When your cortisol levels are high or low, your mood and health can be affected. You can use at-home cortisol tests to measure your hormone levels and interpret your results before visiting your doctor.
These tests can help you identify and treat any underlying problems causing your stress. They’re also a great way to prevent chronic stress from impacting your body and mind.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is one of your body’s many glucocorticoids (steroid hormones). It is made in the adrenal glands and then released into the bloodstream, which travels all around the body. It affects almost every cell and can do various things depending on the type of cells it works with.
It helps control blood sugar levels, regulating metabolism and influencing memory formation. It also helps with water and salt balance, affects blood pressure, acts as an anti-inflammatory and assists in developing a fetus during pregnancy.
However, when too much is produced, it can have a detrimental effect on your health. It can slow down certain functions of the immune system, digestive system and reproductive system.
This is why it is often called the stress hormone. Your adrenal glands, hypothalamus, and pituitary glands in the brain produce it.
Your body produces more cortisol when you are feeling stressed or anxious. Typically, the highest amounts are secreted in the morning and taper off during the day.
But the exact relationship between the time of day and the cortisol level varies from person to person. This is due to your internal biological clock, which can make you react differently under stress.
Your body senses when it has too high or too low cortisol and signals this to your adrenal glands, causing them to adjust their hormone production. If you are experiencing a stressful event or other situation that causes your body to release cortisol, it is essential to manage this to protect your health and well-being.
How Does Cortisol Work?
Your body produces cortisol as a response to physical and psychological stress. The body’s release of the hormone occurs as a part of the “fight or flight” response, but it also regulates various daily processes and metabolism.
When it’s released, it stimulates a process called gluconeogenesis, which increases blood glucose levels to fuel the cells. Glucose is then converted into energy for the muscles, heart and other tissues.
During short-term (acute) stress, cortisol can temporarily inhibit the immune system and limit inflammation. This is because the glucocorticoid receptor in immune cells switches off the production of pro-inflammatory molecules, such as IL-1 and TNF-a, but enhances the production of anti-inflammatory ones, including IL-10.
High cortisol levels can lead to a weaker immune system and chronic inflammation in the long term. This is why managing cortisol levels is essential to a healthy lifestyle. You must also know how to test cortisol levels at home.
Your cortisol levels rise and fall naturally throughout the day. However, this pattern can be altered if you work irregular shifts or need to sleep more. Diseases that affect the adrenal glands, pituitary gland or hypothalamus can also disrupt this normal pattern.
Cortisol helps control your metabolism, which is how your body breaks down carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It also prevents your heart rate and blood pressure. Stress can increase your appetite and make you want to eat more. Keeping your cortisol levels balanced is crucial for maintaining a healthy weight, immunity and overall well-being.
What Does High Cortisol Mean?
When your cortisol levels are high, you’re more prone to anxiety and depression. It can also lead to weight gain and muscle weakness.
In a healthy person, cortisol fluctuates throughout the day. It is typically higher in the morning and lower at night.
It is also called the “stress hormone” because it prepares your body for “fight or flight.” When you have a lot of stress, this can cause cortisol to become too high.
The cause of high cortisol is usually due to a condition in your pituitary gland (adrenal insufficiency) or your adrenal gland (Cushing syndrome). Cushing syndrome can occur due to the long-term use of certain medications like prednisone or the development of tumors in the adrenal glands.
Symptoms of too much cortisol include weight gain, muscle weakness and fatigue. It can also cause the darkening of the skin.
This can also affect your hormones, including estrogen, testosterone and thyroid function. If you are a woman, it can affect your menstrual cycle and increase the risk of pregnancy problems.
Reducing stress and staying active is the best way to lower cortisol levels. Try exercising regularly and avoiding caffeine, sugar and processed foods as much as possible. Meditation and yoga can also help decrease your stress levels. Make sure you get a regular massage as well to relax your muscles.
What Does Low Cortisol Mean?
Cortisol is produced naturally in your adrenal glands and brain as a part of your body’s fight or flight response to stress. Usually, the highest cortisol levels are released in the morning and gradually decrease throughout the day.
However, sometimes this hormone can become abnormally high due to chronic stress or a medical condition. This can lead to various symptoms and problems, including fatigue, weight gain, sleep issues, digestive issues, and other adverse side effects.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to normalize your cortisol levels. These include working with a psychologist, exercising regularly, practicing mindfulness, and ensuring sufficient rest.
Another option is to lower your overall stress by changing the things causing you to feel stressed in the first place, such as diet and lifestyle. Practicing meditation or journaling, reducing caffeine and alcohol, and eating an anti-inflammatory diet are all important.
When it comes to cortisol, if you feel like you have low levels, the best thing you can do is get tested. The results of this test can help your doctor determine what is causing you to have these symptoms and develop an effective treatment plan.