At a recent GP appointment, I was discussing the various odd symptoms I have been experiencing lately:

    • Heavy feeling in my body / limbs (like I’d put on weight)
    • Bad or broken sleep, or a need for less sleep (but feeling exhausted)
    • Reduced / Lack of appetite
    • Brain fog / Lack of concentration
    • Aches and pains in body
    • Headaches
    • Depressive moods / anxiety
    • Shortness of breath
    • Heart palpitations

    My GP told me this all fit with a raised cortisol level, brought on by chronic long-term stress. With how the world has been in the last 6 months this made perfect sense. Outside the usual load of daily life we had bushfires, political upheaval, COVID, Black lives matter, and more. I wondered then, how many of us are aware of the effects of raised cortisol? So here is some detail what this means and what tools are proven effective at helping you to reduce that cortisol. 

    We cannot change the external pressures but we can increase our proactive approach to our personal health to ensure we remain resilient and strong in this time of massive external pressure.

    Keep going everyone – you are doing a great job in these unprecedented times.

    Jennifer Cook, WHC Director

    Raised Cortisol Levels

    Stress is the single, often silent obstacle to our health.  Many of us are unaware that the root of our persistent health problems is a long-term overactive stress response.  Continuous elevation of cortisol hormone, often called the “fight or flight” chemical, may lead to imbalances in thyroid, adrenal and reproductive hormones decreasing our immune function.

    Healthy cortisol release has a curve throughout the day.  – Higher morning on waking (helping us wakeup), lower at night for sleep alongside GABA/melatonin/serotonin.

    Constant exposure to high cortisol results in de-sensitisation of cortisol receptors – a condition known as cortisol resistance, resulting in impaired serotonin (sleep-wake neurotransmitter) and noradrenaline production, predisposing us to insomnia, emotional instability, depression and/or anxiety.

    What can help?

    Magnesium, Omega 3’s & B vitamins are essential for energy and GABA production creating a sense of calmness as do Yoga, meditation and breathing exercises.

    Calming herbs I love to use to reduce anxiety and modulate cortisol are; Rhodiola, Melissa, Ashwahganda, St John’s, licorice & lavandula.

    Naturopathic Testing

    Cortisol should have a healthy curve; higher morning, lower nighttime. Tested via saliva or dried urine 3-4 times in 24hrs, morning-evening.

    Please ensure you see a herbalist/naturopath to assess for any medication interactions when using any herbal medicines.

    Christine Carley, Naturopath

    Acupuncture, Cortisol and Stress Reduction

    Acupuncture has long been known for its ability to reduce stress but only recently have researchers started to figure out how. It appears that acupuncture may be influencing the amount of cortisol in the body.

    Cortisol is one of the body’s main ‘stress hormones’. Its production is increased when we are exposed to any stressful situation, whether that physical, mental or emotional problems. Usually once the stress goes away the level of cortisol returns to normal and we feel fine.

    However, long-term exposure to stress, like many of us have had this year, means that our cortisol levels might be staying too high for too long. This increases the risk of developing other problems like anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive issues, lowered immunity and other more chronic illnesses.

    This is where acupuncture can play a positive role. Studies have shown that cortisol levels in patients with depression returned to normal after they were given acupuncture. At the same time their depressive symptoms were reduced.

    Acupuncture had a similar effect on reducing cortisol in patients suffering from abdominal pain, while production of -endorphin, the body’s natural pain-killer, was simultaneously increased.

    A number of other studies, mainly done in animals, have shown that acupuncture decreases the chemicals in the brain associated with the production of cortisol.

    So while the thought of using needles for stress may seem counterintuitive to some, if your cortisol is feeling a little too high, acupuncture is definitely something worth considering.

    Clare Faux, Dr Acupuncture and TCM

    Who doesn’t need a great night of restful sleep?

    For optimal functioning, cortisol levels need to be higher in the morning to help us wake up and lower at night time to help us go to sleep.

    So how can we check to see what is happening with our cortisol levels?

    It is really important to see how the cortisol curve flows throughout the day/evening so the most reliable and comprehensive rest that I recommend is the DUTCH test (dried urine comprehensive hormone test) which takes a series of samples throughout the day/evening and can be collected at home.

    A detailed report is provided which includes many other important aspects of your hormone pathways, ideal for peri-menopausal women struggling with sleep, stress management and hormone balance.

    This gives your Naturopath more information to better target your treatment plan for better results, faster results and of course a more rejuvenating sleep.

    Tania Delahoy, Haematolgist / Medical Scientist

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