Managing your stress will help keep your cortisol levels balanced. This is important, as chronically elevated cortisol levels accelerates aging – most noticeable in those over 50.
Resident Medical Authority: J. E. Williams, OMD, FAAIM
There is a lot of talk about adrenal fatigue, collapsed adrenals, exhausted adrenals; but, even in my clinical practice based on patients with chronic disease – including plenty of chronic fatigue syndrome cases – it’s actually uncommon to find a patient with adrenal burn out. Most often, instead of finding patients with complete adrenal hormone deficiency, I find an array of adrenal hormone imbalances, with some patients tending towards abnormal adrenal diurnal cycles, and others with too much adrenal hormones, especially cortisol.
Cortisol, or hydrocortisone, is a steroid hormone, or glucocorticoid, produced in the adrenal cortex. It is released in response to stress; so is often called the “stress hormone.” Its primary functions are to increase blood sugar; suppress an over active immune system; and aid in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism. It also decreases bone formation, so too much is not good for those with osteoporosis.
During the stress response, adrenaline goes up and so does cortisol. Even pre-competition jitters are associated with a rise in cortisol. Strenuous exercise increases cortisol release, as does too much caffeine, and lack of sleep. The long term, insidious stresses of modern living, like freeway driving, overworking, and excess caffeine consumption lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels. Too much cortisol has profound affects on the brain. The areas most affected are the hypothalamus and hippocampus – the part of your brain that helps you adjust to anxiety-producing situations. Too much cortisol, over time, accelerates aging by preventing the brain from creating and regenerating new brain cells. These effects are most noticeable in those over age 50.
Get to know your adrenal health by getting a blood test for fasting cortisol and DHEA-Sulfate, another important adrenal hormone. Both blood and salivary tests are useful in determining your adrenal health. Optimal levels for cortisol in serum are in the lower half of the normal range and in the upper half for DHEA-Sulfate. This provides for a healthy DHEA-Cortisol ratio.
Healthy Cortisol Levels, Serum (Blood Test)
|Normal Range AM||6.2-19.4 µg/dL|
|Desirable Levels AM||6.2-15.0|
|Optimal Levels AM||6.2-10.0|
Healthy DHEA-Sulfate levels are gender and age-matched. But, even as men and women age, you don’t want your level to be lower than 150. For women, at least 200 is better, and for men, 250-350 is an ideal range.
Normal Reference Values for DHEA-Sulfate
If your cortisol level is 17.0 and greater in the morning, without having breakfast and no exercise, you may be too high. If your level is over 21.0, you are definitely too high. Get started on a cortisol-managing program by lowering stress, getting regular exercise, balancing your blood sugar, and getting enough rest and deep sleep. Sex is another way to distress and manage cortisol. Single, random sexual encounters tend to spike cortisol (likely caused by the stresses associated with such meetings), but regular sex reduces cortisol, promotes health brain cell regeneration, and decreases anxiety.
Supplements that help lower cortisol include magnesium (250-500 mg daily), omega-3 fatty acids (1,000-3,000 mg daily), and soy-derived phosphatidylserine (100-300 mg daily). Vitamin C is good for adrenal health and may blunt cortisol production. Adaptogenic herbs like Rhodiola rosea, are also useful in regulating adrenal gland health as adaptogens have anti-fatigue and anti-stress properties that increase mental alertness and improve physical performance.
Green and black tea also can lower cortisol, but it’s still not clear whether the positive effect on cortisol is from the chemical compounds in tea or from the calming effect when making tea. One Japanese study of women over age 50 who regularly practiced the Japanese tea ceremony found a longevity effect. In a stressed-out world, it appears that the ritual of boiling water, adding tea leaves, inhaling the delicious aroma, and taking the time to sit down and slowly sip the tea may be almost as beneficial as the brew itself.
Regardless of how you do it, keep your cortisol levels steady: not to high and not too low. And, don’t underestimate your adrenal glands, they often are not as weak as you think, and your fatigue might just be from imbalance of hormones from stressed out adrenals rather than wiped out adrenal glands.
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