Various hormones in our body are secreted by different cells and target other cells. Their mode of action is specific, and only a few hormones can affect all the body cells. The hormones are released during the different physiological conditions in the body, mainly under the influence of varying conditions, such as the insulin hormone is released when the sugar levels in blood increases.
One of these hormones working in the body is cortisol. This hormone is also known as the ‘stress hormone’ because other than regulating the metabolism of the body, its main function is to help the body to respond to stressful conditions or during the â€˜fight-or-flight response.â€™ This hormone belongs to the steroid hormone group and is a glucocorticoid. This helps the body to function during stress by blocking unnecessary functions such as digestion and reproduction, whereas it increases the heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure. Almost all the cells of the body have receptors for these hormones, and thus its effects are on all the cells. This hormone is synthesized by the adrenal glands and released in the blood from where it reaches different cells of the body.
Ill-effects of improper secretion of cortisol:
Every hormone is required at optimum levels in the body. Too less or too high levels will disturbance the balance and cause improper functioning of the body. Cortisol levels in the body must also be maintained as both high and low levels have ill-effects on the body. The cortisol levels are high during the morning and low at night; thus, it can be said that it follows a circadian rhythm cycle.
â€¢ Effects of high cortisol levels in the body: Over synthesis of cortisol for a long period of time will affect the body as every cell has a receptor for it, and thus all of them will be affected. The main disease associated with high cortisol levels is Cushing disease. This will also lead to abnormalities like more weight in the upper body, whereas less in limbs interfere with the menstrual cycle and high blood pressure and muscle weakness.
â€¢ Effects of low cortisol levels in the body: Since the cortisol is involved in fight or flight responses, its low levels will cause the body’s inability to deal with stressful conditions. the gland releasing this hormone, that is, the adrenal gland, will be affected and can develop an autoimmune disease known as Addison disease which has symptoms such as muscle loss, dizziness and change in skin color over time.
Due to the above-stated reasons, it is essential that the levels of cortisol are maintained by regulating its secretion.
Regulation of secretion of cortisol:
The synthesis and release of cortisol are controlled by three major regions of the body, which are the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland, collectively known as the HPA axis. This regulation of this hormone starts from the hormone released by the hypothalamus known as corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) that triggers the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) when the levels of cortisol drop in the body. In the next step, ACTH acts on the adrenal gland, which releases cortisol in response. Cortisol starts to be released in the bloodstream, and the level rises. High levels of cortisol initiate the negative feedback loop due to which the initial two hormones (CRH and ACTH) will not be released, and cortisol secretion will stop.
Other than the mechanisms opted by the body for regulating cortisol secretion, external factors such as food and drugs will also affect the cortisol levels in the body. Ascorbic acid therapy increases the levels of ascorbic acid, due to which the cortisol levels in the blood decreases can be characterized by low blood pressure. Potassium also has a direct influence on the levels of ACTH and cortisol, and low levels of potassium decrease the cortisol concentration.
On the other hand, factors such as viral infections, traumatic conditions, and high VO2 max will increase the cortisol levels in the body.
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