Cortisol – Part 1 – Relationship to Stress

Cortisol is, in many ways, a perplexing hormone. A certain amount of cortisol is necessary for optimal health, but too much or too little can be unhealthy. During acute episodes of stress, more cortisol is released to help the body cope with physical or psychological stressors (Tomlinson 2004). Its primary functions in the body are:

-Regulation of blood glucose levels in the liver;
-Regulation of the immune system;
-Regulation of carbohydrate, protein and lipid metabolism.

Essentially, cortisol is regarded as an anti-inflammatory hormone, a blood glucose modulator, an immune-modifier, and an adaptation hormone (Chrousos 2000). Depending on diet, exercise, stress, and time of day, serum levels of cortisol can vary.

During healthy conditions, cortisol levels peak in the early morning hours (usually around 8AM) and dip to their lowest between midnight and 4AM. The complex process of cortisol biosynthesis and release is sensitive to disruption by both internal and external factors (Beishuizen 2001; Tomlinson 2004; Weerth 2003). In the face of chronic psychological stress, for example, the adrenal glands excrete an abnormal amount of cortisol in an abnormal rhythm.

Cortisol, being a catabolic hormone (a hormone that breaks down tissues), when out of balance and unregulated, can have detrimental effects on body composition. Moreover, too much cortisol can suppress the immune system, while too little can lead to autoimmunity and rheumatologic disorders (Chrousos 2000; Wu 2008; Muneer 2011; Sapolsky 2002; Tak 2011).

Cortisol receptors are expressed throughout the body, including in the brain; therefore, derangement of the biosynthesis, metabolism and release of cortisol can disrupt many physiologic systems (Beishuizen 2001).

Next week we will explore Cortisol and its relationship to weight.

Part 3 – Epigenetics

Cartoon by Yuval Robichek

Epigenetics – Originally, epigenetics was studying the clues that led scientists and researchers alike that gene function could be altered by more than just changes in sequence.

Today, a wide variety of illnesses, behaviors, and other health indicators already have some level of evidence linking them with epigenetic mechanisms, including most cancers, cognitive dysfunction, and respiratory, cardiovascular, reproductive, autoimmune, and neurobehavioral illnesses. Known or suspected drivers behind epigenetic processes include many agents, such as, but not limited to: heavy metals, pesticides, diesel exhaust, tobacco smoke, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, hormones, radioactivity, viruses, bacteria, and nutrients.


In the past five years, and especially the past two years, several ground-breaking studies have focused fresh attention on epigenetics. Interest has been enhanced as it has become clear that understanding epigenetics and epigenomics—the genomewide distribution of epigenetic changes—will be essential in work related to many other topics requiring a thorough understanding of all aspects of genetics, such as stem cells, cloning, aging, synthetic biology, species conservation, evolution, nutrition and agriculture.

Many types of epigenetic processes have been identified—they include methylation, acetylation, phosphorylation, ubiquitylation, and sumolyation. Other epigenetic mechanisms and considerations are likely to surface as work proceeds. Epigenetic processes are natural and essential to many organism functions, but if they occur improperly, there can be major adverse health and behavioral effects.


It is important to point out again, that – genetic test results, like bloodwork and other diagnostic testing tools, are part of a complex picture of your overall health.

Clinicians need to tie many components together to interpret these, the studies that the results are based on, the relationships between all the genes tested, and how they interact with other areas of your life and health – this is the blueprint of epigenetics. From what you put in your mouth to your last thought before you sleep, and how you sleep – these are all critical components for your epigenetic being and quality in life.

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