Cortisol is a prime factor in controlling and regulating stress in the body. Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands and helps with; sugar metabolism, blood pressure regulation, immune function, reducing inflammatory processes.
Cortisol is important for waking the systems up. Waking up from a sleep state requires the release of cortisol. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. During stressful events cortisol is released to help prepare the body for a fight or flight response. During the acute stages of a sympathetic response, cortisol, is necessary to help with initiating a quick burst of energy via muscle metabolism, heightened awareness, increased burst of immunity, higher pain threshold and maintaining homeostasis. During acute sympathetic stimulation cortisol acts as an ally to the physiological systems of the body. However, if the stress becomes chronic then cortisol becomes an adversary to the physiological systems of the body. Prolonged levels of cortisol in the blood stream will cause hyperinsulinemia, an excess amount of insulin circulating in the blood to regulate blood sugar metabolism. Hypertension, obesity, depression, diabetes are symptoms of hyperinsulinemia. Another down side to chronic high levels of cortisol is the increase in the aging effect. People who live in a constant state of sympathetic nervous stress age faster than those that control stress and live more in the parasympathetic nervous system.
One way to determine if a person is living in a chronic sympathetic state (CSS) is to look at the abdominal region of the body. There is usually a high storage of fat collected around the visceral organs and subcutaneous layers of tissue around the abdominal walls. Also, in most CSS cases the adrenal glands are fatigued. This is due to the constant secretions associated cortisol production. The adrenal glands are small and are designed to be activated to release hormones that combat stress against the physiological homeostatic processes of the body. Too much activation results in weakened secretions and fatigue. When the endrocrine system is compromised all the systems of the body are compromised.
The bottom line is this, Cortisol is necessary for the proper functioning of human physiology. Activating too much cortisol however will promote a host of health issues. It is important to learn techniques that can help you deal with stressors to reduce the onset of chronic sympathetic nervous system activation. Exercise, breathing techniques, proper sleep and nutrition are simple ways of correcting and reducing the stress sequence within the body.
Daryl Conant, M.Ed