Cortisol is a commonly known hormone produced in the adrenal gland that sits on top of the kidney. Cortisol follows a daily pattern in which it rises rather rapidly in the first 10-30 minute after waking, increasing energy, then gradually decreases throughout the day so that it is low at night for sleep.
The cycle restarts the following morning.
In addition to being a factor in establishing diurnal rhythm, the production of cortisol is increased when the “fight or flight” response is triggered. This response is triggered in stressful situations.
What does cortisol do?
Cortisol effects metabolism by increasing blood sugar from the body’s stores. It also influences the immune system by preventing the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation.
When individuals are under chronic stress, cortisol can become persistently elevated and lead to symptoms including:
Anxiety, depression, irritability.
- Elevated cortisol influences enzymes and receptors for neurotransmitters which have effects on mood and emotion.
Carbohydrate, fat and/or salt cravings.
- Cortisol is one of the hormones that raises blood pressure, it modulates brain regions that stimulate hunger for sodium and energy rich food. High sugar and high fat foods quiet the stress response because they trigger a dopamine release as a way to self-soothe by making us feel temporarily better.
High blood sugar and insulin resistance.
- Cortisol raises blood sugar by signalling the production of blood sugar by the liver while at the same time opposing the action of insulin. This means that although there is high blood sugar, the body isn’t able to use it.
Weight gain, especially in the abdominal region.
- Cortisol opposes the actions of leptin, the hormone that tells us we are full after eating. At the same time, excess in blood sugaris converted to fat.
High blood pressure.
- Cortisol triggers increased ingestion and retention of salt.
Insomnia and sleep disturbances
- Cortisol can become dysregulated, rising in the evening (“10pm second wind” and difficulty falling asleep) and failing to spike in the morning (struggle getting up in the morning).
Hormonal imbalances and infertility.
- Cortisol can inhibit the production of ovarian estrogen and progesterone. It can also decrease the frequency of ovulation.
Irritable bowel syndrome
- Cortisol can cause decreased intestinal blood flow and altered movement of the gastrointestinal tract which leads to changes in the gut microflora.
If you suffer from any of the above symptoms and have a moderate degree of stress in your life- your cortisol levels may be a contributing factor.
Along with thorough intake, the naturopathic doctors at Annex Naturopathic Clinic use a specialized diagnostic test called an adrenal hormone profile to objectively assess cortisol production and metabolism.
Furthermore, NDs can help restore balance through lifestyle recommendations, herbal medicine and targeted nutritional supplementation.
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