Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the cortex of the adrenal glands. In times of stressful situations, the adrenal glands secrete the “stress hormone” cortisol as part of your coping mechanism. This hormone is also released when your blood sugar levels fall below normal in order to maintain homeostasis (balance). In the morning, cortisol levels are at its highest and gradually decline throughout the day.
The primary functions of cortisol are the following:
In order to cope up with stressful situations, your body produces the right amount of cortisol. However, if you have a medical condition known as Cushing’s syndrome, your cortisol levels will remain elevated for prolonged periods of time. In this case, you may experience the following symptoms:
On the other hand, some people can also experience cortisol deficiency. Medical conditions such as adrenal insufficiency and Addison’s disease can cause low cortisol levels. If you have these conditions, you may experience the following symptoms:
If you experience any of these symptoms, consult with your doctor immediately to determine the best course of action. Typically, your doctor will conduct blood test, saliva test, and urine test to determine your cortisol levels. Your doctor may also order an MRI or CT scan if he or she suspects that a tumor is causing your cortisol imbalance.
If your body is not producing sufficient amounts of cortisol, your doctor may prescribe cortisol replacement therapy. When used as a medication, cortisol is known as hydrocortisone or corticosteroids. There is compelling evidence that restoring cortisol to healthy levels yields diverse health benefits:
One of the vital functions of cortisol is to restore body homeostasis by regulating blood sugar levels. Because of this ability, cortisol may help bring down elevated blood sugar levels, making it beneficial in patients with diabetes and those with uncontrolled blood sugar levels. There are several studies supporting the anti-diabetic effects of cortisol:
 Macfarlane DP, Forbes S, Walker BR. Glucocorticoids and fatty acid metabolism in humans: fuelling fat redistribution in the metabolic syndrome. J Endocrinol. 2008;197(2):189-204.
 Kamba A, Daimon M, Murakami H, et al. Association between Higher Serum Cortisol Levels and Decreased Insulin Secretion in a General Population. Nishimura W, ed. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(11):e0166077. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0166077.
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