- Did you notice some of your symptoms develop in the aftermath of a stressful life-event?
- Are you under a lot of mental and emotional stress right now?
- Have you experience anxiety, fluctuating energy levels, sleep problems, sudden weight loss (or gain around your “spare tire”)?
- Are you less interested in sex than before?
If so, there’s a good chance that your stress hormones are out of balance. Your main stress hormones are adrenaline, cortisol and DHEA. They are produced in your adrenal glands, which sit atop each kidney.
A complete assessment of your hormonal balance must always include a salivary adrenal stress index panel.
As you’ve no doubt read in my various articles, stress is a major underlying cause of many chronic illnesses.
“Stress” in all its forms affects all the seven areas of health: digestion, reproduction, energy, aches and pains, mood, sleep and skin.
A stressful lifestyle can lead to consistently high levels of cortisol and low levels of DHEA, which can be damaging to the brain and other tissues.
As well as supporting immune function, DHEA serves as a precursor for your sex hormones – progesterone, estrogen and testosterone in your adrenal glands, ovaries or testes.
Therefore, chronically high cortisol can lead to suppression of your thyroid function as well as messing up the balance of your sex hormones – progesterone, estrogen and testosterone (what I call your “PETs”), which can have many knock-on effects.
Elevated cortisol also impacts your immune responses, such as secretory IgA (sIgA) production. sIgA molecules sit in the mucus lining of your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, throat, lungs, stomach, intestine and urogenitary tract.
Decreased sIgA production is linked with chronic sinus infections, chronic digestive infections and urinary tract problems.
Your stress hormones
Cortisol and DHEA affect carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism, modulate thyroid function and help your body manage stress.
Scientists have found cortisol and DHEA receptors on every tissue and organ in the body, meaning that these hormones “talk” to pretty much every cell.
Of course, with this degree of influence, it’s not surprising that all manner of symptoms and illnesses may develop when cortisol and DHEA are out of balance, as you can see from the graphic, below:
As you can see, there isn’t much in your body that’s NOT affected by changes to cortisol and DHEA levels.
Cortisol’s circadian rhythm
Production and secretion of cortisol by your adrenal glands is regulated by the sleep-wake / night and day cycle.
It is characterized by a steep increase in the early morning, followed by a gradual tapering off until late evening, when levels bottom out.
Cortisol helps you wake up and then deal with the stresses of your day. It then drops down, allowing you to sleep and your body to repair.
Stress – including inflammation caused by food, poor blood sugar control, a lack of sleep, chronic digestive infections, toxins and nutrient deficiencies – causes elevated cortisol levels, which remain elevated as long as the stress is present.
Over time, cortisol production during the day may begin to wax and wane due to extended duration of your stress load (mental, emotional, inflammation, etc.)
Late nights, watching TV before bed, partying, toxicity and chronic infections may even cause elevations in cortisol at night.
Before you know it, your cortisol rhythm has fallen out of sync. You don’t sleep properly or wake refreshed, you struggle to get going in the morning, rely on coffee and sugar to keep your energy up, have an energy crash at 3-4pm at work, but then feel wide awake at 9pm!
Test results may reveal high or low cortisol levels that are either too high or too low at different times of day.
As your cortisol levels become elevated, or depressed, we may also see low DHEA levels. On rare occasions, DHEA levels can be too high.
An underactive thyroid – often caused by elevations in cortisol – can actually interfere with the production of cortisol and DHEA, leading to very low stress hormone levels in some people.
This is one reason why it’s essential to thoroughly measure both adrenal stress and thyroid hormones. The interactions between these glands and their hormones are important to understand when designing a program to optimize health.
One of the key findings in my initial functional medicine testing regimen, way back in 2006, revealed very low cortisol levels in the morning, and very high levels at night, which is precisely the opposite of what I should have seen!
No wonder I couldn’t sleep, felt awful in the morning and had a very low sex drive!
The testing process
As with the majority of tests within the Hompes Method Testing Toolkit, this test is performed in the comfort of your own home.
A test kit containing four vials is sent to you and you simply spit into each tube at four different times of day – 8am, noon, 4pm and 11pm.
The lab measures your cortisol levels at each collection-point, and also reports an average DHEA value across the samples.
Results are usually reported within 7-10 days.
A great feature of this test is that without providing any additional samples, you can add a single-day’s measure for your PETs – progesterone, estrogen and testosterone, as well as a measure of sIgA, your body’s primary first line of defence immune molecule.
Adding the PETs is incredibly useful for women experiencing menstrual or menopausal symptoms, and in both genders where sexual symptoms such as low libido or erectile dysfunction are causing problems.
Ordering an adrenal stress index panel
If you are a new customer you must first complete, sign and return the Hompes Method client intake paperwork.
If you are an existing customer and we’ve recommended you run an adrenal stress index panel, simply click here or fill in the form below to place your order.