Stress hormones are a critical factor in both aging and health. Cortisol can cause many problems in the body when it is elevated, and reducing cortisol is one of the most important ways to ensure good emotional and physical health.
What Is a Stress Hormone and What Do They Do?
The two primary hormones involved in your stress response are cortisol and nor-epinephrine. These are produced in your adrenal glands in response to emotional or physical stress. On this page I am going to focus on cortisol, which is the more problematic of the two for your health.
Nor epinephrine acts as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter, depending on what is happening physiologically in your body. It helps create that burst of energy your body needs to meet challenging situations.
Cortisol has important functions in your body and normal levels of it are essential for you to function. In normal levels it performs these functions:
As you can see this hormone is essential for good health. It is chronically elevated cortisol levels that are the problem, and why you must from time to time engage in strategies for reducing cortisol.
How is Cortisol Measured and What are Normal Levels?
Measuring stress hormones, specifically cortisol in humans is somewhat difficult, because normal levels vary between individuals, and also fluctuate throughout the day. Blood, urine, and saliva tests can be used to measure levels of this hormone.
The information here regarding testing and reference ranges for normal levels is for reference purposes. Testing and evaluation of your levels of stress hormones needs to be done by a qualified medical practitioner.
A doctor administering these tests must also determine what the cause is for the elevated cortisol levels. There are many things that can raise the levels, including Cushing’s Syndrome and Addison’s Disease.
Abnormally high cortisol levels could indicate that there is excess production of ACTH by your pituitary gland. Low levels could indicate that your adrenal glands are not functioning properly.
Levels tend to be highest in the morning and drop down to their lowest levels at night before bedtime. Stressful events such as emotional trauma, injuries, ect., will raise the levels of stress hormones, so care must be taken to eliminate these causes to get an accurate indication of your levels on a daily basis.
Cortisol levels are expressed as mcg/dL (micrograms per deciliter).
The standard for normal values taken at approximately 8:00am are a range of: 6 - 23 mcg/dL
Cortisol testing is really too complex to do yourself, because of the range of values and how they differ from person to person. What you can and should do is to focus on reducing cortisol, using strategies to lower your stress levels.
Problems from Chronically Elevated Cortisol
When levels of hormones released in response to physical or emotional stress are high for prolonged periods of time, there is a shift in your body’s hormonal chemistry that starts to break down muscle tissue and store fat.
This dramatically weakens your immune system leaving you vulnerable to infection, heart disease, and cancers. It can result in stress insomnia and negatively impacts ALL of your body’s systems and begins to destroy your health.
The best example of what elevated stress hormones can do when they remain high is what you see in a person who has late stage cancer or AIDS. This is what actually kills people with those diseases, and is why you MUST not allow these hormones to remain high for long periods of time.
Action Steps for Reducing Stress Hormones
Hormones that are produced in response to stress are of course natural and necessary. Too little of them and your body cannot function properly. However when they are chronically (constantly) elevated, they start to negatively impact your health.
Your job as a person engaged in maintaining a healthy lifestyle is to minimize your levels of cortisol by relaxation, diet, and proper exercise.
Here are some strategies for reducing cortisol:
Reducing cortisol is important for your health and longevity, since most of the time in our busy modern lives the levels will tend to be elevated. Focus on the remedy for elevated cortisol rather than exactly what your levels are.
There is so much evidence that high levels of stress can have a very negative impact on all aspects of your physical and mental health. Make it your priority to reduce the levels of stress hormones. Your body will reward you with a longer and much happier life!