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Cortisol: the currency of stress



Cortisol. It’s a hormone in our body that is often called the ‘currency of stress’.

When we are stressed, a complex system responds to it. This system helps us get out of danger with our fight or flight response, optimising our chances of surviving. And part of this response is an increase in cortisol. It helps to liberate our energy stores, and direct the body’s attentions away from activities that aren’t immediately required for survival in our time of stress.

Most of us are aware of the dangers of chronic stress these days. And parts of these dangers are linked to raised cortisol levels. Yet a new study shows another impact of chronically elevated cortisol levels.

It appears to be linked to making us fat.

A study looking at over two and a half thousand Brits showed that increased cortisol concentrations over long time periods were associated with obesity. In fact, the concentrations of cortisol actually positively correlated with the weight of the people in the study.

And we know from other studies that when our cortisol levels are high for long periods of time, it has damaging effects on our brain and on our immune system.

So what do you do to manage your stress levels? Are you aware of the signs and symptoms of too much stress? And importantly, are you aware of the many, simple steps that you can take in order to start managing it more effectively?

Speaking to a healthcare professional may help, as may techniques such as meditation and exercise.

There are many effective stress management tools and techniques available. And while it can be difficult to change our behaviours, given the cost of not doing so, it seems a pretty reasonable investment to try.

Jackson, S. E., Kirschbaum, C. and Steptoe, A. (2017), Hair cortisol and adiposity in a population-based sample of 2,527 men and women aged 54 to 87 years. Obesity, 25: 539–544. doi:10.1002/oby.21733

Written by:
Dr Rachel Thomas Clinical Psychologist

Rachel studied Medicine and Surgery at Oxford University, and has completed a Masters in Neuroscience and Psychology of Mental Health at Kings. She completed Biomedical Engineering (Hons 1) and Science degrees at Berkeley and Sydney University.

Rachel is a practising doctor and healthcare innovator, and speaks on the importance of mental health and delivers insight as a doctor. Additionally, Rachel is responsible for content production with Cognacity case studies, blogs and press articles.

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