Cortisol is a hormone released by the brain in response to stress. In fact, it's commonly referred to as the stress hormone. It readies your body to take fast action in a potentially dangerous situation — known as the “fight or flight” response.
Unfortunately, our modern lives are filled with stressors, which can lead to excessive and acidifying cortisol levels. Therefore, high levels of it over time acidify your serum pH, which, in turn, leads to bone loss.
But there's another lesser-known way that excess cortisol can harm your bones. Today, you’ll discover what it is and how to avoid or reduce the damage it can cause.
Cortisol Impairs Muscle Growth And Recovery
Cortisol is a catabolic agent, which means that it breaks down large compounds into smaller component parts. One of the compounds that cortisol breaks down is the protein in muscle mass. It does this to make amino acids available to the body as an emergency energy source.
This means that stress and cortisol are drivers of sarcopenia, or muscle loss.1 This can impact existing muscle mass by breaking it down, and it can impair the body's ability to repair muscle tissue. This repair process, called muscle recovery, is how we build new muscle after exercise.
Cortisol not only causes muscle loss, but it can prevent you from rebuilding the muscle mass you've lost.1
Cortisol is a catabolic agent. It breaks down compounds in the body, including muscle mass. This can cause excessive muscle loss (sarcopenia) and can prevent building new muscle tissue.
Muscle Mass Is Essential For Building New Bone
Strong muscles allow us to build strong bones. That's because the stress that skeletal muscle exerts on bone triggers the growth of new bone. This is the process described by Wolff's Law. Similar to how the muscles we use the most grow strongest, the bones that bear the most weight and pressure respond by adding bone mass.
If you lose muscle mass, you're also diminishing your ability to stimulate the growth of new bone. Since cortisol impairs your ability to build and maintain muscle mass, it also impairs your ability to reverse bone loss.
Muscles exert pressure on bone. This pressure stimulates the growth of new bone mass, as described by Wolff's Law. Since cortisol diminishes muscle mass, it impairs your ability to reverse bone loss.
Exercise Reduces Stress And Damage Caused By Cortisol
Reducing stress lowers cortisol levels. And one effective way for reducing your stress levels is regular exercise.
When you exercise your brain releases a neurochemical called norepinephrine, which is an endorphin that reduces the feeling of stress.2
Additionally, exercise helps prevent cortisol's catabolic effect on muscle. A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism examined six healthy participants before and after 14 days of bed rest. Researchers measured the effects of an infusion of cortisol on their muscle mass. This is what they found:
“The absence of muscular activity sensitizes skeletal muscle to the catabolic effects of cortisol. This predisposition to protein breakdown is such that skeletal muscle in healthy volunteers is metabolically analogous to severely injured or stressed patients.”3
Regular exercise prepares your body to handle stress without breaking down your muscles. Conversely, if you don't exercise, then the stress you experience is taking an outsized toll on your muscle mass.3
Exercise triggers the release of an endorphin called norepinephrine that reduces feelings of stress. Studies have shown that regular exercise also reduces the amount of damage on muscle mass caused by excessive cortisol.
What This Means To You
You can make choices and take actions that reduce stress– simple decisions such as practicing meditation, going for walks in nature, or scheduling time for relaxing activities.
Exercise is one of those stress-reducing actions. And remarkably, exercise also prepares your body to deal with stress without damaging your muscles.
The overlapping benefits of exercise make it essential for preventing and reversing osteoporosis. That's why the Save Institute created SaveTrainer. SaveTrainer makes it easy and enjoyable to build a customized workout plan, guided by professional trainers, all available on demand. It might be just the thing you need to build an exercise routine you love.
Physical activity should make you feel good, even when it's challenging! Be sure to let yourself feel proud of the healthy choices you make. Those good feelings are part of reducing stress and building stronger bones.