If you are experiencing an immense amount of stress currently or have in the past and you seem to feel tired, or tired but wired, wake up unrefreshed from sleep and have little motivation to keep moving, it might be time to take a closer look at your adrenal function. Cortisol levels can fluctuate throughout the day and often the first morning levels can be normal and then the levels drop drastically through the day leaving you to feel like you can barely keep you eyes open by 3pm. The cortisol profile looks at morning, noon, evening and bedtime cortisol levels giving a very complete picture of when you will need the most support.
Adrenal Functional Panel Measures Cortisol Levels
The Adrenal Function Panel is one method for measuring the body’s ability to cope with stress. Basically, a stressor induces neuroendocrine cells to release corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF), which stimulates release of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) and triggers cortisol release. Prolonged exposure to stressors may result in what Dr. Hans Selye called General Adoption Syndrome, which consists of three major stages of adoption to stress.
The adrenal glands sit just above each kidney and are directly linked to the nervous system. The adrenal glands produce cortisol 24 hours per day with some variation throughout the day. Cortisol output is highest within the first hour of waking and declines steadily throughout the day, and reaches a low during sleep.
General Adaptation Syndrome – Dr. Hans Selye
STAGE 1 : Alarm Stage
In response to a stressor, the adrenal glands release adrenaline and noradrenaline along with cortisol and DHEA. Increased levels of these hormones enable the body to mount a response to the stressor. This results in the traditional “fight or flight” response.
STAGE 2: Resistance Stage
During this stage, higher than normal levels of cortisol stimulate the conversion of proteins fats and carbohydrates into energy, helping the body adapt to stress. However, a lengthy resistance stage is maladaptive, as sustained cortisol elevation increases the risk of developing stress related diseases. Symptoms of elevated cortisol may include: feeling tired but wired, difficulty sleeping and anxiety. Excess cortisol interferes with the action of progesterone and testosterone at receptor sites and could lead to symptoms of hormone imbalance.
STAGE 3: Exhaustion Stage
At this stage, the adrenal glands are no longer able to mount a suitable response to stress. Depletion of the adrenal gland reduces the production of cortisol, DHEA and aldosterone. DHEA levels likely decrease first, but deficiency symptoms are not well defined. Lack of aldosterone may result in hypokalemia (low potassium), hyponatremia (low sodium) and dehydration. Symptoms of low cortisol may include fatigue (especially morning fatigue), increased susceptibility to infection, and decreased recovery from exercise, allergies, hypoglycemia, burned out feeling, depression and decreased sex drive.
Why test salivary cortisol?
- Determines whether or not you are in the sages of early stage, resistance stage or exhaustion stage.
- Confirms the exact level of adrenal exhaustion
- Shows a dynamic cortisol effect in the body. Four specimens are obtained: morning (first hour of waking), before lunch, before dinner and before bedtime. The cortisol levels for each point are graphed according to the reference range for that time period.
- Saliva is an excellent medium for measurement of cortisol because, unlike blood and serum where venipuncture can cause an anticipatory rise in cortisol, collection of saliva does not and is non-invasive.