What happens when cortisol levels are constantly elevated?
Having high levels of cortisol for extended periods of time can create 3 multiple issues that ultimately result in your body’s cry for help through the symptoms you experience.
- Impeding normal cell regeneration and healing
- Disrupt healthy function of your endocrine system including your thyroid
- Redirecting molecules needed to make other vital hormones
- Deteriorating immune system functioning
- Difficulty with digestion, metabolism and mental functioning
When your adrenals constantly get a distress call, it can become more and more difficult for these hard-working glands to produce their key hormones, including cortisol, DHEA, and the sex hormones. This often impacts women even more severely in mid-life as they enter perimenopause or menopause, since they rely on their adrenals to keep sex hormones level in that time of transition. If you suddenly find yourself unable to keep up with the pace you’ve maintained for years, adrenal dysfunction could be to blame.
Elevated cortisol output impacts so many aspects of your health beyond hormone levels as well. It may cause weight gain, change your appearance and how you age, affect energy levels, your immune system, cognitive functioning, mood, and bone health.
So many women come to me frustrated because their health care provider hasn’t found anything out of the ordinary by conventional medical standards, but you KNOW your symptoms are telling you something isn’t right. Extreme fatigue, intense sugar and caffeine cravings, chronic insomnia and the other symptoms you’re living with every day are not normal — and there IS something you can do about it. But first, you have to understand what’s going on.
A big question to ask yourself is ‘what has changed so significantly in my life to make me experience these uncomfortable and disruptive symptoms of adrenal imbalance?’ The easy answer is stress. Stress is no longer isolated to life-threatening situations – it’s everywhere!
These symptoms aren’t to be ignored — they are your wake up call! Your body is screaming out for help, and it’s time to listen and take action. Reading this article is an important first step — I can walk you through what is happening, and be sure you understand the best steps you can take to feel like yourself again. It’s important to know that adrenal imbalance doesn’t always present the same way. It builds slowly, and when left unattended to, you’ll progress through three distinct stages. It’s best if you catch adrenal imbalance in the early stages, so you don’t get to the point where you simply cannot get out of bed at all.
The Three Stages of Adrenal Dysfunction
1. Stage 1 – You’re Wired
You can’t slow down, even when you want to. You feel “wired” all the time, even when you also feel exhausted. You find yourself feeling worn out, but can’t seem to stop. There’s so much adrenaline and cortisol in your system, you’re left in a constant “hyper-active” state, even late at night when it’s time for bed. You move “full speed ahead” all the time, and when you find some quiet time it’s hard to relax.
2. Stage 2 – Tired and Antsy
You can’t slow down, even when you want to. You feel like you have ants in your pants all the time, even when you also feel exhausted. Your natural rhythms are backwards. Your adrenal glands are producing cortisol at the end of the day instead of in the morning, leaving you feeling alert and awake in the middle of the night, but dragging in the morning. It takes a long time to fall asleep, and even when you do you often wake up ready to go at 2 am.
3. Stage 3 – Exhausted and Depleted
It’s a challenge to simply move on. You are completely worn out, and have no energy at all. Just getting through basic routines can feel impossible. You have to sit and rest after climbing one flight of stairs, or even brushing your teeth feels like too much effort. This may be accompanied by intense food cravings and weight gain you can’t explain. That’s all part of your body trying to survive. Minor stressors suddenly become major emergencies in your mind, but you feel at a loss to do anything about them.
How to Create Adrenal Balance Again
Our reactions to stress can seem so automatic that you may find yourself wondering how you can change it. The good news is there are many natural steps you can take every single day to help keep your stress hormones balanced. These are the best places to begin changing your lifestyle to take control of your health.
What you Eat Matters
The average American diet is far from ideal – or even good – nutrition. So much of the food that is quick and easy to grab at the grocery store is filled with refined carbohydrates, including sugar, potatoes, flour and white rice. Convenience often doesn’t promote health. These prepackaged and highly processed foods cause spikes in insulin, impacting your blood sugar levels. Have you ever felt a sugar high after eating a mid-day candy bar? If so, you’ve also experienced the “crash” that comes when your blood sugar drops again. And when blood sugar levels are constantly rising and falling, the impact on your adrenal hormones is significant.
You can take charge of this area by choosing natural, whole foods (organic whenever possible). Spend some time on the weekends preparing meals for the week and you’ll be more easily able to avoid the temptation of take out after a long day at work. Ultimately, learning what your body thrives on based upon your genetics is key.
Regulate your Stress Response
I’ve already talked a little about how stress is everywhere. In the modern world, stress often begins when you rise (especially if the first thing you do is check your email or news headlines on a device) and continues until you finally (if you can) fall asleep. Excess time spent on computers and cell phones, shuttling children from one activity to another, caring for aging parents, keeping a house clean and meals on the table, and the pressures from a job, adds up to far more stress than your body was designed to handle.
You can’t avoid all stress, and some is even necessary, but the hormones your adrenals produce in response to constant stress have a huge impact on your body systems and functions. That’s why it’s critical to find small ways to reduce stress and manage your response to minor stressors. Self-care is essential, as is taking time to stop and breathe.
Set time limits for electronics – and follow them. Don’t check email until you’ve had your breakfast, and put phones away (outside the bedroom) at least an hour before bedtime. Stop saying yes to every request; take the time to feel in your body what your true answer is. When you’re waiting in line or at a traffic light, use the opportunity to do some deep breathing. These small steps can all add up to a much calmer – and healthier – life.
Be Sure to Get the Nutrients your Body Craves
Did you know that some of the most frustrating symptoms – weight gain, irritability, fatigue and so much more – can be a result of nutrient deficiencies? Many women are surprised to hear this news. One of the best ways to support a healthy metabolism and adrenal balance is to take a high-quality Vitamin B complex every day. It can also be very useful to explore the nutrients different foods can provide, as well as what your symptoms might be telling you about the nutrients your body needs more of. Some key nutrients I like to incorporate into my daily routine include to feed your adrenal health, along with the ever so powerful B-vitamins would be vitamin C and magnesium. The nutrients give your adrenals the energy they need to work efficiently, especially at the cellular level. If you’re not a fan of taking vitamins orally, consider a vitamin shot or a custom-made IV once a week for an added boost!