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Cortisol, friend or foe?

What is it?

Think Cortisol, think muscles and energy! Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands, in response to stress, in both the acute stress response and chronic stress. You know the type of stress you get when a car nearly swipes you on the curb, and when you are so fatigued at the end of a busy year you just feel exhausted. Cortisol in turn acts on different parts of the body to increase your body’s metabolism of glucose (energy boost), controls your blood pressure and reduces inflammation.

This is a normal physiological process which is protective. However, when it is released consistently over time, it becomes unhealthy. Leading to many imbalances.

Where does it come from?

At the top of both of your kidneys there is a small gland called the adrenal gland. It responds to feedback from the pituitary gland in the brain, to release cortisol into the bloodstream, in response to the body’s demand and in a healthy person, this is usually in balance.

What if you release too much?

In this case, weight gain, (particularly around the face and abdomen), irregularities in the female cycle and female facial hair production, thinning skin that becomes fragile and acne can occur. This condition is known as Cushing’s syndrome.

What if you don’t release enough?

Low energy can be a symptom of many things, one of which too little cortisol release can be one of them. Getting a blood test can be easy to do, and can rule out other causes such as anaemia, thyroid issues and electrolyte imbalances. With Addison’s Disease (the medical term for low cortisol) vague other symptoms can also be present such as nausea and vomiting, weight loss, abdominal pain and muscle weakness. You can see how it may be confused with other conditions.

Adrenal fatigue is another thing to think about too, often referred to as the 21st Century Disease, it is more frequently considered now with our busier lifestyles. The only way to test for this is through a saliva test. Seek out a GP who is willing to do this for you.

So, cortisol has many functions, and the symptoms of high and low cortisol can often be mistaken for other conditions. Know your body, and if you are not sure, see a GP who will listen to all your symptoms (you need to be good at describing them too!), or have a chat with me!

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