What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a steroid and a stress hormone. Production of cortisol is stimulated when stress is triggered.
Cortisol plays an important role in the different metabolic processes in the body. Through its increased distribution in stress situations, it is able to provide energy by consuming sugar, fat and protein reserves. By immune processes cortisol also helps with its anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effect, and has an important function in maintaining the health of the body.
Excessively low cortisol levels
It is well known that chronic stress is unhealthy – and stress is in turn the most important impulse that causes the increase of the distribution of cortisol. If the cortisol levels are too high, symptoms can include immunodeficiencies, depression, physical exhaustion, metabolic disorders, diabetes, obesity and sleeping disorders. Excessively high cortisol levels can indeed cause unpleasant symptoms.
Just the same, excessively low cortisol levels can interfere with the well-being: Cortisol is vital. Apart from the provision of energy reserves, it also plays a role in the cardiovascular health, the gastrointestinal health, the immune system and brain functions. Chronically low cortisol levels should therefore be treated medically. A low cortisol level can also be an indicator for an infection in the adrenal cortex, a deficiency of the adrenal glands or adrenal fatigue; as it is produced in that area. A dysfunction of the pituitary gland can also be the cause for a low cortisol level, as the hormone ACTH is distributed there, which gives the adrenal cortex the impulse to distribute cortisol. It is advisable to have your cortisol levels tested, especially if you are quickly exhausted and suffer from fatigue, but also if you are generally experiencing unexplained health problems.
Cortisol and Burnout
Burnout describes the condition of prolonged, emotional exhaustion, as a reaction to chronic stress – people who are affected feel “burnt out”. In today's performance-orientated society, burnout is no longer a rarity. Every day work can for some people, ensure continues stress, which, in the beginning, leads to an intensive phase of cortisol distribution. However, if this phase drags on, the chronic stress can lead to the exhaustion of the adrenal cortex causing it to produce less cortisol – leading to a cortisol deficiency. At first, only the morning cortisol levels are reduced, but over time the cortisol levels fall below the standard levels. If you are suffering from burnout, it is necessary that you talk to your doctor.
However: Both too low and too high levels can cause unpleasant symptoms. To avoid these, it is recommended to regularly check your cortisol level.