Bioidentical Cortisol Replacement
Bioidentical Cortisol therapy is one of the more complicated BHRT approaches, given that you may either have too much of this hormone or too little, and both conditions when it comes to this particular chemical are both relatively common.
Bioidentical Cortisol Reduction
We start by exploring the reason why people may have too much of this hormone, often due to chronic stress, the goal is to provide a decrease. Cortisol is often called “the stress hormone” because those who have a lot of continuous stress in their lives tend to build up a lot of this hormone, and that can cause problems. This hormone by itself is actually quite a helpful hormone. It is secreted by the adrenal glands when we are under stress, and is responsible for what is called the “fight or flight response”. Put simply, this hormone creates a reaction where we must decide whether to stay and fight against the stresses, or run away. Cortisol is produced all throughout the day, stress or not, with more when we first wake up than later in the day. But this normal production of this hormone is not what is addressed with natural cortisol replacement, but rather the additional amount produced that is unneeded and extra due to stress.
Cortisol is not just produced during a period of stress. It also is produced when we eat a lot of sugar, experience something exciting, or exercise. For most people, however, these reasons do not produce a problem. Instead it is chronic stress that leaves us with too much of this hormone, and a low cortisol treatment approach can help bring to down to normal levels. Like other hormones, cortisol is not by itself a problem, but when there is too much of this hormone that can lead to problems over time, and low cortisol treatment can be helpful. In this case the supplementation is not with the hormone itself, but rather with ingredients meant to help manage chronic elevation.
Like the other hormones we talk about, cortisol is not in itself a problem. In fact, it is a very important hormone and has been so throughout our evolution. We need this hormone to deal with stress, when fear and excitement needs to be channeled to the correct response. And for most people levels quickly return to normal levels anyway. But for those who experience frequent stress, the levels can become elevated. In these cases this hormone becomes continually too high. This pattern of increased stress over longer periods of time and the hormonal changes that this leads to is also known as chronic stress. From a hormone perspective what happens is that there is an overproduction of cortisol, and that can have some troublesome consequences. One example is that there can be an inhibition in the production of insulin which plays an important role in metabolism and sugar regulation. Weight gain can be a byproduct of this process.
Bioidentical Cortisol Supplementation
For some people cortisol levels are too low, and in this case they need quite the opposite of the above. Usually the reason is a medical condition including certain diseases and infection. Interestingly, some of the symptoms of low levels of this hormone are similar to those experienced by people who have too much, so hormone level testing is quite necessary. When the problem is too little of this hormone, a more traditional BHRT approach is used using bioidentical cortisol to correct things. Of course since this is a hormone where too little or too much can be a problem, it is particularly important to stay in touch with your doctor throughout the therapy.
Cortisol Level Testing
Cortisol is a hormone that is easy to test, especially as compared to other hormones. No blood draw is required and instead saliva is tested. This not only means that testing is less intrusive and easy, but also that it can be repeated throughout the day or on different days to look for patterns. Unlike other hormone assessment that only looks at a point in time, cortisol testing can look for patterns and trends in your levels that can give a more complete picture. This can be particularly helpful if your practitioner is going to supplement the bioidentical hormones with a wellness program. By understanding patterns in your levels she or he may be able to tell you more specifically how to alter your diet, when to do stress reduction techniques, and when to take supplements. For those who do not like blood draws, and those who want a more complete picture of what this hormone is doing, cortisol testing can be very easy.
WebMD provides information about cortisol and cortisol testing
Bioidentical Cortisol Therapy
There are obviously two very different approaches when it comes to bioidentical cortisol therapy, depending on whether you have too much or too little of this important hormone. If you have too much cortisol the therapy is designed to bring the level down, using other hormones and natural ingredients to achieve this balance. If you have too little cortisol, a more traditional BHRT program is designed with natural ingredients that help supplement things and raise your levels.
As you can imagine, managing having too much cortisol is often more difficult than managing having too little. The latter can be addressed through the use of certain bioidentical ingredients that raise levels. The former may not involve bioidentical cortisol at all, and may rather involve addressing the reasons why this hormone is chronically raised, including working to reduce stress, improve sleep, reduce anxiety, and improve diet. There is a theory that states that when cortisol is chronically raised it actually eventually becomes a deficiency, and we cover that in our next section.
Bioidentical Cortisol and Adrenal Fatigue
Some say that “adrenal fatigigue” has become quite common in modern society. Basically this syndrome results in low output of cortisol, and that in turn leads to symptoms ranging from craving for salty foods, lowered libido, depression, certain allergies, and difficulty managing stress. The cause of adrenal fatigue is longstanding and persistent stress, which some would say is a staple of modern life for many. Those who support the “adrenal fatigue” hypothesis would say that this problem is routinely misdiagnosed, for example being seen as depression which leads to certain antidepressants being overused.
If there is cornerstone symptom that points to adrenal fatigue it is a feeling of being tired and fatigued even though sleep does nothing to provide relief. Some turn to self-medication for this problem, such as overusing caffeine as a way to address the symptoms of tiredness. The case for adrenal fatigue is that it makes a lot of sense; cortisol is well-known as “the stress hormone”, a chemical produced by the adrenal glands when we are stressed.
Addressing adrenal fatigue with bioidentical cortisol is a natural fit. Often supplemented by certain nutrients including vitamins C and B5, and magnesium, bioidentical cortisol is prescribed. Those who support this bioidentical cortisol replacement approach would say that synthetic forms of this particular hormone are not effective (this differs from many other bioidentical hormones in that the supporters do say that synthetics work, just perhaps either not as well or not as gently and naturally).
Your practitioner will likely have you take some adjunctive steps along with taking bioidentical cortisol and some supplements. These steps might include avoiding or at least cutting down on caffeine and simple carbohydrates, steps reducing activities such as exercise and yoga, and trying to eliminate sources of stress when possible.
As we mentioned, the idea of adrenal fatigue is one that is relatively new and not yet universally accepted. It is best to check with a bioidentical hormones doctor before beginning any approach to relieving suspected adrenal fatigue in order to get an accurate assessment.
“Adrenal fatigue recovery” provides more information about adrenal fatigue.
Bioidentical Cortisol Summary
As you can see, the use of bioidentical cortisol is complicated and likely requires more testing and assessment than the use of other bioidentical hormones. There is the possibility that your levels could be too high or too low, and of course each situation requires a unique approach. And of course you have to make sure that whichever approach you choose does not lead you to have the opposite problem from the one you started with.
For most people the only reason you would have too little natural cortisol to begin with is a medical condition. Much more commonly people have too much of this hormone due to chronic stress often combines with poor nutritional habits. In these cases it may be that natural hormone therapy is not even needed and instead cutting down on stress or addressing it more effectively, as well as changing eating habits, can provide some relief.
There is also the possibility that people can develop a condition that is actually a mix of these two difficulties. If your adrenal glands are continually active you may experience what is called adrenal fatigue, possibly moving you from having too much cortisol to too little.
An accurate assessment of your cortisol levels is the best place to start even if you will be trying to solve this problem without BHRT. And if that does not work and your levels are low no matter what the cause, Bioidentical Cortisol may be a great solution.