Role of Cortisol at Times of Stress

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The role of cortisol in times of stress Introduction Stress is defined as ‘an adverse circumstance that disturbs, or is likely to disturb, the normal physiological or psychological functioning of an individual’. Some stressors are met by specific endocrine responses but many other stressors induce a non-specific, general response. In 1930s Hans Selye proposed the ‘general adaptation syndrome’, for non-specific general response to stressors, relating production of cortisol in response to stress Although it is known that cortisol has many roles in the body in this essay I will focus on its role in stress. Cortisol allows humans to adapt to mental and physical stress in ways that include: • Modulation of plasma glucose levels • Mobilization of amino acids and lipids into the plasma from cellular origins • Suppression of inflammation • Enhancement of wound healing • Increased production of erythrocytes • Electrolyte and fluid manipulation by inhibiting sodium loss while encouraging potassium excretion Production and release Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland. It is released in response to stress and low levels of blood glucocorticoids. Its primary functions are to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis; suppress the immune system and aid in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism. Cortisol is released in pulses, following the pulsatile release of ACTH. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland in the zona fasciculata, the second of three layers comprising the outer adrenal cortex. This release is controlled by the hypothalamus. The secretion of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) by the hypothalamus triggers anterior pituitary secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is carried by the blood to the adrenal cortex, where it triggers glucocorticoid secretion. This axis is
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