Cortisol and Alcohol
While doing some research this morning for my upcoming speech on stress, I found an article on About.com that discusses a study correlating cortisol (the ‘stress’ hormone) and alcohol. According to the study by Bryon Adinof, cortisol levels were shown to have increased during several months of heavy drinking, and increased even further after the subjects stopped drinking completely.
“In this study, we show that even persons drinking for several months continue to show elevated levels of cortisol. In addition, levels of cortisol increase even further when the drinking stops. This increase occurs even before alcohol is gone from the body. The daily, heavy drinker may therefore have levels of cortisol two to three times the normal amount throughout the day and night.”
What does cortisol do, anyway?
In my recent post about stress, I outlined some of the effects. At first, cortisol is actually beneficial, it suppresses the immune system, decreasing inflammation response (think allergies and such), increasing cognitive function via aiding in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism, and it activates other anti-stress related systems within the body. But, when cortisol is chronically present in higher levels than normal, it has just the opposite effect: increasing inflammation response, decreasing memory capacity, decreasing digestion, increasing blood pressure, and even increasing the chances of cancer and heart disease.
Cortisol can eventually effect sleep, cause mood disruption, cognitive deficits, and diabetes. All of the above effects have also been related to alcohol itself, and it may be that there is an interdependent relationship between this stress hormone and alcohol, working in concert to cause these effects.
“Alcohol can increase cortisol through a variety of mechanisms,” said Adinoff. “Alcohol directly affects many brain chemicals that signal the adrenal glands to produce and secrete cortisol. High levels of intoxication may be interpreted as general 'stress,’ which could stimulate cortisol release. Finally, after drinking a lot of alcohol for a long time, the sudden stopping of drinking can produce a stressful 'withdrawal’ state, which can also increase cortisol production.”
So, Is it really worth it?