Low Cortisol Levels: Understanding Causes and Effects

Can low cortisol levels negatively impact your health and well-being? Cortisol is known as the stress hormone so many of us assume less cortisol is a good thing. But cortisol, in proper quantities, is essential to our bodies’ functions. Cortisol helps regulate blood pressure and blood sugar. It also aids in minimizing inflammation and with maintaining a healthy sleep cycle.

Cortisol is released through the adrenal glands in varying amounts throughout a typical day. In the morning, more cortisol is produced to give our bodies a boost to effectively start the day off right. At around midnight, cortisol production drops to its lowest levels to allow for restful sleep. This cycle naturally happens each day as part of the body’s circadian rhythm. But lifestyle factors can set this natural balance out of whack. And that can have very negative impacts on health, wellness and energy levels.

 

What Does Low Cortisol Levels Mean?

Low cortisol levels, also known as hypocortisolism, can be caused by multiple issues. Some factors that can contribute to low cortisol levels include Addison’s disease, an autoimmune disorder which attacks the adrenal glands, impairing cortisol production, an underactive pituitary gland or adrenal fatigue. Over days and weeks of low cortisol levels, negative effects can be experienced as a side effect of these abnormal levels.

 

What Is A Low Cortisol Level

Normal levels of cortisol vary based on the time of day it is. For instance, in the morning, normal cortisol levels range from around 10 to 20 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). Toward evening these levels can drop to around 3 to 10 mcg/dL. Levels that are lower than this may call for further investigation.

 

What Is A Dangerously Low Cortisol Level

Addison’s disease can lead to a life-threatening condition known as acute adrenal crisis. This can occur when the body is further stressed by infection, injury or other types of trauma like surgery or dehydration. It can cause headache, weakness, high fever and low blood pressure and if not treated with medication, can lead to shock and sometimes death. Dangerously low cortisol levels would be low single digit readings or essentially no cortisol production.

 

What Causes Low Cortisol Levels

Although dangerously low cortisol levels are mostly reserved for people who have serious pituitary conditions or injuries, there are other reasons for moderately low levels, which can still negatively impact the body. It is believed that adrenal fatigue can be the main culprit in low cortisol levels. Although cortisol occurs naturally as an essential hormone related to blood pressure, blood sugar and sleep cycles, cortisol also plays a role in regulating our energy levels. Our bodies are designed to respond to threatening situations with a fight or flight response that occurs thanks to cortisol. This was essential to our species’ survival and can give us a burst of intense energy and heightened senses. This can be very taxing on the body, but because it is usually reserved for isolated moments of danger, it can be quite helpful. However, as our lives have become more over-stressed and over-extended, that flight or fight response can become overworked. This is what is known as adrenal fatigue, which is linked to low cortisol levels.

 

Low Cortisol Levels Symptoms

If that high-stressed lifestyle sounds familiar and you’re noticing symptoms like low energy and sleep issues, it may be worth looking into your cortisol levels. Between work and family, do you constantly feel like your stress levels are through the roof? Do you notice yourself having sleep issues, like trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep? Do you still feel tired even after being in bed for seven or eight hours a night? These could be symptoms of low cortisol levels.

 

What Are The Symptoms Of Low Cortisol Levels

It’s important to understand the symptoms of low cortisol levels in order to identify the problem and then be able to do something about it. Low cortisol levels can cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue and morning sluggishness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Weakened immune system and increased susceptibility to infection and sickness
  • Loss of resilience in stressful situations
  • Brain fog or mid-day lack of focus
  • Cravings for salty or sweet foods

 

Low Cortisol Symptoms in Females

As most women can attest, hormones play a major role in so much of a woman’s life from health and wellness to mood and psychological states. So when there is a hormonal imbalance, such as low cortisol levels, the symptoms can be especially disruptive for women. Whether you are of childbearing years, when menstrual cycles can continuously shift hormone levels or experiencing menopause, a phase of hormonal upheaval, low cortisol levels can cause a number of symptoms in women, such as:

  • Interrupted sleep
  • Loss of libido
  • New allergies
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Unexplained weight gain

 

Low Cortisol Symptoms in Males

Men can just as easily suffer from low cortisol levels as women do. Many of the common symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be experienced by men. However, men may experience other symptoms that are unique to their gender such as:

  • Loss of muscle
  • Joint aches
  • A feeling of jitteriness or high strung anxiety
  • Malaise or “running out of steam” early in the day

 

What Are The Effects Of Low Cortisol Levels

As you can see, low cortisol levels can significantly disrupt your life. Stress is unpleasant and life events like loss, dysfunctional relationships, or high pressure jobs can all lead to continuously long-term stress which is unrelenting. This stress isn’t just exhausting in its emotional burder, but it can also directly impact your body’s balance and cause physiological impacts that further weaken and cause the body to feel beaten down.

 

What’s Next: Conclusion

As you can see, cortisol is a necessary part of everyone’s body and helps with many of the parts of everyday life. Although cortisol can be a “stress hormone” and help us when we need a burst of survival energy, it’s also important to day-to-day life. Although a little stress can be good for us, too much can cause adrenal fatigue and for our cortisol levels to become depleted. That’s why it’s important to do all that you can to maintain good hormone balance. This includes:

  • Meditation and stress management techniques
  • Adding more magnesium, either in the form of magnesium-rich foods, vitamin supplements or topical applications like epsom salt baths
  • Minimizing caffeine
  • Incorporating IV Vitamin therapy for adrenal fatigue into your routine. IV infusions are a convenient way to deliver vitamins, minerals and other nutrients straight into your bloodstream. This type of supplementation helps your body to heal by giving it the vitamin and mineral building blocks necessary for repair and restoration.
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