This is part of an ongoing Science Made Simple series that aims to make the tough science a little more palatable. To view all posts, click here.
When I was sifting through practitioners in my search for a PCOS cure, hormones came up a lot. My reproductive endocrinologist threw out the word several times, as did my OB/GYNs, primary care physician, PCOS specialist, and nutritionist.
In these consultations, cortisol was repeatedly mentioned. I didn’t know what cortisol was and wasn’t that interested. I was entirely too stressed about infertility and my barren uterus to worry about yet another dysfunction in my body.
I also had no idea how relevant cortisol is to the discussion of PCOS, other diseases, and everyday ailments. Unbeknownst to me, common symptoms (not just PCOS symptoms) can be traced to inappropriate amounts of cortisol.
To clear up the cortisol confusion, I’m doing a brief mini-series covering the following:
- Cortisol basics
- Why we like cortisol
- What happens when cortisol is too high
- What happens when cortisol is too low
- How cortisol relates to adrenal dysfunction/adrenal fatigue
Today we answer the following questions:
- What is a hormone?
- What is cortisol?
- How does cortisol relate to stress?
- What is a typical cortisol pattern throughout the day?
Let’s get started, shall we?
What is a hormone?
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone (a messenger). It gives messages to different parts of the body.
Cortisol is produced in the adrenal cortex. Cor – tex. Cor – tisol. The adrenal cortex is part of a little gland that sits on top of your kidneys.
How Does Cortisol Relate to Stress?
Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone. Our bodies make cortisol when we experience any kind of stress.
What is a typical cortisol pattern?
Cortisol follows a diurnal pattern (the opposite of nocturnal). Cortisol is highest in the morning to help us get up and moving for the day. It is lowest at night after you’ve fallen asleep so you can stay asleep.
To review, the basics of cortisol are as follows:
- Cortisol is a hormone
- Cortisol is our body’s response to stress
- Cortisol is elevated in the morning
- Cortisol is low at night
On Friday, we cover why cortisol is good for the body in appropriate amounts. Unless the Mayans were right about the Apocalypse. In that case, cortisol won’t matter that much.
UPDATE: The Mayans were mistaken, so cortisol is still important. You can find out why we like it here.