Chronic stress causes adrenal fatigue and alters the healthy production of cortisol. A woman’s vitality can greatly suffer from this condition. Hormonal imbalances can be addressed by making lifestyle changes and seeing a hormone replacement specialist. Women’s levels of cortisol not only support many of a woman’s functions but also that of a growing fetus if she’s pregnant.
We’re all familiar with that feeling of a sudden and startling event. Our heart races, we become alert and get ready to react to the danger. This is known as the “fight or flight” response or simply the stress response. It can happen whether a tiger is chasing after us like in the old days, or if you have a confrontation with your boss.
Coming close to getting into a vehicle accident can trigger this response, as well as trying to meet a deadline for school. The point is that the “fight or flight” response can get triggered by major dangerous events or minor incidences. The body reacts the same by firing off stress hormones.
We live very hectic lives and it has made us prone to chronic stress. Our stress hormones are over-used and being depleted. We’re left with fatigue and other symptoms that affect our quality of life. As a woman, trying to juggle the roles of being a mother and taking care of all of our family, our careers, dealing with our female physiology, and balancing our self-care can become a bit overwhelming at times.
This article will discuss how women can maintain a healthy hormonal balance and ensure that they can safely navigate through our fast-paced culture while enjoying their vitality and feeling like they’re thriving.
What is Cortisol?
Our endocrine system manages the chemical messages carried by hormones throughout our body. Internal glands located in various parts of our system produce hormones. The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys and produce the hormones that regulate our immune system, metabolism, response to stress, blood pressure, and other important functions.
When cortisol is low, the pituitary gland sends a signal to the adrenal glands to stimulate them to produce more. Along with the adrenal glands and the pituitary gland, the secretion of cortisol is also controlled by the hypothalamus. The collaboration of these three glands is referred to as the HPA axis.
One of the steroid hormones produced by the adrenal glands to manage various parts of the female physiology is cortisol otherwise known as the “stress hormone.” However, it deals with much more besides stress. Understanding all of its functions will help you maintain its balance and achieve optimum health.
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What Does Cortisol Do?
There are cortisol receptors all throughout our bodies, which is why the hormone affects a great part of our physiology.
Here are some of its functions in the female body:
- Controls blood glucose levels
- Regulates metabolism
- Reduces inflammation
- Aids in the formation of memories
- Maintains the salt/water balance
- Controls blood pressure
- Promotes the well-being of the growing fetus during pregnancy
What Are the Symptoms of a Cortisol Imbalance
When the body is under stress, cortisol is fired off providing critical support for the body in the short-term. The problem arises when cortisol becomes excessively triggered due to chronic stress. The adrenal glands are overworked leading to adrenal fatigue, a medical condition technically called hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis dysfunction (HPA).
Increased levels of stress create high levels of cortisol creating undesirable symptoms that interfere with almost all of our body functions. Cortisol doesn’t remain elevated, in fact, it eventually depletes and we experience a deficiency. If the imbalance is not corrected, it can significantly diminish our physical health and emotional well-being.
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Issues That Arise From Elevated Cortisol
Cortisol imbalances can create tumors in the adrenal glands or pituitary gland, a disease called Cushing syndrome. It is characterized by elevated cortisol in the bloodstream.
Elevated cortisol can impact a woman’s in various ways including:
- High blood pressure
- Rapid weight gain
- Muscle weakness
- Changes in mood, irritability, anxiety, and depression
- High blood pressure
- Flushed and rounded face
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How Does Cortisol Affect Women When It is Low?
In contrast, low levels of cortisol can create a disease called Addison disease or primary adrenal insufficiency. It is a rare autoimmune disease that damages the adrenal glands. There’s a slow and gradual onset of symptoms, but it can become a very serious condition.
Symptoms of low cortisol may include:
- Changes in sex drive and menstrual cycle
- Depression and anxiety
- Chronic fatigue
- Darkened skin on skin folds and scars and other skin changes
- Nausea, vomit, and diarrhea
- Low blood pressure
- Loss of weight and appetite
- Muscle weakness that becomes worse
How is a Cortisol Imbalance Diagnosed?
Once you suspect an imbalance from experiencing persistent symptoms, you can speak with a physician about a possible hormonal imbalance. Cortisol in the blood is measured by taking a urine test, running blood work, or testing the saliva.
Since cortisol fluctuates throughout the day, these tests can sometimes be done twice the same day, in the morning and late afternoon. The blood test is usually the primary way to get a sample, followed up by urine or saliva tests to confirm the results.
The lab work along with the manifestation of your symptoms will be enough to determine if you’re suffering from either low or high levels of cortisol in your system.
Try to be as relaxed as possible before the test so that any stressors of the day don’t alter your levels of cortisol. Be sure to disclose with your doctor all your medical history, including family genetics as well as if you’re on medications including birth control pills.
If you’re experiencing any symptoms, it is helpful for you to start to keep a journal that details what you experience, the frequency, and intensity. The more information you bring your doctor, the easier he/she will be able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
Your physician may follow up the lab results with imagining tests of the pituitary and adrenal glands to see if there are tumors or other anatomical changes.
How to Approach Treatment for Abnormal Cortisol Levels
The first thing on your list should be to be calm and feel certain that you are on your way to healing and feeling your best. Having this mindset will help you with the lifestyle changes ahead that will lead you to maintain a healthy hormonal balance.
At HealthGAINS, we provide you with the support and resources you need to get back into a healthful state. There are various treatments that our medical team may suggest including hormone replacement therapies that can assist your body while it reaches balance. By using these therapies in combination with lifestyle changes, you’ll find symptom relief and will allow your endocrine system to receive the boost it needs to support all your body functions.
Ensuring the following factors are adapted into your life will create a healthy long-term cortisol balance:
- Decrease stress in your life and learn how to approach it.
- Do deep breathing techniques throughout the day.
- Exercise regularly with activities that include stretching and relaxation.
- Eat a nutritious diet and drink plenty of water.
Adopting new habits alone won’t give you immediate relief. The process to recovery is gradual and you may need the assistance of natural bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). We take all these factors into account and because we know that treatment is only the beginning of the healing and not the end, we provide ongoing support which includes constant monitoring and adjustment to ensure you experience the best possible outcomes from treatment.
What Should You Ask Your Doctor?
If you haven’t felt like yourself for a while, you must see a doctor to rule out any hormonal imbalances. During your consultation, you can get answers that will help you understand what may be happening to you and how you can start to recover.
Ask the following questions:
- How does cortisol fluctuate throughout the day?
- What other conditions can influence my cortisol levels?
- How can I manage my cortisol levels to maintain long-term health?
- What tests do I need to determine what is happening to me?
- How can I find relief from my symptoms?
How You Can Take Action
Immediately write down all your symptoms, medications, herbal remedies, nutrition, and family history. This information is the first crucial step to feeling like your “old self” again.
At HealthGAINS, we’ve built an expert team of the world’s foremost key opinion leaders in the treatment of hormone imbalances through the use of innovative and effective therapies including hormone replacement therapy. Our expert medical team is highly trained in hormone imbalances and use state-of-the-art diagnostic testing which is how we are able to provide each patient with a unique treatment plan that suits their goals.
Call us today at 305-682-1818 to speak with one of our Wellness Advisors who can help to answer any lingering questions or assist you in setting up your first free consultation.