Cortisol Imbalance Can Cause Different Issues
by Mark Newman, MS
Cortisol imbalance can be the cause to many different day-to-day issues, such as feeling light headed, irritability, and even depression. Getting yourself tested with a reliable hormone test, such as DUTCH, should always be the first step. Once the imbalance is confirmed, you and your healthcare provider can sit down and create a strategic plan to get your hormones back to normal and start on your journey back to health. Read the article below by Dr. Sachin Patel at Living Proof Institute to learn more.
To say that stress affects a person’s blood sugar would be an understatement. Stress can come in many forms; from worrying about eating a healthy diet, to knee pain, little critters in the gut, to inhaling all the perfumes when you walk through Macy’s. When the brain gets a stress signal, it sends down a cascade of hormones that turns on a person’s adrenal glands. In turn, our adrenal glands secrete a hormone called cortisol Our stress response is what has kept us alive all these generations, but now what is an excellent adaptive feature is becoming our undoing. Chronic activation of this system eventually causes it to fail. Think of it like your smoke detector – the more it runs, the faster it runs out of batteries.
One of the main symptoms a person will experience if their adrenal glands aren’t up to the tasks of dealing with stress is getting shaky and foggy-headed if they don’t eat. Cortisol is responsible for increasing blood sugar so that way the brain has energy to make life saving decisions in an emergency. If the brain doesn’t get enough sugar, it can’t control small things like holding a person’s hand steady. Cortisol also shunts blood flow from the front of the brain to the hindbrain. This part of the brain is more geared towards making survival decisions, not being nice to a co-worker or family member when a person is hungry. As a result, a person isn’t as good at decision making or behaving in an acceptable manner.
Sometimes, a person will also feel like they will pass out if their adrenals aren’t up to the task of dealing with day-to-day stressors. Another one of cortisol’s main functions is to increase blood pressure. When those glands can’t maintain a proper blood pressure, a person will sometimes get dizzy if they stand up too fast. Also, this person will sometimes say something like “my blood pressure is always low”. Blood pressure is a sign of how well we can get oxygen and nutrients to a tissue. If a person has cold hands and feet, they also have a cold brain. A hormone called aldosterone is secreted during stress as well. After chronic activation, the body starts to deplete sodium causing a person to crave salty food to replenish these stores.
Something else to consider is that the brain also ends up depleting a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine will get turned into noradrenaline and adrenaline under times of stress. When this happens, people may start to get irritable under stress, isolate themselves, become apathetic, depressed, and have little to no motivation to complete tasks. Sometimes, a person will develop addictive behaviors to surge dopamine. This is a why a smoker ‘needs’ a cigarette when they get stressed out. They can’t make dopamine on their own, so they try and force production by smoking to help the brain deal with stress.
There are a lot of reasons why a person’s adrenal glands could be struggling. So what are some things a person can do? Glad you asked!
- Balance blood sugars – Think of a metabolism like a fire. We want a steady flame, which takes logs. These ‘logs’ are things like non-starchy vegetables, good sources of fat, and protein. Think of simple sugars such as a mango like putting sticks on a fire. The sticks will burn for a little bit, but then go right back out. A person doesn’t want any huge fluctuations in blood sugar. Also, a person with adrenal fatigue symptoms shouldn’t wait until they are hungry to eat – it is already too late.
- Strategies to manage stress – The part of the nervous system responsible for activating the stress response is the sympathetic nervous system. A person would want to activate the parasympathetic, or rest and digest, part of the nervous system. Think of it like a see-saw that only has a person on one side when the stress response gets out of control. Ways to help balance this see-saw could include things like yoga, guided imagery, going for a walk, or laughing with friends and family.
- Avoid inflammatory foods – Even though this sounds similar to balancing blood sugars, it is not. A food that either the immune system has tagged as a bad molecule, or feeds a little critter in the gut, will stimulate a stress response as well. Common examples are gluten, sugar, dyes, and dairy. There can be several more, but sometimes it is better to get tested instead of worrying about every single meal. Sometimes ‘healthy’ food such as turmeric, kale, ginger, and bone broth can be problematic. If the gut is leaking, then any food a person eats has a chance of being classified by the immune system as ‘bad’.
- Fix the gut – typically the biggest stressor in a person’s life is inside the GI tract. The list of a possible dysbiosis can be lengthy and scary. For the most part, food shouldn’t be a problem as long as someone is eating clean. The problem with real, wholesome foods is a person either can’t properly digest them, or there is a little critter in the gut like a SIBO, Candida, or H. pylori which is a constant stress response on the body.
- Sleep – the only time a person’s body can recharge the batteries both physically and mentally is when they are asleep. One of the problems with adrenal activation is the ‘wired and tired’ where a person’s mind is racing while they are trying to fall asleep. This is often referred to as the ‘second wind’. This is bad. A person should focus on their sleep hygiene to make sure they are preparing their body and mind for rest. Don’t do things like watch the news, get in an argument, or try and finish up some work before bed. This will get the brain primed to deal with stress, and falling asleep in a stressful environment is a terrible idea as far as your body is concerned.
Above all, if these simple lifestyle strategies don’t work for a person, they should be properly evaluated to find out what their hidden stressors are, how depleted are their adrenal and sex hormones, as well as evaluating which nutrients the body and brain is lacking due to a constant state of alarm.
Source: Patel, D. S. (n.d.). Living Proof Institute. Retrieved from https://thelivingproofinstitute.com/why-do-i-get-irritable-if-i-skip-a-meal-2/