Cortisol is an extremely important steroid hormone and of the glucose class of hormones. When used as a medication, it is called hydrocortisone. It is produced inside the the adrenal gland and is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration.
Cortisol controls many important body functions such as:
- Manages how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
- Keeps inflammation down
- Regulates your blood pressure
- Increases your blood sugar (glucose)
- Controls your sleep/wake cycle
- Boosts energy so you can handle stress and restores balance afterward
Cortisol: When Bad Things Can Happen
Cortisol levels are finely tuned to insure that all systems are working efficiently and in sync. But what happens if levels fall out of sync, which can happen if a mass in your adrenal gland or a tumor in the brain’s pituitary gland triggers your body to make too much cortisol. If your adrenal gland is producing too much cortisol, it causes a condition called Cushing’s syndrome. You gain weight quickly, bruise easily, suffer muscle weakness, and can develop diabetes.
And, on the other hand, too little cortisol production brings a condition called Addison’s disease. The symptoms include:
- Changes in your skin, like darkening on scars and in skin folds
- Being tired all the time
- Muscle weakness that grows worse
- Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Low blood pressure
Cortisol: Monitoring The Levels
As this steroid hormone is so important to our health, is it possible to measure it in real time? The answer from Stanford University researchers now is, yes.
They have developed a stretchy wearable patch that can measure cortisol levels in sweat. This technology could help doctors diagnose adrenal or pituitary problems, and also help to assess stress levels in non-verbal children, adults, and senior citizens who cannot communicate well with mental health professionals.
Levels of the hormone cortisol can spike in response to stress, but it can also fluctuate significantly during the day. Abnormal levels can indicate problems with the adrenal glands or the pituitary gland. Since current lab tests need several days to process, levels have likely changed, creating a diagnostic problem.
Cortisol: Say Hello To The Wearable Patch
A stretchy sensor which is affixed to the skin measures cortisol levels through sweat using an electrochemical sensor. This sensor contains a cortisol sensitive membrane. So far, the patches have provided similar results to gold-standard laboratory tests. The benefit of the patch, of course, is that results and diagnosis are immediate.