Cortisol Levels: Regulating The Feedback System
Cortisol has been named the “stress hormone” because of its presence and effects on the body when presented with some form of stressful event. Each person will interpret a stressful event differently depending upon their general perception.Â The bottom line is that any event that provokes physiological stress to the body can invoke the “fight or flight” stress response. These conditions can be a general illness, infection, trauma, a horrible day at work, extreme temperatures, or even plain old exercise (physical exertion). Although Cortisol is present in the blood stream normally, it becomes elevated during these periods of stress. During stress Cortisol can provide the following responses which are needed to respond in the fight or flight response.
Cortisol is a type of steroid called a glucocorticoid. The process of how this hormone gets into the blood stream is a very intricate response pathway that starts in the hypothalamus of the brain. The hypothalamus sends a signal to the pituitary to release two chemicals called CRH (Corticotrophin Releasing Hormone) and ACTH (Adrenocoticotropic Hormone). This is the responsible party for telling the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidney, to release Cortisol. The purpose of Cortisol is to tell the body which kind of carbohydrate, protein or fat (also called substrates) would be the most effective source of energy to use to respond to the stress.
Cortisol levels, if too high or too low can cause serious health problems. Some of the main health problems that it can contribute to are heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Although there are medical conditions such as Addison’s disease and Cushing’s disease that manifest these conditions there are ways to naturally manage and alter the effects on the body.
The rise and fall of Cortisol levels responds via a circadian rhythm cycle in conjunction with a negative feedback system. This system, as it relates to stress, relies on the relaxation phase of the body to minimize the amount of stress that has developed. In short, when the body relaxes the Cortisol levels can return to normal. The circadian secretion of Cortisol and the secretion of CRH and ACTH from the pituitary gland act independently. Cortisol levels peak in the early morning hours and are at their lowest during the evening hours; as the body is preparing for restoration. The alterations in presence of Cortisol can and are most likely related to the stressors previously mentioned.
Even when the crisis is over, if your body still recognizes stress and responds to it. Elevated levels of Cortisol for extended periods of time can lead to an exhaustion of the stress response system. The end result could be an adrenal fatigue. When Cortisol levels are left excessively high for extended periods of time, as in chronic stress, some of the damages that can occur are:
Michael is a Registered Nurse with 15 years of health care experience. His current focus is in critical care and flight medicine. He promotes his concepts of health and wellness on his blog at http://www.nurseconnector.comRating: