Commonly referred to as the body’s ‘stress hormone,’ cortisol’s actions extend beyond the ‘fight or flight responses’ and are essential to maintain good health. Cortisol is released from the adrenal glands (above each kidney) and controls energy levels, sleep-wake cycles, metabolism, our immune system and blood sugar levels.
All of cortisol’s actions on the body can be imagined in the situation where we would need to run away from a lion –fortunately an infrequent occurrence these days. Cortisol increases sugar and energy to run, heart rate and alertness to concentrate on escape, and prepares the immune system and availability of substances to repair tissues if we end up with an injury.
While running away from lions hopefully doesn’t happen often, common life events such as your job, relationships, bereavements, or financial difficulties can all cause cortisol to rise and become imbalanced. Eventually this long term extra cortisol can have detrimental effects on our mood, weight, sleep and concentration.
Scientific studies have shown a slight increase in cortisol with age, particularly around and after menopause. However, the exact nature of this relationship to oestrogen and progesterone is still being investigated. We do know that oestrogen replacement (HRT) reduces the effects of cortisol on the brain counteracting some of cortisol’s negative effects, and improving memory and concentration.
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