Marla Ahlgrimm Discusses the Importance of Cortisol

Marla AhlgrimmCortisol, though commonly referred to as the “stress hormone,” is vital to every system in the body, says women’s healthcare expert Marla Ahlgrimm. Understanding cortisol’s effect on the body is an important step in maintaining good health.

Q: What is cortisol?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Cortisol is a steroidal hormone released by the adrenal glands. Cortisol secretion is controlled by the pituitary and adrenal glands and the hypothalamus. Most every cell in the body has a cortisol receptor, meaning that high or low cortisol levels can have a significant impact on a woman’s overall health.

Q: What does it do?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Cortisol is mostly known for being released during periods of intense stress. It has many other functions as well, including helping to control blood sugar, regulate metabolism, stimulate healthy memory formulation, and reduce systemic inflammation. Cortisol additionally helps to control blood pressure and has a balancing effect on sodium in the bloodstream. Women, especially, are affected by cortisol levels as this hormone is vital to fetal development.

Q: Are there health conditions associated with high or low cortisol levels?

Marla Ahlgrimm: High cortisol levels, which may be caused by tumors on the adrenal or pituitary glands, can present as Cushing’s syndrome. Cushing’s syndrome is a disease characterized by rapid weight gain throughout the chest, abdomen, and face. It can cause high blood pressure and osteoporosis. High cortisol levels can also have a negative effect on a woman’s sex drive and menstrual cycle. Low cortisol levels may result in a rare condition known as Addison’s disease. This autoimmune disorder damages the adrenal glands and causes muscle degeneration, mood swings, fatigue, and extreme weight loss.

Q: What are some questions I should ask my doctor about my cortisol levels?

Marla Ahlgrimm: If you are concerned that your cortisol levels are out of balance, ask your doctor to perform a simple saliva test to check. They can explain how cortisol levels change throughout the day and what underlying conditions may play a role in cortisol production.

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