Space-filling model of the cortisol molecule, ...

Space-filling model of the cortisol molecule, a steroid hormone that controls the body’s response to stress. Colour code (click to show) : Black: Carbon, C : White: Hydrogen, H : Red: Oxygen, O (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone (gluco=stimulates levels of glucose (blood sugar) and corticoid=secreted by the adrenal cortex) that is involved in many critical body functions.  For most of us, the peak levels of cortisol in our body are reached between 6:00 AM and 8:00 AM, and then it gradually declines until about midnight (so we can get to sleep) and then starts gradually increasing through the night until 8:00 AM (so we can get our day started).

In moments of stress, cortisol and corticosterone play an important role by activating processes to increase the amount of fat and sugar in the bloodstream which is used by the brain as fuel to help the body deal with the stress.  After the stress, the body once again seeks to obtain homeostasis.

However, there is increasing evidence that for many of us, the stress reaction that triggers the release of cortisol is not just in response to a physical threat to our existence, but it can be also caused by events that continually occur in our daily lives.  Instead of homeostasis being obtained by the body returning to its condition before the stress, the body is always seeking to react to stress and this can lead to uncomfortable and serious problems.

CORTISOL FUNCTIONS 

Some of the more important functions of cortisol are:
Anti-inflammatory properties that aid most of the body’s tissues to combat inflammation caused by things like insect bites, allergies and even simple scratches, and the lack of sufficient cortisol has been implicated in arthritis and fibromyalgia;
• Moderation of white cell activities that, without cortisol, will often lead to excessive tissue destruction, while too much cortisol may lead to a deficiency in needed white blood cells to control infections and disease;
Blood pressure moderation because it affects the contraction of the artery walls;
• Moderation of blood sugar (glucose) levels.

ELEVATED CORTISOL LEVELS

In The Cortisol Connection, Dr. Shawn Talbott set forth conditions believed to be caused by elevated cortisol levels:
• Increased appetite and food cravings;
• Increased body fat;
• Decreased muscle mass;
• Decreased bone density;
• Increased anxiety;
• Increased depression;
Mood swings (anger and irritability)
• Reduced libido (sex drive);
• Impaired immune response;
• Memory and learning impairment;
• Increased symptoms of premenstrual syndrome;
• Increased menopausal side-effects (hot flashes, night sweats).

TOO LOW CORTISOL LEVELS

The most frequent cause of low cortisol is what is referred to as “adrenal fatigue”.  This is normally caused when your adrenal glands have been releasing cortisol in response to stress for an extended period of time, and the adrenals are no longer able to create cortisol even for normal bodily functions.  Some of the symptoms are:
• Weight gain;
• Reduced libido (sex drive);
• Mood swings;
• Impairment of ability to concentrate;
• Increased anxiety;
• Higher incidence of disease;
• Fatigue;
Insomnia;
• Salt cravings;
• Irregular heart beat;
• Muscle weakness;
Hypoglycemia.