Dr. Laura: Long Term Effects of Cortisol and Stress

Cortisol is released in a daily rhythm, but also in response to stress. Ever wonder what are the long term effects of cortisol (stress) in the body?

picture from  philosophytalk.org

Long term danger can be perceived in the form of anything that takes away our freedom, feeling unloved, feelings of insecurity, projecting into the future something that is not true, as if it were and  fear-based memories for future survival so as to avoid any repeat of traumatic events.

Cortisol is not all bad, it has some daily and life-saving functions. The problems lies when the body gets stuck in fear gear, cannot return to its natural state of homeostasis and subsequently has difficult with rest and digestion.

Normal Cortisol Function

Cortisol hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is released twice a day with blood levels peaking in the morning, and rising slightly again in mid afternoon.

Throughout the day, cortisol:

  • Helps provide energy; maintains blood glucose
  • Suppresses nonvital organ systems to provide energy to the brain, nerves and muscles
  • Is a potent anti-inflammatory hormone
  • Prevents widespread tissue and nerve damage associated with inflammation

Short Term Stress Response

In response to a moment of physical or emotional shock or trauma, the body releases three main chemicals: epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. In the short term, these chemicals trigger a series of events in the body to promote survival including anti-inflammatory actions and activation of energy to flee from the danger. Short term response has a clear purpose to better outcome (safety, life).

Once the epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol are released into the blood flow,

  • heart rate increases
  • blood pressure increases
  • respiration rate increases
  • arteries vasoconstrictor & release sweat.
  • pupils dilate
  • Pro inflammatory response so as to destroy antigens, pathogens, or foreign invaders; adrenoreceptor antagonists have been shown to inhibit stress-induced inflammation and cytokine production by blocking the proinflammatory effects of norepinephrine.

Long Term Cortisol Danger

Body’s release

When the brain feels you are in danger on an ongoing basis, cortisol release goes into overdrive. This can be things that threaten our survival like financial concerns, relationship problems, too many commitments, feelings of bitterness towards others, anger, resentment, being unhappy with yourself, lack of faith, hope, love, fear of loosing something you treasure… the list can go on.

Basically the body gets stuck in some type of survival mode. It is then difficult to re-establish to its natural balance.

Medications

Long term medications that end on “-sone” are often producing similar effects to cortisol in the body. These are drugs that suppress the immune system like prednisone, hydrocortisone.

Cortisone type drugs are used to treat pain, allergic disorders, skin conditions, ulcerative colitis, arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, or breathing disorders.

Be sure to also be aware of information on cortisone drug side effects. 

  • Osteoporosis
  • Muscle wasting
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Hyper irritability
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Vascular fragility including easy bruising
  • Striae or redish stripes over the lower abdomen (thinning of the skin structures)
  • Suppressed immune system, make it easier to get infections
  • Central obesity

If you feel like you are “always on” , have difficulty digesting food or feel “tired and wired”, chances are you are running the meter up on cortisol. As you can see the long term effects are not favourable for good health.

Have Hope

Don’t give up hope, however. The first step is to recognize what is stressing you out. This is more than relationships, it can be pain, inflammation, poor diet, lack of sleep, poor coping mechanisms or genetic wrinkles.

Resolution doesn’t happen overnight but can be improved on a steady course of treatment over time.  Treatment will look at things like sleep hygiene, a healthy diet, the right amount and type of exercise,  and new perspectives on managing yourself in relationships with yourself and others.

The Last “Peace”

Need more peace in your life?  Join me at Goodness Me! on Sept 19th in a presentation on Anxiety Antidotes.

 

References:

Constanzo LS. 2011. BRS Physiology Fifth Edition. Walters Kluwer|Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Philadelphia.

Hannibal KE, Bishop MD. Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation. Physical Therapy. 2014;94(12):1816-1825. doi:10.2522/ptj.20130597.

Wright H. 2009. A More Excellent Way. Whitaker House. Pennsylvania.