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Austin Holistic Healing Center

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4201 Bee Caves Road,
Suite B112, West Lake Hills, Texas 78746
P: 512-327-4886, F: 512-327-4958


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Hormones and Cortisol

Here is a blow by blow on how your hormones work. Cortisol is a steroid hormone made in the adrenal glands. Cortisol’s important function in the body includes roles in the regulation of blood pressure and cardiovascular function as well as regulation of the body’s use of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Cortisol secretion increases in response to any stress in the body, whether physical (such as illness, trauma, surgery or temperature extremes) or psychological pressures, (such as poor marriage, unemployment, etc.).

When cortisol is secreted, it causes a breakdown of muscle protein, leading to release of amino acids into the bloodstream. These amino acids are then used by the liver to synthesize glucose for energy, in a process called gluconeogenesis. Cortisol also leads to the release of energy source from fat cells, for use by the muscles. Taken together, these energy directing processes prepare the individual to deal with stressors and insure that the brain receives adequate energy sources.

The body possesses an elaborate feed back system for controlling cortisol secretion and regulating the amount of cortisol in the bloodstream. The pituitary gland, a small gland at the base of the brain makes and secretes a hormone known as adrenocorticotropic hormone, or ACTH. Secretion of ACTH signals the adrenal glands to increase cortisol production and secretion. The pituitary, in turn, receives signals from the hypothalamus of the brain in the form of the hormone CRH, or corticotrophin- releasing hormone, which signals the pituitary to release ACTH. Almost immediately after a stressful event, the levels of the regulatory hormones ACTH and CRH increase, causing an immediate rise in cortisol levels. When cortisol is present in adequate, or excess amounts, a negative feedback system operates on the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, which alerts these areas to reduce the output of ACTH and CRH, respectively, in order to reduce cortisol secretion when adequate levels are present.

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is the most abundant hormone found in the bloodstream. When the adrenal glands are chronically stressed, your production of DHEA can be greatly reduced. DHEA in an important regulator of the thyroid and pituitary glands. Though the adrenal glands produce most of the body’s supply of DHEA, the gonads (ovaries, testes) can also manufacture DHEA when the adrenals are overworked. DHEA exerts powerful effects throughout the body. Most cells possess DHEA receptors on their membranes. DHEA is vital to health. DHEA also regulates many other hormones; however it can be easily converted to estradiol and/or testosterone and therefore needs to be monitored by testing levels of estradiol and testosterone. DHEA is a good stress barometer, because when stress levels go up, DHEA levels go down. Generally, DHEA levels tend to decrease with age. DHEA peaks at age 25 then declines at a rate of about 2% per year.

In our late 30’s or early 40’s we will start to feel the effect of these hormonal chain reactions. In women that are pre-menopausal it manifests in fatigue, irregular cylces, mood swings, and various PMS symptoms. In menopausal women it manifests in fatigue, low libido, hot flashes, weight gain, and mood swings. In men it can be much more subtle, exhibiting itself more in their energy level, their sex drives, and their enthusiasm for life. It’s usually when erectile dysfunction becomes an issue that men sit up and take notice.
Often patients feel like something happened to them overnight but in reality their current symptoms are the result of years of hormone imbalances that have finally resulted in symptoms that can no longer be ignored.

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