Cortisol has a bad reputation. Dubbed “the stress hormone,” it’s tagged as the causative factor for belly fat and stress-related disorders. And it’s true that excess cortisol over long periods of time can cause breakdown of bone and muscle, and it can lead to fatigue, weakness, and emotional problems. But that’s not the end of the story.
Cortisol plays a vital role during times of stress, and is important for proper immune system function. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects — think of cortisone shots and prednisone prescriptions — and is involved in every aspect of metabolism of our macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates). In adrenal gland fatigue or insufficiency, LACK of cortisol has been linked to extreme fatigue, allergies, arthritis, weight gain, and low brain function.
Cortisol levels should follow a normal circadian rhythm, with a peak level in early morning, followed by a gradual decline to reach the lowest level by midnight. When cortisol follows this rhythm as designed, we have energy in the morning and can fall asleep easily at night. If it does not follow this rhythm (for example, if it spikes at night time, or does not reach a peak in the morning,) our entire wake-sleep cycle is affected.
So how do you know if your health problem is cortisol-related? And how do you know if it’s too low, too high, or out-of-rhythm? The answer is simple: TEST IT.
Cortisol testing involves a simple saliva sample. We usually ask our patients to do four throughout the day to track their circadian rhythm. We also measure DHEA, which is another adrenal hormone that is very important in staving off early aging, and in balancing the effects of cortisol. If sleep is an issue, we can add melatonin testing to the testing panel. Melatonin is one of the most powerful antioxidants known to man, and has been used to help with other disorders such as migraine headaches.
This is one of the simplest lab tests you could ever do, and the information you get back could be life-changing. Here are a few key reasons to CONSIDER TESTING YOUR CORTISOL LEVELS:
- Inability to handle stress
- Insomnia (inability to get to sleep or stay asleep)
- Adrenal gland dysfunction
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Inability to lose weight or gain weight
- Osteopenia or osteoporosis
- Low muscle tone
- Joint dysfunction
- Frequent infections
- Brain fog
- Memory loss
- Frequent headaches
- Low mood, mood swings, or irritability
- Prednisone or cortisone use, current or past
If your symptoms match any of the above, it’s time to take action. Contact Dr. Engelbart today to enquire about testing your cortisol levels.