Hormones, Cortisol, and Stress

There are many, many hormones throughout the body. They are extremely important in how the body functions, and in keeping the body functioning properly. Hormones are like chemical messengers. They are produced in different organs and glands throughout the body. They then go throughout the body to tell different organs and systems to do things like increase production of something or to decrease the activity of another system or organ. Without hormones our bodies would not function optimally.A good example of this is adrenal fatigue syndrome. Your adrenal glands are little glands that sit on top of the kidneys. They produce lots of different hormones. The outer portion of the gland is called the adrenal cortex and is responsible for producing cortisol, testosterone and aldosterone. The inner portion of the gland is called the medulla and produce adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones can speed up your actions when threatened, they can help to keep the balance of testosterone and estrogen in balance so that men don’t grow breast tissue and women don’t grow facial hair, amoung manyn other purposes.Cortisol is the hormone that I want to discuss today because I feel it plays a very important role in keeping the body feeling good and pain free. Cortisol plays a role in bone health, circulatory system, immune system, metabolism, nervous system, and in stress responses. Too much cortisol can cause Cushing’s syndrome. Too little cortisol can cause Addison’s disease.Along with all of these roles, cortisol also plays a role in muscle health. Cortisol is an inflammatory hormone. Cortisol is released during times of increased stress. When your muscles get irritated and sore, they also get inflammed. So if you add some cortisol to irritated muscles it is like adding fuel to a fire. The stress or increased levels of cortisol will not create a problem, but it will exacerbate, or flair up, an existing or minor issue. This is why when people get stressed out, their low back or hips or shoulders or neck get flaired up. It is usually in an area that the person had issues with in the past, so there is a pre-existing area of irritation.  Throwing inflammatory cortisol on an irritated area will flair it up, or bring it to the surface. the person might not have had pain in that area for years prior to a stressful event. Then throw some stress on the area and it flairs up. It doesn’t help that in times of stress, more demands are put upon the body, and usually on the already overused and irritated area.Let’s say that you have had a shoulder issue in the past. It was diagnosed as a rotator cuff tear and you went to physical therapy for a few months to resolve this issue. 6 Months later you are working on average 8 hours a day in front of your computer. You have a very stressful period at work where 1 co-worker quit, and another was fired. So you are left with doing the work of 3 people. The work load drastically increases, the work hours increase, and so will the stress. So muscularly your arms and shoulders and neck and doing more and more work, and you are releasing increased levels of cortisol because you are stressed out. let’s also say that you are even more stressed because the increased workload means that you are not able to spend as much time at home with your spouse and children. And the stress will increase more. Under circumstances like this, it is only a matter of time before you flair up that old rotator cuff injury.Stress, and managing stress, plays a huge role in controlling body, joint and muscle aches and pains. Exercise and eating right will not make the stress go away, but it will help your body manage the increased demands put upon it without flairing up. It will help your body to relax and better deal with the stress mentally. Physically the muscles will be stronger and looser and therefore less likely to get injured and more able to deal with the increased demands. Eating right will help your body get lots of anti-oxidants to help fight off the free radicals that are being produced from all of the increased stress.For more information on how stress affects your body and how you can do something about, please read my up coming book.

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