Interpreting Home Hormone Test Kit Results
Most companies offer some sort of summary of cortisol test results when you order their home hormone test kits, noting what is out of "normal" range. Here are some things to bear in mind when interpreting your results:
- Your cortisol cycle follows your circadian rhythm.
- Your cortisol level is highest in the morning, it's what helps you wake up and get going for the day.
- It dips during the day, and rises again after you've eaten, which is why it's important to eat frequently, because it keeps your blood sugar more stable, and thus your cortisol levels more stable.
- Cortisol levels should be lowest overnight, allowing you to sleep.
- If you force yourself to stay awake later in the evening, this will actually trigger a cortisol release, which then keeps you from being able to fall asleep, requiring your adrenals to produce more cortisol in response to the stress. This is particularly hard on your adrenal glands because they need the rest overnight in order to "recharge" for the next day.
- Shift work is especially hard on your adrenals, because it is a constant demand on them to alter their natural pattern of cortisol production. This "going against the flow" is something your body never fully adjusts to, especially if you try to keep a daytime schedule on weekends, or have to alternate shifts frequently.
- As your adrenal glands weaken, they lose the ability to regulate themselves and will go through a spurt of OVERproduction in the early stages of adrenal fatigue. Imagine a wagon careening downhill picking up speed, as the rider becomes increasingly unable to control it, until finally "the wheels come off the wagon". This is when the adrenal glands "burn out" and can no longer produce enough cortisol. So, as counterintuitive as it may seem, adrenal glands that seem to be working "too well" are actually too tired to regulate themselves.
The new book Overcoming Adrenal Fatigue
has a very good section on interpreting test results, not only from the saliva cortisol test, but also many of the other hormone tests your doctor may request. The author, Kathryn Simpson, tells you exactly what "normal ranges" are, and in the case of the cortisol saliva test, tells you that each of the test times reflects a different aspect of adrenal dysfunction. (for example, the 8 a.m. measurement reflects the condition of the adrenal glands themselves, a high cortisol level would indicate enlarged adrenal glands that are overproducing, while a low cortisol level indicates underproduction).
When interpreting lab results, whether they are from your doctor or from home hormone test kits, it's important to remember that the "normal range" and what is "normal" for you might be two different things. And "ranges" can be pretty broad, and a little more or less of whatever you're measuring might make you feel a whole lot better, and still be within "the range". Take for example the 8am "normal" range. 3.5-6.3 means that you could have nearly TWICE the amount of cortisol (or conversely, HALF as much) and still be within "normal" range. If your body were producing twice as much, would you feel a difference? Oh yeah! Also, your test results can be dramatically different on different days, so your results on a stressful day could be WAY different...
Two interesting facts about your adrenal glands: they are better able to repair themselves when you are lying down (don't ask me how they know the difference, but they do!) and their prime "repair time" is between 7 & 9 am. So do not feel lazy for sleeping in, it's actually a very important part of your recovery process!
Sometimes allowing yourself to do the things you body is asking for is the hardest part. But acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step to recovery, and Adrenal Fatigue is no different. Continuing to "push thru" the fatigue will only make your condition worse.