Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and is one of the major hormones in the body. We have major and minor hormonal systems in the body. The majors are essential to life whereas, minor hormones are responsible for fine-tuning and feeling of well-being.
Each hormonal system communicates with the other and needs to be in balance for us to feel well and for our bodies to work at optimum.
Without cortisol we would die. It holds three essential and powerful properties that keep us alive, it increases blood sugar, therefore energy, it stablises blood pressure, and importantly, it neutralises inflammation. If a major hormone is deficient or missing, there should be no ifs or buts about restoring it to optimal levels, or resetting its balance!
Cortisol the stress hormone
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. Today the world is full of stressful situations on a daily basis, from a hectic, challenging day at work to arguing with a teenage daughter about her behaviour and way of dress. Not fair, I remember how I used to dress. ‘No comment’! Rush hour and traffic jams, are other stressors.
Cortisol is an energy giving hormone but more in response to stress. Its production increases in response to stress, it’s the body’s survival mechanism (this is a healthy adaptation), and pours when the ‘fight-or-flight’ situation is engaged. As stress pours on a continual basis nowadays, and is not reserved for when it is really need it, in such cases as life threatening cases, most people are walking around with high cortisol levels. This situation can eventually lead to adrenal fatigue syndrome, which will cause impaired secretion and regulation of cortisol – neither high (called cortisol dominance) or low cortisol levels are good, we need normal (balanced) levels.
Impaired cortisol levels have been connected to getting fat, in both women and men! Perimenopausal women’s bodies are under continual stress, due to the decline in female hormones (oestrogen(s) and progesterone), at that time. Generally, women have higher cortisol levels than men (women again!). Cortisol dominance, create a drastic situation of alternating high blood sugar and high insulin. Long term, the body loses its sensitivity to this ‘alternating cycle’ and we eventually become insulin resistant.
Stress ‘networking’ goes on and on in the body. This risky scenario of continual cortisol dominance, to elevated blood sugars, to the creation of insulin resistance is an important factor that contributes to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Stress blunts hormone production which in turn, create a myriad of health problems. Stress greatly affects the brain and can impair cognitive function. Also, continual cortisol dominance will eventually degrade our immune system. Watch out, colds, flu and even cancer!
There is a special relationship between cortisol and DHEA (DHEA is also secreted by the adrenal glands), known as the cortisol-DHEA ratio. This ratio is critical to optimal health. The cortisol-to-DHEA ratio decreases when we are calm, but increases when we are ill or under acute stress. Not only are optimal hormonal levels extremely important in restorative medicine, so are the ratios between them. When there is impaired cortisol secretion and regulation it can create an imbalance between the cortisol-DHEA ratio.
Please note. Relaxation techniques may help reduce stress, techniques such as: yoga, curling up with a good book, taking a hot bath, making time for sleep (a hormonal imbalance will make it very difficult to get a restful sleep) meditation, massage, and exercise, but stress management on a permanent basis is impossible to control until hormonal balance is restored.