What Happens When Good Cortisol Goes Bad?

Cortisol  itself isn’t a bad thing as I mentioned last week.   Cortisol can become too high, too low or it can swing wildly from too high to too low.
There are three stages to the stress response…alarm, resistance and exhaustion.   The initial response to stress is called fight or flight.  The body will adapt so that only critical activities are met. Heart rate and force of contractions increase to provide blood to those areas most needed, namely the heart and lungs, while the amount of blood supplying oxygen and glucose to muscles is increased.    Digestion is slowed and blood sugars rises dramatically as the liver converts stored glycogen into glucose for release into the blood stream.
Usually the alarm stage is short lived.  However, if it continues, our friend cortisol and other corticoid friends are largely responsible for the resistance stage. The hormones convert protein to energy so the body has large stores of energy even after the glucose stores are depleted.  The hormones also promote retention of sodium to keep blood pressure elevated.  Hence why you feel wired and hyper.
After a prolonged period in the resistance stage, exhaustion manifests itself as a partial or total collapse of either a body function or an organ, and you may experience the following symptoms:
  • You’re constantly agitated
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive issues
Here’s the kicker.  When cortisol has been high for a period of time, your body crashes, your cortisol levels take a nosedive and the following may occur:
  • You’re tired all the time.
  • You’ve lost of joy.
  • You cry at the silliest things.
And then there’s the swinging pendulum.  Where you can be wired and tired at the same time.  Cortisol levels become low in the morning and high at night, which is completely backwards and your body just doesn’t know whether to sleep or be alert at any given time of the day.
During the resistance and exhaustion stages you may experience the following:
  • Angina
  • Asthma
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Common cold
  • Depression
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Headaches
  • Hypertension
  • Immune suppression
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • PMS
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Ulcers
When I started nutrition school in September 2012, I was working full time commuting 3 hours a day and I was also going to school 3 ½ hours, 2 nights a week and having a boatload of reading and homework to do.  It was an intense course.  There were times I didn’t think I was going to make it.  I actually thought about taking a break. Not to quit.  Just to take a break.  But I quickly decided that wasn’t going to work for me.  So I pushed on.
By the end of almost 2 years, the classes were finished and I started working in a health food store as my co-op hours.  And then my face flared up.  I had a massive allergic reaction and it took me 6 weeks to recover.  But I did.  Just in time for graduation.  That was the beginning of about 12 months of high stress, and high cortisol levels.  There was a massive stressor in my life in August and I went from being wired and hyper to being mildly depressed.  My manager at work asked me if I was ok … if I needed help. She referred me to an employee assistance program.  And then it hit me what was happening.  My cortisol levels were off the charts.  And just knowing that, and making some changes in my life, turned everything around.
I went from being someone I didn’t recognize to being myself again.  Happy, healthy, vibrant, positive, grateful.  How did I do it?  Stay tuned for next week’s post when I share nutritional changes that I made to help heal me.

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