Stress Hormones & The Cortisol Curve

Your stress hormones have a big impact on how your body functions and feels. Depending on your individual physiology, this will either help & protect you from stress, or have the opposite effect.

Cortisol is the body’s main hormone to help the body manage stress, and it’s secreted regardless of the type of stress – physical (bad food choices, food sensitivities, exercise, injuries etc.), or mental/emotional (overthinking about work, anxiety, depression, financial worries, marital woes etc.). 

Cortisol is supposed to fluctuate throughout the day, and has an ideal secretion pattern. It should be high in the morning, slowly dip throughout the day, have another small peak in the afternoon, and drop down close to zero overnight (see pic below).

Lots of things cause a person’s cortisol curve to shift out of shape, but the number one thing is chronic stress. 

In my practice, I routinely test a person’s cortisol levels with a 4-point salivary cortisol test – this means we get to map out a person’s stress levels and compare it to the ideal pattern. I use different combinations of adaptogenic herbs & vitamins depending on the pattern that I see to help them re-balance.

Many people have cortisol that’s completely flatlined (likely to feel tired all day); others have it chronically elevated (causes anxiety), and some have their curve shifted so that it’s hard to get out of bed and leaving them feeling tired and wired when it’s time to sleep. They have afternoon fatigue from 3-5pm, and crave coffee or sweets at this time because they’re lacking their second cortisol spike.

Cortisol helps protect our cells from stress when it’s secreted during times of actual need & according to this ideal pattern. But if dysregulated, it can impact a lot of body systems. One biggie is that helps regulate your blood sugar, so cravings for sweets are an indication that it’s out of whack. It will also be really hard to lose weight if your cortisol is off.

There can be life after burnout. You can learn to use your stress levels to your advantage. When your cortisol is right, you feel more calm, focused, and rested. You sleep well and have the energy you need throughout the day. Contact me for more info.

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