Friday, July 29, 2016

Is this why you are tired?

Do you have a hard time getting going in the morning?  Do you have an energy crash in the afternoon?  And then, after feeling tired all day, do you get a second wind late in the evening and have a hard time falling asleep?  If so, you certainly aren't alone!

Cortisol is your stress hormone.  If you have a sudden stressful experience, like being late for an important appointment and getting stuck in traffic, your cortisol level goes up to help you cope with the stress.  Then when you get there and everything turns out ok, your cortisol level goes back down to normal.  This is a normal stress response.

The problem is that in our modern world we tend to have lots of little stresses all day long.  In the past, our stresses were things like being chased by a saber-toothed tiger and having to run for our life. The physical activity (running) helped us to clear the extra stress hormones from our system.  Today our stresses typically don't involve running for our life - they are much more likely to involve fuming at the slow traffic while we sit in our car worrying about being late for our appointment.  The end result can be chronically elevated cortisol levels.

When we are thinking about stresses it is important to realize that we don't just include the emotional stressors.  You are typically well aware of those - family issues, work stress, etc.  But physical stressors count as well - things like allergies, chronic back pain, insomnia, nutritional deficiencies and hormonal imbalances.  And you can have stresses on your system without being aware - for example toxins in the environment.  It is very common in our modern world to have high stress burdens.

If cortisol levels remain chronically elevated health problems can follow.  High cortisol may promote fatigue, mood symptoms including depression and anxiety, food cravings, weight gain, insomnia, high blood pressure, bone loss, poor memory, impaired immune system function and increased menopausal symptoms.  In a nutshell, high cortisol is a wear and tear hormone; it ages you at an accelerated rate.    You have probably witnessed this - people who have lived under extremely stressful conditions often look older than their biological age.

Over time, cortisol levels may drop inappropriately.  If you now have insufficient amounts of cortisol to meet your body's daily demands problems can get even worse.  This is when you start to feel really exhausted, have difficulty coping with stress and feel like little things (that shouldn't really be stressful) feel somewhat overwhelming.

Do you think you may have a cortisol problem?  Here is what can be done.

Your cortisol level can be measured in a saliva or urine test.  We prefer to measure your level at multiple times during the day, since the levels change - they should be higher in the morning to help you wake up and lower at night to help you fall asleep.   We commonly find low levels in the morning and high levels at bedtime - when your daily pattern is backwards, no wonder it is hard to wake up and hard to fall asleep!

Reducing your stress is important.  Breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, walking, laughter and heartfelt prayer are good examples of stress management techniques.  Sometimes reducing stress is not easy.  Please talk to us if you need help.

Caffeine, alcohol and sugar may make you feel a little better in the short term, but in the long term they are not helpful and should be minimized.  Supporting cortisol levels can improve your energy so you don't need to rely on caffeine to keep you moving.

There are a number of supplements that are very helpful, and which ones we recommend for you depend on your symptoms and the pattern of your cortisol levels.  Ashwagadha, rhodiola and holy basil are examples of herbs that are typically safe and beneficial regardless of whether your cortisol is too high or too low.

If you have having symptoms that are affecting your quality of life, and would like to be evaluated to see if cortisol may be a problem for you, please contact the office for further information at 704-752-9346 or  You can also find more information at

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