There was a 60th anniversary of cortisone invention in April, which happened to take place in Minnesota’s very own world famous Mayo Clinic. It prompted me to write an article about cortisol, why is it called a “stress hormone” and how it all is connected to corticosteroid based drugs widely used for controlling asthma.
More and more researches now confirm that many diseases indeed are connected to stress. So, what exactly is stress and why it is harmful to our bodies?
Stress is a reaction that out body produces in response to stressors. A stressor could be anything from environmental factors to physical harm to the body and strong emotional reaction. Stressors may be pleasant or unpleasant, and each person will likely have a different degree of response to them. As the human body is trying to counteract physiological changes that are happening with the stress, if the attempt is quickly successful, our health is not affected. But if stress is extreme or long lasting, the mechanism of returning to normal physiological functioning could fail. In 1936, Hans Selye, a pioneer in stress research, showed that a variety of stressful conditions could produce 3 stages of stress response – the Fight or Flight Response, the Resistance Reaction and Exhaustion.
The Fight or Flight Response quickly mobilizes the body’s resources for immediate physical activity. It brings large amount of glucose and oxygen to the organs that are most active in fighting danger: the brain, the skeletal muscles and the heart. Other non-essential organ functions become temporarily inhibited. Blood pressure elevates, and water retention increases in order to preserve body fluid in case of severe bleeding.
Unlike the first stage, the Resistance Reaction is longer lasting and releases hormones, among them Cortisol. By repairing damaged cells and reducing inflammation, those hormones help to fight stress longer, after the Fight or Flight dissipates. Usually, it is successful, and body functions return to normal. Occasionally though, the Resistance stage fails, or resources of the body become so depleted that they cannot sustain the Resistance stage and Exhaustion settles in. Prolonged exposure to a high level of Cortisol and other hormones causes wasting of muscle, suppression of the immune system, ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract and other pathologies.
People under prolonged stress are at a greater risk of developing chronic disease or dying prematurely.
On April 20, 1949, scientists at the Mayo Clinic announced they had succeeded in synthesizing a hormone found to have anti-inflammatory properties and useful in treating rheumatoid arthritis, which was named “cortisone”. This finding was a result of 19 years of work.
In the 1930s, Edward Kendall, Ph.D. had isolated six hormones from the tiny adrenal glands. He named them in the order in which they were isolated: compounds A through F. Dr. Phillip Hench, M.D., who was Mayo Clinic’s first rheumatologist,… saw patients with arthritis whose symptoms had mysteriously improved when they experienced jaundice, during pregnancy, and immediately after unrelated surgery. He hypothesized that in these patients, something had prompted the secretion of a natural anti-rheumatic. He termed it “Substance X.”(*cortisol)…Over the course of many conferences, the two physicians decided that Substance X was most likely an essential hormone, possibly a steroid. It took years to synthesize the compounds so that enough could be manufactured to allow clinical tests. On Sept. 21, 1948, a patient at Saint Marys Hospital received the first injection of Compound E(*cortisone). Three days later there was an astonishing change — less muscular stiffness and soreness. Over the next seven months, trials were completed on 14 patients with severe or moderately severe rheumatoid arthritis. All showed marked improvement. Publication of the Mayo collaborators’ findings brought them international recognition. In 1950, Drs. Kendall and Hench learned they were co-winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine — sharing the prize with Dr. Tadeus Reichstein of Switzerland, who had simultaneously isolated the hormones of the adrenal cortex. They accepted the award at the Nobel presentations in Stockholm, Sweden. (Cortisone Discovery and the Nobel Prize (http://www.mayoclinic.org/tradition-heritage/cortisone-discovery.html)
So it just turned out that the “stress hormone”, cortisol, possessed anti-inflammatory properties which were utilized for making a whole new class of corticosteroid medication.
Corticosteroid drugs to this day remain one of the most powerful weapons in the struggle against many debilitating, chronic (including life threatening) conditions. Their miracle lies in their powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Their shortcoming lies in the immune system suppression, which with prolonged use leads to side effects related to depleting of the body’s own immune system.
Side effects include water retention, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, cataract, muscle weakness, stomach ulcers and other. Corticosteroids should not be stopped suddenly or reduced without consulting a doctor.
Corticosteroids, both oral and inhaled, are widely used for treating asthma. They are prescribed in a form of preventive or combination inhalers, or as a systemic therapy, which consists of one or a few repeated courses of oral steroids. Mometasone (“Asmanex”), Budesonide (“Pulmicort”, “Symbicort”) and Fluticasone (“Flovent”, “Advair”) are steroid components of commonly prescribed in the US inhalers. Prednisone is most commonly used orally for severe asthma, that is poorly controlled with inhaled steroids.
If you are taking steroids for asthma, the AsthmaCare program will explain to you how after a significant improvement with breathing retraining is achieved you can safely reduce the intake of steroid based inhalers. In addition, you will learn how stress affects your breathing and how your breathing is a key to effective stress management and disease prevention.
In many cases corticosteroids are an essential, temporary tool for taking a moderate to severe asthma under control. But lifelong medication intake is not the answer to eliminating asthma.
Call us today and begin moving toward a steroid free life.
Buteyko Clinic USA offers unique breathing rehabilitation programs that result in long term drug free control over asthma, allergies, COPD, rhinitis, chronic cough, snoring, sleep apnea, anxiety, panic, chronic hyperventilation syndrome and other chronic conditions. Contact us today for a free consultation.