Cortisol, the cyclic buzzword that continues to rear its ugly head in the health
conscious community, contributes to societies’ “belly fat”…or does it? Maybe
some give cortisol too much attention. Perhaps others do not give it enough.
Either way, one notion we can all nearly agree upon is that all hormones are
necessary and any hormone deficient or abundant and prolonged is sabatoging.
A quick google search or a lengthy research review will both result in the reader
scratching his or her head with conflicting information. That is part of the
problem…gender variability. Science always has gray areas of “it depends”.
What is known is we all need cortisol and the ideal scenario is for it to be high in
the am and trickle downwards throughout the day to support energy levels from
high to low. Secondarily, it is easy to see how a person’s work and life schedule
would also interfere with an “ideal” optimal scenario of cortisol production. The
signs and symptoms discussed below were extracted from the Power2Patient
portal that my physician uses.
Salt cravings, brown spots on the skin, easy bruising, hypothyroidism,
hypertension, responsibility avoidance, reduced cognition, sweaty palms and loss
of motivation are some of the signs and symptoms associated with both low and
high cortisol levels. A deficiency in cortisol is associated with libido,
hypoglycemia, , global joint and muscle pain, brain “fog” with forgetfulness, lack
of muscle tone/pumps, shakiness, poor appetite for protein, generalized pain,
emotional hypersensitivity, sweet cravings, fatigue with stress, hollow cheeks,
dark circles under the eyes, periorbital edema, brownish palms/armpit folds,
heavy armpit sweating, wetclammy soles, hair loss, GERD, depression,
hypotensive dizziness when standing, and headache.
Excessive cortisol is associated with moodiness, low libido, autoimmune disease,
prolonged sleep,fear, brown spots on face and neck and shoulders, fatigue after
exercise, moon phase, abdominal bloating/pain, shaking, osteoporosis, renal
stones, poor healing/thin/frail skin, worsening of allergies, gum disease, fat red
pads on palms and fingertips, less productivity, poor recovery, weakness, weight
gain, elevated reverse T3, hyperglycemia, decreased empathy, and anger
Personally, when I think about how I feel at the end of a contest prep when
cortisol levels innately are predominately highest, both of the above lists
certainly apply. It is impossible to completely control and truly know what the
body is doing at any given point of time constantly fluctuating to sustain as much
of a homeostatic environment as possible.
These lists demonstrate that both cortisol in deficiency and in excess can create
havoc for the body putting it in a state of hypo or hyperadrenalism respectively.
It is not always about lowering our hormones, it is about balance within normal
ranges. Laboratory testing through saliva, blood, urine will detect and can be
compared to known standardized values. Personally, I began having my blood
drawn when I turned 30 as I felt this was a “milestone” in my life to keep a check
on my internal health and also to only supplement with what I was truly
deficient in and correct my imbalances as best as possible. The above can
certainly provide indicators to “tip you off” in the right direction and get you at
least considering the state of your cortisol levels and maintaining an internal
“dialogue”. A thorough workup will allow you to put more objective “puzzle”
pieces together to better explain your individual “puzzle” and assist ultimately in
the steps needed to get everything “put together”.
Autumn Swansen, Physical Therapist, Doctor of PT
IFBB WPD Olympian and Arnold Champion
ISSA Certified Personal Trainer