Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the cortex of the adrenal glands. It is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Cortisol is secreted in the largest quantity in the morning and levels decline throughout the day.
The primary functions of cortisol are energy regulation and mobilization. Cortisol does this by increasing blood sugar through glycogenolysis, aiding in the metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrate, and suppressing the immune system. Cortisol is also instrumental in the “fight or flight” response, providing a quick burst of energy in times of danger. For example, if a tiger was chasing you, you wouldn’t need protein, fat or your immune system…but you would need a lot of energy to escape. Cortisol provides a quick source of energy by negatively affecting other important body functions (i.e., it breaks down muscle and suppresses the immune system).
Stress can be beneficial to help motivate us to perform our best. Cortisol release is necessary for the body and the brain to handle stress. Cortisol imbalance in men only occurs when the stress is continuous over a long period of time, or chronic. In today’s high-stress society, the body’s stress response is activated so frequently that it often never returns to normal.
The adrenal glands produce high levels of cortisol during times of stress. Chronic stress initially causes high cortisol levels, which causes men to age more quickly and increases the risk of heart disease. High cortisol leads to the depletion of nutrients, which are essential to the body and the brain. High cortisol levels also increase your risk of infection because cortisol weakens the immune system. High cortisol levels cause the body to become catabolic, which causes cell destruction and breakdown of important tissues such as muscle.
Over time, the adrenal glands cannot meet the demands of continued stress. Adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal glands become fatigued and can no longer produce adequate levels of cortisol. Low cortisol levels due to adrenal fatigue cause many unpleasant symptoms and increase the risk of health conditions such as heart disease.
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