fight or flight" response to a calm and composed state, effectively lowering cortisol levels and reducing the experience of stress.
By pressing the "pause" button on your stress, TouchPoints provides the body a chance to rest, recharge, and reset. With consistent use, it offers an effective tool for managing cortisol levels, reducing symptoms of stress, and improving overall well-being.
Ways To Wear TouchPoints
TouchPoint's wearability allows for its use in various stressful situations – be it during a high-stakes meeting, a rigorous workout session, or a hectic day at work. With numerous scientific studies backing its effectiveness, TouchPoints provides a potential solution to the pervasive problem of chronic stress and high cortisol levels.
TouchPoints Cortisol Study
In a triple-blind placebo-controlled trial with athletes, TouchPoints stabilized cortisol levels during stressful events and reduced the level of stress points even when cortisol traditionally spikes. The difference in cortisol levels with and without the use of TouchPoints is shown in the chart below.
THE DANGERS OF PROLONGED HIGH CORTISOL LEVELS
Prolonged high cortisol levels, particularly due to chronic stress, can put your health at risk. Over time, high cortisol can cause a multitude of health issues, from the relatively minor to the severe. These include:
- Weight Gain: Cortisol increases appetite and signals the body to shift metabolism to store fat. This shift can lead to weight gain, particularly around the abdomen, a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
- Mental Health Issues: High cortisol levels are linked with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and issues with memory and concentration.
- Digestive Problems: Chronic stress, and by association high cortisol levels, can lead to digestive issues such as bloating, cramping, and in severe cases, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Heart Disease: Sustained high cortisol levels can lead to increased blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels, and a higher risk of heart disease.
- Insomnia: Cortisol is directly linked with our sleep-wake cycle. Imbalances can lead to sleep disturbances, including insomnia.
- Immune System Suppression: High cortisol levels suppress the immune system, reducing its ability to control inflammation and fight off infections.
Cortisol is a vital hormone with a profound impact on our body's functioning, from managing stress to regulating metabolism and immune response. However, when cortisol levels remain high due to chronic stress or other factors, it can pose significant health risks. Fortunately, there are ways to manage these levels and reduce the risks associated with high cortisol.
Tools like TouchPoints, combined with a healthy lifestyle, offer effective solutions for managing cortisol levels and mitigating the impacts of stress. As we continue to navigate our often stress-filled lives, having a solid understanding of cortisol and the tools at our disposal to manage it will serve us well.
Remember, taking steps to manage your stress isn't merely a matter of feeling better mentally; it's an investment in your long-term physical health. So, consider trying out TouchPoints, getting more active, refining your diet, ensuring you're getting enough sleep, and integrating mindfulness practices into your routine. By doing so, you're not just managing your cortisol levels - you're investing in your overall health and well-being.
Your body will thank you for it!