Cortisol – The Stress Hormone
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands and is largely responsible for: mediating the biological response to stress, increasing blood sugar, and suppressing the immune system. Additionally, cortisol also contributes to the metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrates. The hypothalamus secretes corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) which stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete adrenocorticotropin releasing hormone (ACTH) which then stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol. This axis is called the “HPA” or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
The synthesis of cortisol begins with cholesterol which is made in the liver. Cholesterol then goes through a series of biochemical transformations including pregnenolone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which is the major secretory hormone of the adrenal glands, and contributes to cortisol production by the adrenal glands.
As discussed in the previous page of this website (hypothalamic pituitary insufficiency), hormonal regulation often becomes disrupted in brain infections such as Lyme Disease and manifests as adrenal fatigue, exhaustion or insufficiency. Aberrations in cortisol production and secretion have widespread effects on many organ systems because there are cortisol receptors on nearly all internal organs and on many areas of the brain. The result of disrupted cortisol secretion is an inability to biochemically handle stress, and an inability to modulate reactions to stress. Lyme Disease patients often report difficulty managing the stress of everyday life for the above mentioned reasons.
Nutritional, herbal and pharmacologic intervention of cortisol insufficiency should be one of the first endocrine pathways addressed in healing Lyme Disease. The ability to cope with stress is important on many levels, but in regards to undergoing treatment for Lyme Disease, an appropriate stress response is necessary to cope with the Herxheimer reaction should it occur while undergoing treatment.
Consult your doctor on ways that you can minimize stress in your life and maximize the potential for appropriate response to stress. This will help you significantly to heal more quickly from Lyme Disease and/or co-infections.