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Heather C. Abercrombie

Subject Psychology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405161251.2009.x


Cortisol is a hormone that is released from the adrenal gland. A common misconception is that the hormone cortisol is “bad for you” (i.e., always exacerbates health problems and/or causes feelings of distress). While it is true that chronically elevated cortisol levels can have deleterious effects on health, mild elevations of cortisol are beneficial in many ways. Acute cortisol elevation is adaptive insofar as it mobilizes and directs bodily energy consumption, modulates psychological processes, and restrains (or “turns off”) stress-responsive systems. Several upstream hormonal regulators control the release of cortisol. Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH; which is sometimes called corticotrophin-releasing factor, or CRF) and arginine vasopressin (AVP) are released from the hypothalamus and control the release of adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) from the pituitary gland. ACTH is released into the blood stream and controls the production and secretion of cortisol from the adrenal gland. Because the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are the structures that most proximally control cortisol release from the adrenal, the system that regulates cortisol is called the “hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis” (or, “HPA axis”). Recently, investigators have highlighted the important role of brain circuitry associated with emotion in the regulation of the HPA axis by coining the term “limbic ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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