If you are feeling tired, but unable to sleep soundly through the night; or if you are feeling "overly" stressed and emotionally overwhelmed, you may be experiencing a condition known as adrenal fatigue. Chronic stress can cause your adrenals to "conk out" and temporarily lose their ability to produce enough hormone (cortisol); causing a hormonal imbalance and hindering your ability to cope with your stress. Low cortisol levels can also cause you to feel depressed and irritable; symptoms that may begin to interfere with your work and social life.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands, which are stimulated by a pituitary hormone known as, adrenocorticotropic (ACTH). Aeron Lifecycles Clinical Laboratories reports that cortisol is responsible for the proper functioning of the immune system, glucose regulation, vascular system and skeletal system. Cortisol levels often rise in the morning and dissipate at night; a harmonious cycle referred to as "circadian rhythm."
If your physician suspects that you are experiencing the symptoms related to low cortisol, she will probably suggest that you have a blood test to check your levels. Lab Tests Online explains that suspected cortisol abnormalities are also diagnosed through urine and saliva tests. If any of the tests reveal low levels of cortisol, an ACTH Stimulation Test may then be ordered which involves the injection of synthetic pituitary hormones. The reaction of the adrenals after the injection will then be determined by another test. If the adrenals fail to secrete excess cortisol after the stimulation test, your physician will determine the next course of action.
Sometimes, low cortisol levels in your body can indicate an underlying illness that is compounding your stress. According to Health.com, if your blood test results positively show low cortisol levels in addition to a low sodium count, high levels of potassium and a higher than normal amount of white blood cells, you may have a condition referred to as Addison's disease. A second test may also be suggested that will check your thyroid levels. An overactive or underactive thyroid can contribute to Addison's disease, and can be corrected with oral hormone supplementation.
Fixing the Adrenals
If your physician determines that you are healthy, with no underlying medical cause for low cortisol levels (aside from stress), she may suggest ways that you can raise your cortisol levels naturally. Finding ways to relieve your stress will most likely be the suggested strategy. Meditation and getting plenty of physical exercise is the most ideal way to raise your endorphins (hormones that put you in a better mood), and inadvertently raise your cortisol level. Taking time to relax, if even for just a few minutes per day, can make a positively affect your stress levels.
Low cortisol levels may be an important key to unlocking the mystery of the obsessive behaviour, and transition difficulties that children with Asperger Syndrome (AS) face. According to Pittsburg Mercy Health Systems, children with Asperger Syndrome do not produce enough cortisol in their bodies to complete the cycle of peaking in the morning, and dropping off in the evening. It is now theorised that many behaviours associated with the disease may be stress-related and coupled with the inability to handle stress due to the low cortisol levels.