The Role of Cortisol in Our Body’s Response to Stress
When we experience stress, whether it be from physical injury or emotional turmoil, our bodies go through an intense hormonal and neurological response known as the fight-or-flight reflex. This response is triggered by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system or the HPA axis, which releases a steroid hormone called cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone”. While cortisol is primarily associated with the stress response, it actually has many functions in the body.
According to Dr. Megan Gunnar, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Minnesota and The Institute of Child Development, cortisol is a steroid hormone that affects almost every tissue and organ in our bodies. Its unique structure allows it to be lipid-soluble, meaning it doesn’t need to be actively transported into cells. Instead, it can travel up to the nucleus of a cell where it gets actively transported to genes that are responsive to it, regulating a wide range of different genes and functions in the body.
Normally, our bodies produce cortisol according to a daily rhythm, with levels rising in the last hours of sleep, peaking 30 to 40 minutes after waking up, and then decreasing until they’re almost nothing by bedtime. Cortisol plays a role in stimulating our interest in getting up and out of bed, grappling with novelty, and finding carbohydrates. However, when we experience stress, cortisol is released throughout the body to prepare it to take on the stressor.
During the fight-or-flight response, our bodies prioritize the most crucial functions and put others, such as digestion, growth hormone production, and tissue repair, on hold. Cortisol also causes a number of physical symptoms, including rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, pale or flushed skin, dilated pupils, and trembling.
While cortisol is vital for our body’s response to stress, chronically elevated levels can have negative effects on our health. Gunnar notes that chronic stress can flatten the natural cortisol rhythm and disrupt our sleep and overall system. Cortisol dysregulation may also play a role in the development of certain mental health conditions, though it depends on individual characteristics.
Reducing stress in our daily lives is key to managing cortisol levels and promoting overall health. Tips for reducing stress include practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep. By understanding the role of cortisol in our body’s response to stress, we can take steps to manage stress and promote overall well-being.
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News Source : USA TODAY
Source Link :What is cortisol? How it reacts in your body and when it’s too high/