Cortisol is a natural hormone that is released into the body by the adrenal glands. These hormone-secreting glands sit on top of each kidney. The correlation between cortisol and depression is well documented in medical studies, with those suffering from clinical depression often producing too much cortisol. The levels of cortisol in the blood naturally fluctuate in healthy people, but many of those suffering from depression do not experience these natural fluctuations. Medications are often used to combat this depression, and counseling is often suggested to help the patient learn to cope with emotions arising from the depression.
The link between cortisol and depression seems to be present in about half of the patients studied. Normally, cortisol levels are at their highest in the morning and early portion of the day, leveling off by night time. In many patients suffering from clinical depression, these levels of cortisol do not lessen throughout the day. This hormone excess can leave the patient feeling sad, lonely, and depressed. The patient may also experience a lack of energy or motivation. Thoughts of suicide are also common in depressed patients.
Another correlation between cortisol and depression can be otherwise unexplained weight gain. Since cortisol helps to control metabolism, a hormone imbalance can cause the patient to gain weight or make weight loss extremely difficult. In the patient suffering from depression because of this imbalance, weight issues often increase the feelings of hopelessness already experienced by the patient.
Stress is a definite enemy relating to cortisol and depression. When a person feels stressed, cortisol production is increased, leading to what is commonly termed the fight or flight response. With this increase in energy levels often comes the desire to eat in order to refuel the body. This can lead to the aforementioned weight issues. This excess cortisol production can also lead to an increase in fat being deposited into the abdominal region of the body.
When a person begins having persistent feelings of depression, it is very important to seek medical advice. Blood tests can be done to check for a link between cortisol and depression. Prescription medications can often help to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression, such as insomnia and low energy levels. Mood-elevating medications may also be prescribed. Seeking counseling or joining a local support group can also be beneficial in learning new techniques in dealing with feelings of depression, both for the patient as well as the caregiver.