What is cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone, known as a glucocorticoid, made in the cortex of the adrenal glands and then released into the blood which transports it all round the body.  Almost every cell contains receptors for cortisol and so cortisol can have lots of different actions depending on which sort of cells it is acting upon.

These effects include controlling the body’s blood sugar levels and thus regulating metabolism, acting as an anti-inflammatory, influencing memory formation and controlling salt and water balances. 

The secretion of cortisol is mainly controlled by three inter-communicating regions of the body, the hypothalamus in the brain, the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland. This is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

When cortisol levels in the blood are low, a group of cells in a region of the brain called the hypothalamus release corticotrophin-releasing hormones which cause the pituitary gland to secrete another hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone, into the bloodstream. High levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone are detected in the adrenal glands and stimulate the secretion of cortisol, causing blood levels of cortisol to rise. As the cortisol levels rise, they start to block the release of corticotrophin-releasing hormone from the hypothalamus and adrenocorticotropic hormone from the pituitary. As a result the adrenocorticotropic hormone levels start to drop which then leads to a drop in cortisol levels. This is called a negative feedback loop.

So, that was a mouthful and a half, but in all types of bodily and mental aspects of life you will produce cortisol, cortisol while it can help with healing wounds (corticosteroids) too much cortisol in your blood can SEVERELY impact your daily life in many ways, these ways are  but are not limited to:

  • Rapid weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Mood swings which predominately show as anxiety and depression
  • Increased thirst and frequency of urination

Cortisol has also been shown to have a muscle wastage effect, specifically type 2 muscle fibres or “Fast Twitch” fibres as they are more commonly known as, these control the quick bursts of muscle usage such as sprinting and strength training.

By not giving your muscle adequate rest and nutrition you are increasing the amount of cortisol in your blood which is a bad thing. Time your rest sets are give your mind and body a little rest every now and then to stop the muscle wastage effects of cortisol.

Here are some tips on how to reduce stress. 

  1. Take regular breaks from intense training, usually 1-2 days
  2. Get adequate sleep throughout the week
  3. Consume enough calories through non processed foods
  4. Spend time with your loved ones and do things that make you happy
  5. Don’t isolate yourself