London Clinic of Nutrition
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Cortisol and your adrenals

Your mood, energy, thyroid function, immunity and sleep all depend on optimal functioning of adrenal glands and cortisol. These glands were designed for use when running from or running after our prey!



What are adrenal glands?

So what are these adrenal glands that are so critical to your stress response? They are a pair of crescent-shaped glands that sit on top of each kidney like a cap. Despite their small size (about 2 1/2 inches by 1 inch), these glands have a big job, which is to secrete chemical messengers that communicate with your brain, immune system, and metabolism.

The adrenals regulate a lot of things, but what I focus on mostly is cortisol, your body’s primary stress hormone. Understand, keep in mind, and never forget that stress hormones are all about survival – and survival ultimately trumps everything else!

Cortisal is the primary adrenal stress hormone

Cortisol influences carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism. In chronic excess, cortisol can lead to metabolic disorder and immunosuppression. Cortisol is largely catabolic in nature, meaning it generally breaks things down. However, a minimum amount of cortisol is needed for certain anabolic, or building, functions, such as gut repair.

Cortisol increases fatty acids in the bloodstream to be used as fuel for energy. Cortisol counteracts inflammation. Cortisol helps maintain energy, mood, and emotional stability. Cortisol helps maintain resistance to stress. Cortisol increases your blood sugar level in different ways to help you cope with an emergency: It increases your liver’s production of glucose, a process called gluconeogenesis, through proteins mobilised from peripheral tissues that are then converted to glucose. Cortisol can also at times impair how peripheral tissues use glucose and may sometimes have an anti-insulin effect.

Cortisol is neither good nor bad but needs to be present in the right amounts at the right times in order for it to be optimally beneficial to the human body. In other words, there is a natural, healthy rhythm to its release.

Your cortisol level is normally highest first thing in the morning when you first wake up. Over the course of the day, cortisol secretion eases and reaches its lowest point about the time you should be falling asleep to get some rest. Throughout the night as your blood sugar level drops, cortisol secretion increases so that come morning, you have the energy to get out of bed and do what you need to do.

Problem with cortisol imbalance

The problem is that many clients have either too high or too low cortisol and this impairs so many body systems as described above. The biggest effect we see in clients is on the thyroid and in Hashimoto’s. The stress response was designed for times of extreme danger but we are using this ancient mechanism sometimes all day every day living the lives we live. Remember, we are essentially cavemen in suits!

The good news is that we temper this response by adopting healthier dietary and lifestyle habits and using certain herbs to nourish the adrenals. It is also worth noting that leaky gut can be caused completely or in part by adrenal fatigue.

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