Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Wisdom Wednesday: When Stress Hormone Falters, Your Health May Suffer
Steady daytime levels of the stress hormone cortisol are associated with serious health problems, such as inflammation, obesity and cancer, researchers say.
“Cortisol is naturally high in the morning to help perk you up, and it decreases into the evening,” said study lead author Emma Adam. She is a professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University.
“The loss of this cycle – or the lack of variation of cortisol – is what is associated with negative health outcomes in our study,” Adam said in a university news release. The researchers suspect that chronic stress may be behind the less variable cortisol levels. They call it “stress-related circadian dysregulation.”
For the research, the study team reviewed data from 80 studies. The investigators looked specifically at 12 health problems and found that 10 seemed associated with the loss of variation in cortisol levels.
“While inflammation and the immune system dysfunction had the strongest associations, fatigue, cancer, depression, and obesity were all worse in people who had less variation in their cortisol,” Adam said.
The findings suggest that restoring daily cortisol rhythms could benefit people’s health. “It’s the righting of the rhythms that are important, more so than the righting of levels,” the researchers wrote.
Adopting healthy habits – such as regular exercise and adequate sleep – are important steps in restoring strong daily cortisol rhythms, Adam and her colleagues said.
The results of the study appear in the September issue of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
This study reflects the focus of a large segment of my practice. Disruption of the daily cortisol rhythm is complicit is virtually every health issue.
Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and is highest in the morning as noted in the study. It gradually drops during the day. Cortisol reaches its low point just about midnight, then begins to rise again.
This circadian rhythm helps regulate the endocrine system. After midnight, as cortisol rises it stimulates the release of glycogen from the liver. This maintains your blood glucose as you are unable to eat while sleeping (unless you are taking Ambien). If the cortisol rises too quickly, then you wake and have difficulty falling back to sleep (maintenance insomnia). If you skip breakfast, then cortisol levels remain too high throughout the morning. By mid-afternoon if the cortisol drops too low, you will experience a drop in energy. Yes, that may be low blood sugar, but it is secondary to low cortisol, just to opposite of what can occur at night.
The Bottom Line:
Cortisol, the “stress hormone” is an important indicator of general health and stress adaptation. Measuring the serum levels on a single blood test has very little value. Instead, consider salivary testing or dried urine testing at specific times over the course of 24 hours. This will give you an accurate assessment of the circadian rhythm of cortisol.
Source: August 11, 2017 National Institutes of Health