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Everything you wanted to know about the stress hormone

Victor LitvinenkoNews
The main functions of cortisol. Source: freepik.com/author/user18989612

Cortisol is a hormone that plays a major role in the human body. It belongs to the class of glucocorticosteroids and is produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol has several functions, including regulating metabolism, participating in the stress response, and supporting immune system function.

The main functions of cortisol:

Regulation of metabolism

  • Cortisol is involved in various aspects of metabolism, including carbohydrate, protein, and energy metabolism. It helps the body mobilize energy by releasing glucose from the liver.

Stress response

  • Cortisol is considered a stress hormone. When the body is stressed, cortisol levels can rise dramatically. This helps the body cope with stress by mobilizing energy reserves.

Blood pressure

  • Cortisol affects the level of fluid volume in the body and can affect blood pressure.

Immune system

  • It affects the immune system; under stress, it can reduce the body's immune response.

Regulation of sleep and wakefulness

  • Cortisol levels usually follow a circadian rhythm that affects wakefulness and sleep. In the morning, cortisol levels are usually higher, which helps a person wake up and start an active lifestyle.

Some history

Cortisol was first isolated and described in 1936 by Edward C. Kendall, Philip S. Hench and Tadeusz Reichstein. The work was carried out at the MayoClinic Laboratory in Rochester, Minnesota, USA.

The researchers were able to isolate a hormone that they called "compound F". Soon after, additional research was conducted and the hormone was named "cortisone" and then "cortisol".

The discovery was of great importance for medicine as cortisol plays a key role in the regulation of many related processes in the human body. Methods of cortisol synthesis that use it for medical purposes, including the treatment of various diseases, have been developed.

General approximate norms of cortisol levels in the blood in adults:

  • 6-23 mcg/dL or 166-635 nmol/L in the morning (8:00-9:00)
  • 2-14 mcg/dL or 55-389 nmol/L in the evening (16:00-18:00)

Why high cortisol levels are dangerous

High cortisol levels in the table for a long time can have a number of negative health consequences, namely:

  • Prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol can suppress the immune system, making the body more vulnerable to disease.
  • High cortisol increases appetite and the tendency to consume excessive calories, which in turn can lead to weight gain.
  • Elevated levels of cortisol can affect the cardiovascular system, leading to high blood pressure and increasing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • High levels of cortisol can affect sleep, causing insomnia or sleep disturbances. It is also associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Prolonged exposure to cortisol on bone tissue can lead to bone loss and increase the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Cortisol can increase blood sugar levels, which is important for people with diabetes.
  • In women, high levels of cortisol can affect menstrual cycles and fertility.

Treatment of this problem

Treatment of high cortisol levels, also known as hypercortisolism, depends on the condition. Common approaches to drug treatment:

  • Cortisol blockers can reduce cortisol levels in principle. However, their use can be associated with side effects and should be used under medical supervision.
  • Surgery. If elevated cortisol levels have caused an adrenal tumor, the tumor can be surgically removed. This can reduce the excessive release of cortisol.
  • In some cases, the use of androgenic medications can help reduce cortisol levels.
  • Your doctor may suggest hormone therapy to normalize cortisol levels. This may include glucocorticosteroid replacement therapy.
  • If necessary, medications to relieve symptoms such as hypertension, sleep disturbances, and others associated with cortisol re-emergence, may be prescribed.

Treatment should be carried out under the supervision of a physician as unauthorized use of drugs can lead to undesirable side effects. Before starting treatment, it is important to have an evaluation to determine the elevated cortisol levels and develop the most effective treatment plan.

Prevention of high cortisol levels

  1. Regular physical activity
  2. "Positive lifestyle"
  3. Social support
  4. Relaxation techniques
  5. Healthy eating habits
  6. Regular sleep

It is important to understand that stress is a part of life, and it is impossible to completely avoid stressful situations. However, developing healthy strategies for managing stress and thus a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of developing cortisol problems and other related causes. If you suspect a cortisol problem, it is recommended that you discuss it with your doctor, who can conduct an appropriate test and suggest a treatment plan.

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