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Stress Effects on the Adrenaline Gland - Cortisol Production

Behind the formulation Stress stands a thunderstorm of interacting biochemical reaction, which serve the energy production and distribution. The body is being prepared to react fast in stress situations. 1932 DDDr. Hans Seyle*) discovered these connections for the first time and described them in detail, since then he is known as the father of stress research.

Oxidative Processes - what does it mean?
Oxidative processes are chemical reaction using oxygen. During this process single electrons are freed, which are called free radicals. Let's imagine these little things are flying around and looking for a new home, but before they have found it, they are changing other chemical substances and physically damaging the cell walls. Regarding the body it mean the damage to the inside of the cell walls, the chemical disturbance to other bio chemical processes and the 'garbage' of oxidized, chemical useless substances, these little radicals. One example are oxidized lipoproteins, which are of major role and impact in the artery calcification process.
The constant elevated adrenaline - and cortisol levels during stress supporting oxidation processes. It is developing a chemical-physical negative balance in the bio network of the system. Anti oxidative substances, like Vitamin C, E and Beta-carotene, selenium, zinc, manganese and copper protect the body from these free radicals. It seems very important to raise the the supply of above mentioned substances during high stress periods. 

Schematic diagram of the procedures in the body during stressful times 
Please look at the picture to the right, to enlarge click on it: Adrenaline & Stress - click to enlarge
With every stress demand the autonomous vegetative nervous system is the first to react. The first principle is being followed: "Energy production, to withstand the highest demands”. The gastro-intestinal secretion is stimulated, to obtain more energy out of the nutrients already in the system and through higher output of adrenaline more energy is being accumulated, since more oxygen is available. At the same time the heart and blood vessels engaging a faster transport of the blood.
If these demands increase or taken longer than 20 minutes the brain will take the command. A new chain of reactions is taken place, cortisol is set free. When cortisol is secreted, it causes a breakdown of muscle protein, leading to release of amino acids (the "building blocks" of protein) into the bloodstream. These amino acids are then used by the liver to synthesize glucose for energy, in a process called gluconeogenesis. This process raises the blood sugar level so the brain will have more glucose for energy. At the same time the other tissues of the body decrease their use of glucose as fuel. Cortisol also leads to the release of so-called fatty acids, an energy source from fat cells, for use by the muscles. Taken together, these energy-directing processes prepare the individual to deal with stressors and ensure that the brain receives adequate energy sources. 
At the same time the brain is communicating with the immune system through the  neuropeptide. Neuropeptide are better known under the name endorphins. They are not only used for communication among cells, they also activate opiate receptors. Besides behaving as a pain regulator, endorphins are also thought to be connected to physiological processes including euphoric feelings, appetite modulation, and the release of sex hormones. Prolonged, continuous exercise contributes to an increased production and release of endorphins, resulting in a sense of euphoria that has been popularly labeled “runner’s high.” These facts are known since 1985. Endorphins are responsible how well our immune system is functioning, too. 

So, what is happening if the body is under chronic stress = constant adrenaline and cortisol highs? 

Cortisol can directly suppress DHEA [dehycltoepiandrosterone] and progesterone, both adrenaline hormones. It can also suppress thyroid activity. This means that all of the conditions and symptoms associated with low DHEA, low progesterone or low thyroid can be caused by high cortisol. Cortisol can mobilize calcium from our bones, and circulate it back into our blood stream. This means that an excess of cortisol will cause bone loss and therefore osteoporosis. Research now correlates chronically elevated levels of cortisol with blood sugar problems, fat accumulation, compromised immune function, exhaustion, and even heart disease. Memory loss has also been associated with high cortisol levels. Continual stress over years can indeed have a negative impact on your health. New studies demonstrate that elevated cortisol levels can lead to abdominal weight gain, loss of verbal declarative memory (words, names, and numbers), insulin resistance, and Type 2 Diabetes.

Used as a medication, cortisol is given in auto-immune illnesses to suppress the immune system. It is also used in leukemia to suppress the excess number of white blood cells. 

The following is a list of physical signs of elevated cortisol. Anyone can experience any of these symptoms from time to time without having elevated cortisol. However, the more of them are experienced, the greater the chance that cortisol is elevated.

  • Easy bruising

  • Poor muscle tone or muscle wasting.

  • Poor wound healing

  • Thin skin

  • Stretch marks

  • Excess scar tissue

  • Fat pads

  • Chronic yeast infections

  • Accelerated skin aging

  • Puffy flabby skin

  • Water retention

  • Moon face

An additional problem of long-term elevations of cortisol is that the adrenal gland may wear itself out and no longer be able to produce even normal levels of cortisol. This is called "adrenal exhaustion" and is associated with many other health problems and the last stage before death. Common symptoms include: fatigue, lack of alertness, anxiety, feeling of being driven, poor memory, moodiness, dizziness, irritability, low immunity, sugar cravings, and tendency toward hypoglycemia and diabetes. Ever heard the term "chronic fatigue syndrome"? Well, it is a result of adrenaline maladaption and one of the foundations for allergies.

Is your horse suffering from allergies since it started HS or did it start about the same time? You might want to look closer "into" its immune system. 

But first we are going to have a deeper look into the 2nd stage of the adrenaline dysfunction, the "adrenaline maladaption"    Next page


The terms once again, a short definition.

Adrenal (Adrenal Gland, Adrenals)
The adrenal glands sit on top of each kidney and consist of an outer cortex and an inner medulla. Of the 50 or so hormones the adrenals make, only cortisone and adrenaline are recognized by most people. Some of these hormones must be produced to preserve life, while others help resist stress. Other hormones from the adrenals control normal energy output (along with the thyroid) and govern the breakdown of stored energy into quick energy sources. The medulla produces epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are specifically designed to help the body deal with stressful situations. The adrenals control the body's potassium/sodium balance, which is vital for energy production. They also produce sex hormones in minute amounts, which is important for later years when the gonads drop or cease their production.

Adrenal Insufficiency (Adrenal Exhaustion, Low Adrenal Function)
A condition in which the adrenal gland is compromised in its production of epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol, corticosterone or aldosterone. Symptoms include primarily fatigue, weakness, decreased appetite with ensuing weight loss, as well as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, or increased pigmentation of the skin. Cortical insufficiency (low or no corticosteroids) produces a more serious condition called Addison’s Disease, characterized by extreme weakness, low blood pressure, pigmentation of the skin, shock or even death.

A hormone. Its most important function is to help the body respond to stress. It also helps regulate your body's use of protein, carbohydrates and fat; it helps maintain blood pressure and cardiovascular function; it stems inflammation.

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*) Hans Selye: since publication of his first scientific work, 1936 "Stress" , he wrote more than 1700 abstracts and 39 books about this subject. When he had passed on in 1982 his life work was known throughout the world in more than 362,000 scientific articles, books, and  abstracts. He still is the most mentioned author in regards to stress.






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