Cortisol is the main hormone of our stress response, and it plays a significant role in many different functions of a human body. Interestingly, studies have found a link between salivary cortisol, depression, and anxiety: those disorders are frequently accompanied by heightened cortisol levels.
At the same time, a growing amount of mobile phone apps and health programs are tested to support the treatments, enhance communication between patients and their health professionals, and motivate people to take action on their health when needed.The development of technology combined with the expanding understanding of mental and physical health creates ever-growing possibilities and new ways to support our well-being.
The level of stress hormone tells us many stories
A healthy cortisol production follows a declining curve, where cortisol is at its highest when we wake up, and lowest in the night when we’re sleeping. Besides, we get occasional cortisol peaks depending on what we do — an intense workout or a stressful situation can trigger our brain to signal adrenal glands to produce more cortisol.
The purpose of our body’s stress reaction is to help us survive the challenging situation. In chronic stress, stress response stays on without cooling down, creating various health issues. Furthermore, different health conditions can affect our cortisol levels by increasing or decreasing the amount of it or messing up with the diurnal curve. Thus cortisol can tell many stories of our health, not only the amount of stress we’re experiencing.
Cortisol as an indicator of depression and anxiety
When it comes to depression and anxiety, the level of cortisol is often heightened, or the daily cortisol production is unbalanced.
Researchers from the University Medical Center in The Netherlands examined the relation between depression and anxiety disorders, and salivary cortisol levels. The study indicated that lower cortisol levels in the morning (=cortisol awakening response) predicted unfavorable development among depression or anxiety patients.
Other study found out that cortisol in saliva worked as a marker for anxiety in children in the study conducted in 2010: children with high anxiety had higher cortisol levels.
Depression and anxiety seem to walk hand in hand with cortisol levels
Antidepressants are a common treatment for depressive and anxiety disorders. Different antidepressants alter cortisol levels differently, a study confirms. The study points out that knowing the differences between antidepressants and cortisol’s reactions to them helps to find more effective drug treatments for anxious and depressed patients.
Self-monitoring and follow-up
When people can measure their cortisol levels at home with the help of their smartphones, both diagnosing and following up the effectiveness of treatments will get more accurate. Seeing the results of the actions in one’s cortisol levels can be encouraging and motivating, pushing the patient to continue the favorable path.
Testing hormone levels at the laboratory gives information only on that specific moment, whereas the direction of the changes in hormones is what matters the most during life changes or drug treatments. Until now, a regular self-monitoring hasn’t been easy nor cheap, but improved biotechnology and ever-widening usage of our smartphones are moving things quickly forward.