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Cortisol Levels and Allergies

Spring is arriving. Will you be one of the many who experience increased fatigue, headaches, itchy eyes, sneezing and congestion? This surge in these symptoms is a sure sign that allergy season has arrived. Allergies are one of the most common concerns in the United States with hay fever being the 5th leading chronic disease in the country. According to recent statistics, this chronic disease is to blame for almost 4 million missed or lost work days yearly for a total of more than $7 million in lost productivity annually. Frequently thought of as an incurable disease by practitioners and patients alike, successful management of seasonal allergies is attainable and extends beyond antihistamine and decongestant use.

Histamine is the mediator governing inflammatory responses in the body from injury and the common cold to insect bites and seasonal allergies. Its actions on the body result in hives, itching and allergic rhinitis. Cortisol production from the adrenal glands is a key factor in controlling the body's histamine levels and, when cortisol levels are suboptimal or deficient, as seen in many patients with adrenal dysfunction, allergy symptoms tend to be more severe.

The adrenals are the part of the endocrine system which is particularly sensitive to stress. The spring environment with its high levels of pollen creates another stress on top of all those stressor of daily living. This is especially true here in the upstate area where the variety of pollen provides allergens as high as anywhere in the country. The pollen promises beautiful flowers and luscious foliage, but the adrenal system can be overrun by the added stress of simply stepping outside.

The adrenals produce low levels of cortisol as part of our daily rhythm. But the endocrine system produces surges of cortisol in response to stress. Cortisol is meant to be used sparingly, but when we subject the adrenals to constant stress, it forces cortisol levels up for long periods of time. The adrenals trudge along as best they can, until they finally tire out and can no longer produce enough cortisol for normal daily function.

The adrenal glands' ability to maintain optimal cortisol output significantly influences the severity of allergy symptoms. Optimal adrenal function is vital to regulating allergy symptoms. If you're experiencing the beginnings of adrenal fatigue – which is so common as many of us are clearly over-worked, over-worried, over-committed (and any other “over” you can think of) – you are a candidate for increased allergy symptoms because pollen is an amazing force of nature and your system may not be ready to deal with it.

So how do we know the state of your adrenal system? To find that answer we here at Carolina Integrative Medicine use the most precise testing available – Saliva Testing. Why Saliva Testing? Sampling from the patient’s saliva throughout the day is the only way to accurately measure the bioavailable hormones – in the case of adrenal fatigue - the cortisol delivered to the receptors in the tissues of the body.

Salivary testing is convenient, painless and non-invasive. It simply requires the at-home collection of a one’s saliva by spitting into a small test-tube four times equally distributed during the waking hours of a day. At the Lab, Cortisol levels are measured to provide an assessment of the natural diurnal rhythm of cortisol which should be highest in the morning, and gradually taper off throughout the day.

If this testing reveals that you are suffering from the beginning of or full-on adrenal fatigue there are bio-identical medications and variety of hormonal replacement therapies that will optimize the adrenal glands' potential endogenous production of cortisol.

Whenever stress is an issue, we counsel on lifestyle factors such as sleep and stress management. But we can supplement the co-factors necessary for cortisol production - like vitamin B5, vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin E. In addition, we often prescribe adaptogenic herbs that boost cortisol levels so that “feeling better” is often immediate. Spring is coming. If you are amongst the many for whom allergy symptoms are a stress you have deal with, be prepared this year. At Carolina Integrative Medicine we can help you maintain cortisol levels at their most efficient throughout this stressful allergy season.

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