What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex in response to stress.

Cortisol perpetuates the stress response. The initial fight/flight response is mediated quickly, causing the release of adrenalin.  Adrenalin is what makes us act fast and hopefully save our life, in a stressful situation. That initial, stimulating response of adrenalin is strengthened by the production of Cortisol. Cortisol makes the receptor sites even more sensitive to adrenalin, and it’s much longer lasting.


What turns the stress response off? 

There is a negative feedback loop, that works a bit like a thermostat in a house.  When it gets too hot the thermostat detects this, and turns off the heater. In our bodies when we initiate a stress response, and then the stress is over, a gland called the Hypothalamus acts like the thermostat. It perceives that the stress response can be turned down now, and acts to reduce cortisol production.


Unfortunately, when stress is an every-day event, eventually the thermostat stops working. Cortisol itself damages the system and the stress response continues on un-checked. The damage is actually to our Amygdala, a tiny part of the brain, responsible for memory, navigation and special awareness. Constant cortisol kills the cells of our amygdala and it literally shrinks.


How is your memory? Do you sometimes forget why you entered a room, or parked your car? Do you bump into things or have trouble reading maps?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you probably have some amygdala damage. The good news is that the cells can regenerate, but not until we have resolved the causes of cortisol dysfunction.


Cortisol is just one of the hormones involved in the HPA-Axis (the official term for problems related to stress). Dr Alice has more information about the HPA axis, please ask her.


Cortisol dysfunction produces altered levels of cortisol which affects

-The brain (memory, cognition, navigation)

-Your posture (weakness and wasting of your postural muscles)

-Your sugar handling abilities (increases insulin resistance)

-Your immune system

-The body’s ability to heal and regenerate

-Your liver function (your ability to eliminate toxins)

-Your digestive function

-Your joint integrity (it breaks down ligaments and tendons)

-Your bone density

-Your Thyroid function and your ability to make energy

-Your ability to relax



Cortisol dysfunction can be caused by

-Long term stress


-Poor nutrition (too many carbs or nutrient deficiencies)

-Lack of sleep (including sleep apnoea, night shift)

-TMJ (jaw) problems (after extractions and braces)

-Drug use including some pharmaceuticals (like the Pill)

-Heavy metal or environmental chemical toxins


Below is a list of symptoms that make us suspect HPA-Axis dysfunction and altered Cortisol levels.

Mood swings, anxiety, depression, recurrent colds and flu, allergies, fungal infections, skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, arthritis, hot flushes, fertility and female cycle irregularities, , heart disease, sugar cravings, diabetes and blood sugar spikes, insomnia and sleep issues, sugar cravings, constipation, asthma, heel pain, plantar fasciitis, ADHD, sensitivity to sunlight, changes to blood pressure, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, jaw problems, unexplained underperformance syndrome in athletes, ulcerative colitis, chrone’s disease, multiple nutrient deficiencies, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, mid afternoon fatigue.


Testing – We can easily test your cortisol function through saliva tests, the cost is around $80, and within a week we will know exactly how to resolve your HPA-Axis problem.