Your adrenal glands, located just above your kidneys, are responsible for the "fight or flight" response during an emergency. This is caused by the hormone adrenaline, also called epinephrine. The adrenal cortex is the outer portion of your adrenal gland responsible for making two steroid hormones. Cortisol and aldosterone affect your blood pressure and response to stress. Sometimes the adrenal glands make insufficient levels of cortisol. Certain vitamins can have an impact on the symptoms of this condition.
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The adrenocorticotropic hormone is produced in your pituitary gland. This hormone signals the release of cortisol. Low cortisol levels can occur from two causes, when there is insufficient adrenocorticotropic hormone or not enough cortisol. Addison's disease is an autoimmune disease that destroys the adrenal glands and leads to low cortisol levels. Chronic infections, adrenal cancer and other conditions can also cause low cortisol. Symptoms include fatigue, poor appetite, low blood pressure, nausea, dizziness, darkened skin and muscle spasms.
When cortisol is released in response to stress, inflammation occurs. High cortisol levels are associated with high homocysteine levels, a marker of inflammation. Vitamin B-12 helps control inflammation by converting homocysteine to methionine, an amino acid. A 2006 study in "Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine" found that when subjects were supplemented with adrenocorticotropic hormone or cortisol, their homocysteine levels stayed the same. Serum B-12 concentrations became depleted, however, suggesting that the effects of high cortisol on inflammation can be buffered by vitamin B-12. This process will eventually deplete your levels if you do not replenish B-12.
Because vitamin B-12 helps reduce the effects of cortisol, low cortisol levels will likely require less vitamin B-12 from your body for this purpose. The benefits of adequate vitamin B-12 may help with some of the other symptoms with low cortisol. Vitamin B-12 is responsible for forming healthy red blood cells. Low cortisol decreases circulation by causing your blood pressure to drop, so it is important to avoid anemia, as not to impair blood cell functioning. Vitamin B-12 can also help reduce fatigue, another common symptom of low cortisol levels.
If you have low adrenal cortisol levels, you are at greater risk for malnutrition because your appetite is affected. While vitamin B-12 can be beneficial for high cortisol, it may also help with some of the symptoms of low cortisol levels. If you take too much supplemental B-12, you may mask a folate deficiency. The recommended dietary allowance is 2.4 micrograms per day. Rather than only supplementing with vitamin B-12, take a multivitamin to boost your overall nutritional status. Talk to your doctor about the possible benefits of dietary supplements with low cortisol levels.