Do you feel you need a nap an hour after waking up? Are you fatigued most of the day? Do you suffer from bouts of depression? Are you constantly managing nagging injuries or inflammation? You may have a cortisol issue, but not high cortisol most commonly discussed. The dangers of high cortisol are well documented, but we rarely hear about the impact low cortisol can have on your system. All the issues I just listed can be a result of your adrenal glands not producing an adequate amount of cortisol.
I've spent the last four years trying to find solutions to my brain fog, fatigue, and depression issues; among other inconveniences I deemed less critical. In previous posts I've discussed discovering a genetic abnormality and I've discussed my experiences with depression. I had hoped that by digging into my DNA and depression issues, I'd find some resolution. While depression isn't as prominent of late, a deep fatigue still plagues me. Having exhausted our traditional healthcare route, which left me feeling like a hypochondriac, I opted to try a new path this year. Refusing to believe that how I feel is normal, acceptable, or all in my head, I decided to try a holistic approach. I recently consulted with NourishBalanceThrive to have a suite of lab tests completed. I submitted saliva, urine, and stool samples to receive three separate tests that would basically give me a diagnostic overview of my system. It's important, I feel, to note that neither of the two physicians I'd seen about my symptoms suggested these tests. This past Friday I received my lab results. Three significant issues showed up in my results, as well as a few less critical problems directly related to the three I'll share now. My results show extremely low levels of cortisol, chronic inflammation, and evidence of an intestinal parasite called Blastocystis hominis. Additionally, I have low levels of DHEA, testosterone, and other hormones, all pointing to a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue.Having read a few things about adrenal fatigue in the past, I wasn't surprised to see data that supported what I considered a possibility. However, I never considered I may have low cortisol. I believed, if anything, stress was causing my system to secrete too much cortisol. I, unfortunately, am also not surprised that my results show high levels of inflammation. As an endurance athlete who's suffered from numerous inflammatory injuries I can't help but wonder if my injuries caused chronic inflammation or if my chronic inflammation is causing my injuries. The therapist believes the parasite, which he's seen in other cases, is a significant factor to the chronic inflammation. My understanding is it basically feeds on sugars and carbs in my gut, inhibiting my absorption of nutrients and enzymes that help fuel the adrenals; thus blocking the creation of necessary hormones, primarily cortisol. I haven't any idea how long this thing has been in me, but possibly years. Regardless, my primary concern now is to extract the parasite, allow my adrenals to recovery, and raise my cortisol production back to a normal level.
I'm going to share some things I've read to maybe give you a better understanding that high cortisol isn't our only concern. If you've been producing too much cortisol due to our fast-paced high-stress environment, your adrenals may start to shut down. A quick disclaimer; I'm not a physician or scientist, so this is my interpretation from discussions and research. As with anything, there are differing opinions on any medical condition. This is meant to give you some additional data to mull over if you exhibit similar symptoms and can't seem to find the source of the problem.
One role of the adrenal glands is to help your body deal with stresses from injury and disease, as well as work, financial, or relationship issues. Your adrenal glands secrete precise amounts of steriod hormones, however, many factors can interfere with their ability to do their job. Physical, emotional, physchological, environmental, and infectious stresses can deplete your adrenals and cause a decrease in the production of hormones, particularly cortisol. If your cortisol availability is insufficient you're going to have issues with energy, stress, and inflammation. Your resiliency, energy, endurance and your very life all depend on the proper functioning of the adrenal glands, according to James L. Wilson Ph.D, author of Adrenal Fatigue, The 21st Century Stress Syndrome.
"The hormones secreted by your adrenals influence all of the major physiological processes in your body. They closely effect the utilization of carbohydrates and fats, the conversion of fats and proteins into energy, the distribution of stored fat, normal blood sugar regulation, and proper cardiovascular and gastrointestinal function." — James L. Wilson Ph.D
Basically, the hormones secreted by the adrenals control how energy is created and dispersed. An interesting note about my results; though I've spent the good part of 15 years training my body to burn fat as energy, my labs show I have a fat metabolism problem. I'm not converting or distributing fats properly. This could be due to a combination of my adrenal failure and the parasite.
"The adrenals also have an effect on mental states. As a result, people with andrenal fatigue show a tendency toward increased fears, anxiety and depression, have intervals of confusion, increased difficulties in concentrating and less acute memory recall. They often have less tolerance than they normally would and are more easily frustrated. When the adrenals are not secreting the proper amount of hormones, insomnia is also one of the likely outcomes." — James L. Wilson Ph.D
This describes me fairly accurately. While I've discussed depression, I don't know that I've mentioned my concentration and memory issues—or I've forgotten. Kidding aside, it's become a problem inhibiting my ability to maintain sustained focus on work. Often I feel I'm losing my mind when I forget why I just walked into the kitchen, or opened my computer. More concerning to me, however, is the tolerance problem. I've been well aware over the past several years that my tolerance level is low, I get frustrated very quickly for little reason. Like a lit match, it ignites then burns out rapidly. I don't like it, and it's been a significant factor in my attempt to simplify life and reduce stress.
Below is a list of additional symptoms that can arise due to low cortisol. They include fatigue, aches and pains, brain fog, allergies, frequent infections, low blood pressure, low stress tolerance, anxiety, irritability, hypoglycemia, frequent nausea, PMS/PMDD, autoimmune diseases, excessive sweating, teeth grinding, restless legs, hot flashes, mental and psychological ailments such as depression, faintness and dizziness, emotional hypersensitivity, social anxiety, extreme craving for salty foods, anxiety and jitters, insomnia and dark circles under the eyes, low bladder capacity and symptoms of IBS, irregular or non-existent menstrual period, and inflammation.
I'm optimistic that this new data will help me rediscover my vitality. In theory, if I get my cortisol and other hormone levels back to normal ranges I should have more energy and reduced symptoms. I'll be starting a very strict protocol that includes nutritional tweaks, supplements for my adrenals, naturopathic medicines to fight the parasite, more sleep, and reduced physical exertion for the next six months. Coffee, sugar, caffeine, dairy, alcohol, chocolate; while not things I overindulged on (well perhaps the coffee), will be completely avoided. I need to eliminate any foods, and physical exertion, that contribute to my chronic inflammation. I'll attempt to document this next phase toward vitality and share what I learn in hopes of helping others that might relate.