Stress Isn’t Sexy: Measuring Cortisol Levels for Libido

Dr. Alexia Harris, ND

Exposure to stressors day-to-day is inevitable. Stressors are often positive: they are short term, perceived to be within coping abilities, improve performance, help to motivate and focus energy. The body is equipped with an adaptive physiological response to mobilize the body to respond to both intrinsic and extrinsic stressors. Long-term exposure that exceed the body’s ability to respond can tip the scale into dis-stress leading to negative impacts on physical and mental health.

This intricate and well-coordinated stress response relies on the adrenal glands, which are responsible for the production of the main stress hormone cortisol. The adrenal glands follow three universal stages of coping with stressors: the initial alarm stage, a stage of adaptation or resistance and eventually an exhaustion phase. The alarm phase is analogous with the “fight or flight” response, where intermittent exposures to stress cause short bursts of stress hormone. The second adaptation stage occurs when short bursts of stress become daily low-grade stress resulting in chronically elevated cortisol levels. With ongoing exposure to these stressors over time, the body will begin to down-regulate the secretion of cortisol leading to the exhaustion phase.

When there is an increased output of stress hormone the body down-regulates its production of sex hormones. One of the first signs of stress and hormone imbalance is decreased sexual interest or desire. A decreased libido in both males and females can be related to a blunted production of hormones including DHEA, testosterone, estrogen and/or progesterone.

The most common naturopathic testing method of adrenal function is achieved by measuring cortisol levels in the urine. Urinary cortisol levels provide the most accurate representation of your daily production of cortisol due to the ability to capture the free levels of cortisol as well as cortisol metabolites. The ability to assess free and metabolized cortisol offers a more complete understanding to help improve clinical accuracy and outcomes.

A comprehensive urine hormone assessment provides an accurate representation of adrenal function alongside other sex hormones to provide insight and therapeutic targets for restoring libido. Speak with your Naturopathic Physician to find out the testing options that are best for you.


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