Cortisol, which is best known for stimulating gluconeogenesis, is essential for normal glycogenolysis. Cortisol affects the heart, vasculature, blood pressure, water excretion, and electrolyte balance. It mobilizes protein stores in all tissues except the liver; it mobilizes fatty acids from adipose; it is the precursor of cortisone and acts as an anti-inflammatory, and it is the primary hormone directing immune function. Cortisol can stimulate or inhibit gene transcription, promote apoptosis, and affect bone metabolism and calcium dynamics. It affects behavior, mood, neural activity, and a variety of central nervous system biochemical processes. Cortisol affects the eyes, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive function, and the production and clearance of other classes of hormones. It is a major marker of the complex control loops regulating the sex hormones. The general effect of excess cortisol is usually stimulatory and catabolic; a deficiency of cortisol usually results in a slowing of physiology.
In the presence of stressors, the body almost immediately attempts to increase cortisol levels. This increase is associated with both endocrine and autonomic responses in preparing the body to defend itself normally. However, elevated cortisol levels for extended periods negatively affect virtually every aspect of physiology. For example, it becomes more difficult to maintain proper blood sugar levels; to slow down for rest, recovery, and repair; to get good quality sleep; to balance other hormones; to maintain mucosal immune integrity; to maintain bone mass, to produce effective general immune function; to effectively regulate inflammatory processes; or to detoxify the body. Without proper intervention, continued high adrenal stimulation can lead to adrenal exhaustion and lowered cortisol levels. Eventually, adrenal or cardiac failure can occur.
Adrenal dysfunction may be associated with the following symptoms: excessive fatigue; chronic stress and related health problems; dizziness upon standing; weakness; hypoglycemia; nervousness; irritability; depression; inability to concentrate; confusion; poor memory; low blood pressure; insomnia; premenstrual tension; sweet cravings; headaches; alcohol intolerance; excessive hunger; alternating diarrhea and constipation; sternocleidomastoid/trapezius pain and spasms; epigastric discomfort; poor resistance to infection; food and/or inhalant allergies; dyspepsia; tenderness in adrenal area; migraine headaches; low body temperature; and diminished sex drive.
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