Cortisol – The Stress Hormone
Cortisol is a “stress hormone” and is the most important hormone to keep balanced. It’s needed to live, sleep, manage stress, regulate mood, balance blood sugar, regulate blood pressure, and modulate the immune system. With constant stress, your cortisol levels can initially rise, eventually causing you to deplete your “reserves,” leading to adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal glands are associated with the fight or flight response. They produce cortisol, adrenaline, and other hormones that control your body’s responses to every kind of stress – physical, emotional, or psychological. Adrenals also produce hormones that regulate energy production, immune function, heart rate, muscle tone, and other processes that help you to cope with stress.
Adrenal fatigue can become severe and wreak havoc on your day to day living. Its most prominent symptom is fatigue, which can range from mild to severe. Every organ and bodily system is affected including carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, the cardiovascular system, and sex drive. A lot of other changes take place at the biochemical and cellular levels to respond to and compensate for the decrease in adrenal hormones.
High Cortisol Levels
When you experience stress, whether it be acute or chronic, mental, or physical, the adrenal glands kick into high gear, pumping out cortisol and adrenaline so that you can survive. This stems back to the ancestral days when our forefathers were exposed to more life and death situations. The adrenal glands helped them to survive. When cortisol and adrenaline are secreted in higher amounts as a stress response, it causes your body to go into survival mode. Blood, oxygen, nutrients, and hormones are directed where they need to go in order to survive, such as the lungs, muscles, and heart.
In today’s times, most of those life and death stressors don’t exist. However, people are exposed to other types of stressors day in and day out. Long ago, after the immediate danger passed, the adrenals would calm down again. Also, there was no television, smart phones, or juggling jobs and family. Back then, adrenals had time to rest. With modern-day lifestyles and diets, the adrenals don’t understand that there’s a difference between a bear chasing you or your boss yelling at you. They still react by producing excess cortisol just like they did eons ago.
Too much cortisol caused by stress directly causes our tissues to no longer respond to our hormones. It creates a condition of hormonal resistance. This hormonal resistance can impact other hormones such as insulin, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA. At Dynamic Life Health Center, we measure your cortisol level and develop a treatment plan to help you combat stress and normalize your cortisol levels. High levels can produce some of the following symptoms:
- Feeling wired, but at the same time feeling tired
- Carbohydrate/sugar cravings
- Brain fog
- Thyroid hormone imbalance
- Imbalances throughout the entire endocrine system
Low Cortisol Levels (Adrenal Fatigue)
Cortisol levels should change throughout the day and be highest in the morning when waking, and then fall when the sun goes down. Melatonin (the sleep hormone) levels should rise in the evening preparing the body for sleep. Modern day living can prohibit the natural rhythm of the rise and fall of these hormones. Millions of people are chronically sleep deprived which not only disturbs the natural daily cycle, but also causes more stress, which then depletes the adrenal glands further and leads to Adrenal Fatigue. It turns into a vicious cycle. Creating time to relax and unplug is crucial to manage stress effectively. Common symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue can include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Insomnia (body clock is off)
- Digestive issues
- Weight gain, especially around abdominal area
- Inability to lose weight, despite exercising and eating clean
- Depression (serotonin levels can become depleted with adrenal fatigue)
- Brain fog
- Stomach pain
- Overall muscle weakness
- Severe energy dips throughout the day
- Energy surges before bedtime
- Dizziness when standing
- Low libido
- Compromised or weakened immune system
- Waking up exhausted even after a full night’s sleep
- Increased need for stimulants such as caffeine to get through the day
- Not feeling like you can cope with everyday stress
- Difficulty multitasking
- Feeling rundown and overwhelmed
- Decreased overall resilience
- Thyroid problems
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- Lack of motivation
- Weight loss
- Sugar and carbohydrate cravings
Cortisol testing is a crucial component to balancing all hormones, including thyroid and the sex hormones for both men and women. The reason for this is because adrenal health affects the entire endocrine system to such a degree that if this step is omitted, it is difficult to properly balance other hormones or achieve optimal health. Additionally, if the thyroid is not functioning properly, prescribing thyroid hormones without addressing cortisol and other adrenal hormones, can lead to adverse side effects.
Dr. Berutti is a hormone expert and understands the importance of finding all root causes of symptoms or unwellness that you may be experiencing. Deficiencies in adrenal hormones can wreak havoc on health which is why she always includes cortisol testing for her patients.
See Sample Reports Below of Cortisol Testing Results.
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When many patients come to see us, they have lost hope because they’ve felt unwell for so long and don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. It’s rewarding as a practitioner to be able to help so many people realize a much better “normal” and a regained sense of vitality!
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