2024-02-26| R&D

Cortisol: New Discoveries on its Impact Across Health, Culture, and Evolution

by Oscar Wu
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Cortisol is a vital stress hormone, intricately linked to our body’s response to stress. Research has uncovered various aspects of how cortisol functions and impacts our health under stress. 

Gut Microbiome and Light Exposure: An Early Link to Stress

Keskitalo et al. found a weak association between a blunted cortisol stress response and diverse gut microbiota at 2.5 months of age, suggesting that the early microbiome might influence how stress affects us.

Another study highlighted the impact of light exposure on cortisol levels, demonstrating that bright light evokes higher cortisol levels than dim light, indicating the significant role of environmental factors in stress responses.

Maternal Stress Impacts Breast Milk and Infant Health

Stress reactivity has also been linked to dietary aspects, such as in breast milk composition, where stress reactivity correlated with milk fat and unsaturated fatty acids, revealing how maternal stress can influence nutritional content with potential implications for infant development. 

Biomarker Detection: Advances in Cortisol Measurement

Technological advancements have facilitated the detection of cortisol, such as the use of a platinum/graphene aptamer-based sensor, showcasing the progress in monitoring stress biomarkers.

Cortisol and Mental Health: A Complex Relationship

The relationship between cortisol and psychiatric disorders has been a subject of extensive study, with a systematic review by Zorn et al. exploring cortisol reactivity to stress across various disorders and the moderating effects of sex and symptomatic state, shedding light on the complex interplay between stress, mental health, and hormonal responses

Moreover, the role of cortisol in the body’s response to surgery has been examined, revealing the hormone’s critical role in stress and recovery processes.

Epigenetics and Stress: SKA2 Methylation and PTSD

In addition to human studies, the effects of cortisol on animals have been investigated, such as in Richardson’s ground squirrels, where cortisol stress response heritability was examined, offering insights into the genetic basis of stress reactivity. Another study focused on SKA2 methylation’s link to cortisol stress reactivity and PTSD, highlighting the potential for epigenetic markers to predict stress-related disorders.

Cortisol and Exercise: Understanding Adaptation

Cultural influences on stress responses have also been explored, with research indicating differences in maternal psychological control and cortisol levels between Chinese and American children, suggesting cultural factors play a role in stress physiology. Lastly, the effects of cortisol on exercise adaptation were discussed by Hackney et al., emphasizing cortisol’s significant roles in physical training and stress adaptation processes.

These studies collectively highlight the multifaceted role of cortisol in stress response, influenced by genetic, environmental, dietary, cultural, and physical training factors.

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