Cortisol & Adrenal Function

Cortisol is a life sustaining adrenal hormone essential to the maintenance of homeostasis. Called “the stress hormone,” cortisol influences, regulates or modulates many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stress including, but not limited to:

  • Blood sugar (glucose) levels
  • Fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism to maintain blood glucose (gluconeogenesis)
  • Immune responses
  • Anti-inflammatory actions
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart and blood vessel tone and contraction
  • Central nervous system activation

Cortisol levels normally fluctuate throughout the day and night in a circadian rhythm that peaks at about 8 AM and reaches it lowest around 4 AM. While it is vital to health for the adrenals to secret more cortisol in response to stress, it is also very important that bodily functions and cortisol levels return to normal following a stressful event. Unfortunately, in our current high-stress culture, the stress response is activated so often that the body does not always have a chance to return to normal.* This can lead to health problems resulting from too much circulating cortisol and/or from too little cortisol if the adrenal glands become chronically fatigued (adrenal fatigue).

Higher and more prolonged levels of circulating cortisol (like those associated with chronic stress) have been shown to have negative effects, such as:*

  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Dampened thyroid function
  • Blood sugar imbalances, such as hyperglycemia
  • Decreased bone density
  • Sleep disruption
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Lowered immune function
  • Slow wound healing
  • Increased abdominal fat, which has a stronger correlation to certain health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), which can lead to other health problems.*

Chronically lower levels of circulating cortisol (as in adrenal fatigue) have been associated with negative effects, such as:*

  • Brain fog, cloudy-headedness and mild depression
  • Low thyroid function
  • Blood sugar imbalances, such as hypoglycemia
  • Fatigue – especially morning and mid-afternoon fatigue
  • Sleep disruption
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lowered immune function
  • Inflammation