We have all experienced stress, whether it is before an exam, before an important appointment, or more during the day when facing problems.
Stress is not to be taken lightly, yes, it can sometimes take hold in a more or less lasting way and this can have serious consequences on the body. How can it happen? Thanks to a molecule, among others, synthesized in case of stress. Cortisol.
What is stress?
Stress affects almost everyone in a universal way. In some cases, stress can be beneficial, for example, when it provides the necessary energy before an exam or presentation. It can also generate flight reactions in the face of danger.
However, intense and chronic stress (repetitive or long-term) can have negative consequences on the body and have an impact on the cardiovascular system, on sleep, or on metabolism.
Chronic stress leads to an increased synthesis of chemical molecules in the endocrine system: glucocorticoids. Among these molecules, cortisol is the main glucocorticoid.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a glucocorticoid derived from cholesterol. It is secreted by glands located in the kidneys: the adrenal glands.
In case of stress, acute or chronic, the brain (more precisely the hypothalamus) will inform the pituitary gland (which is a gland located in the brain and which secretes numerous hormones) of this stress, which will, in turn, indicate to the adrenal glands (via hormones) to produce cortisol.
It will then have several actions such as, for example, action on blood sugar, inhibition of the immune system, or an impact on sleep. It is therefore easy to guess that an excessive synthesis of cortisol can have serious consequences.
Stress, cortisol, and consequences
In case of prolonged stress, cortisol synthesis will lead to various negative physiological and biological reactions.
Cortisol has an impact on carbohydrate and protein metabolism. It will stimulate the degradation of proteins and lipids. It will also act on the regulation of blood sugar.
In other words, an excess of cortisol can lead to hyperglycemia (diabetes), insulin resistance, or dyslipidemia (abnormal levels of lipids in the blood).
Cortisol is essential for maintaining good blood pressure. However, in excess, cortisol can lead to hypertension (via molecules and hormones whose functioning is quite complex).
In some rare cases, this excess of cortisol leading to hypertension can lead to a syndrome called Cushing’s syndrome (pathology characterized by hypertension, weight gain, morphological changes, diabetes, cholesterol, central nervous system disorders…).
Cortisol synthesis varies naturally during the day. It follows a day/night rhythm and is at its maximum between 6 and 8 am and then decreases to almost zero during the night.
This synthesis of cortisol is correlated to that of melatonin (hormone essential to sleep). Indeed, the synthesis of melatonin increases when that cortisol decreases.
An excess of cortisol synthesis, in case of stress, will lead to a decrease in melatonin synthesis. And this will lead to sleep disorders (restless sleep, sleep disorders, shifted sleep …).
Cortisol can have stimulating and positive effects on the body in stressful or demanding situations. However, released over the long term, it will have the opposite of deleterious effects.
If you feel stressed gents, don’t hesitate to use various anti-stress methods such as physical activity or listening to music. This will help you fight against this stress hormone.