Cortisol is a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands in the wee hours of the morning. Cortisol also is known as the "stress hormone" due to its ability to help you adapt during stressful "fight-or-flight" situations. However, when cortisol is released on a long-term basis, it can adversely affect your health, states MayoClinic.com.
More About Cortisol
Cortisol is a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal cortex, located on top of both kidneys. Your pituitary gland, located in the brain, determines how much cortisol is released; this can vary from one person to the next. The benefits of cortisol include blood pressure management, reduced inflammation and a stronger immune system. This stress-fighting hormone converts protein into fuel when you're under physical or psychological stress evoked by traumatic events, according to Columbia University's Health System. Once your brain no longer perceives a situation as threatening, your cortisol levels return to normal. Corticosteroids, synthetic cortisol-like drugs, also are used to treat certain health conditions.
Synthetic cortisol-like medications include dexamethasone, prednisolone and betamethasone. These can be administered topically or orally or through injection or inhaler. Some of the medical conditions these drugs treat include psoriasis and other skin disorders, asthma, lupus, arthritis, Addison's disease and certain types of cancer, such as leukemia and lymphoma.
Cortisol has its benefits, but ongoing, long-term stress can make your adrenal glands produce too much of the hormone when your "fight-or-flight" response is constantly triggered, according to MayoClinic.com. Excess cortisol and other stress hormones can leave you open to numerous health complications, including obesity, heart disease, difficulty sleeping, depression and memory problems. Stress management --- eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly and making an effort to relax and enjoy relationships you have with others --- can help get cortisol levels under control.
Cortisol is a subject of interest in the weight loss industry, as the hormone often is blamed for visceral weight gain in the abdomen. Dietary supplement marketers promote "cortisol blockers" that purportedly aid in weight loss. However, MayoClinic.com nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky states that the link between cortisol and weight gain hasn't been definitively proven and that some supplement marketers went under fire by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in the mid-2000s for making false and misleading claims about "cortisol blocking" products.