Findings from a new study suggest that a steady, predictable release of cortisol in the body can improve stress.
Also known as hydrocortisone, cortisol is produced by the body’s adrenal gland typically every hour when functioning properly. Alterations to this rhythm — commonly brought on by disease and age — have been found to diminish a person’s ability to respond to or cope with stress.
The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NOW) recently conducted a study of corticosterone release and rhythm in rats. Corticosterone is the rat hormone equivalent of cortisol in humans.
Findings revealed that alterations in the production and release of the corticosterone hormone decreased a rat’s ability to deal effectively with stress.
Because irregular release of cortisol in the body has been linked to chronic stress and other related issues, NWO-funded researcher Angela Sarabdjitsingh suggested that the restoration of this rhythm could be a key component to treating stress going forward.
Specifically, in the rat study, findings were able to pinpoint the glococorticoid receptor as the protein that becomes most problematic when release of cortisol is disrupted. Further research may reveal that this protein could become a key target for treatment of stress going forward.
Sarabdjitsingh was the first to obtain these results through the combination of advanced research techniques. These techniques are now being replicated and used by other groups to further explore the correlation between stress and the rhythm of cortisol release.
Sarabdjitsingh found that certain genes are activated less when corticosterone patterns are flattened in rats. The individual pulses were no longer recognizable, and there were no hourly peaks or troughs.
Specifically, cortisol is needed for activation of proteins that aid in an appropriate and healthy response to stress in humans. It has been coined the “stress hormone” in the body.
Cortisol is involved in such functions as proper glucose metabolism, regulation of blood sugar, blood sugar maintenance, immune function and inflammatory response. It is also secreted in higher levels during the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response to stress.
Other conditions, including depression have also been linked to a flattened cortisol release. Sarabdjitsingh’s research suggested that there could be a link to medical treatment of cortisol rhythms in these conditions as well.
Increases of cortisol in small percentages have been shown to have positive effects that include: bursts of energy associated with survival; heightened memory; improved immune system functions; decreased sensitivity to pain and maintenance of homeostasis in the body.
Higher levels of cortisol, which can be the result of chronic stress, have been shown to have negative effects on the body that can include impaired cognitive performance, blood sugar imbalances, increased blood pressure, suppressed thyroid function, decreased bone density and muscle tissue and lowered immunity.
This corticosterone study in rats was backed by a grant from the NOW Mosaic program, a program that funds PhD research by students of ethnic minorities.