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Why lowering cortisol is not always good

Posted by BarbaraCat on October 19, 2003, at 14:51:19

In reply to Re: The correct way to LOWER cortisol, posted by cybercafe on October 18, 2003, at 18:40:22

My husband and I recently had our cortisol levels tested - a 4 times a day saliva test that measured morning, through evening levels where ideally cortisol should start high and then subside to low in prep for sleep. Cortisol should then ideally rise to incite us to bound out of bed whistling a happy tune. The results were very interesting. I have definite PTSD and exhibit all the classic signs, I am bipolar mixed states and don't wear stress well at all. My husband, on the other hand, is very sanguine and weathers things relatively well, had nowhere near the hellhole childhood I did. Although he's had depressions, they are of the blah gray-zone type rather than the upheaving wild despair of my mixed states depressions. You'd think with this profile that my cortisol levels would be high and his normal.

Well, his cortisol levels were extremely low, not borderline even but barely scraping the barrel low, while mine were right in the pocket normal. You'd think perhaps that his low cortisol levels contribute to his laid back mood and they probably do, however, he has been complaining of a deep fatigue and lack of motivation for a long time. BTW, my cortisol levels were the same 2 years ago when I had a similar test so this time was not a fluke. This is the first test for him.

My husband has been maintaining pretty well until just recently when he underwent double-hernia operation. It was a relatively minor hernia surgery in that there was no invasive surgical cutting but rather arthascopic through the navel and the lower abdominal muscle fascia was balooned with air and separated to allow insertion of a mesh material to hold the inguinals together and stable. Sounds uncomfortable, of course, but the standard recovery time is 2 weeks. However, with his weakened adrenal low cortisol output it proved to be the proverbial straw. He went into a downward spiral and could not spring back. What should have taken 2 weeks, at 6 weeks he's just now beginning to recover.

He basically didn't have enough cortisol to devote to healing and everything started suffering. Which is why I insisted that he see my naturopath, dammit. He's now taking small amounts of a naturally derived cortisol along with a supplement containing moderately large doses of Vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, magnesium and Vitamin C which support hypo or hyper adrenal health. He's slowly regaining a sense of energy and strength and purpose that he's missed for years and I was beginning to despair he'd ever have again.

Cortisol is produced in the adrenal cortex and so in any obvious disorder of cortisol, the adrenals have been becoming gradually compromised. I used to think 'ah, I'm constantly stressed because my cortisol levels are too high - if only I could lower the sh*t, I'd be curred.' Au contraire. Cortisol gets us going in the morning and during emergencies, it provides a buffer for our stress response, it helps us heal, it mediates inflammation. It's an anabolic steroid in that it builds and heals, rather than the catabolic tearing down, both of which are necessary processes. Like anything, too much or little can be a bad thing. It's more naturally brought into balance by all those things we know are good for us but hate to do - moderate exercise, stress control, healthy diets, 8 hours of sleep. Yawn, I knew that. But things that no pills can substitute for. In my case it seems that my levels were dangerous long ago which took out my hypothalamus and hippocampus. The problem probably now resides in a damaged HPA-axis which is finally being addressed. Part of the program is adherance to the aforementioned boring lifestyle things.

One other quite interesting issue is that our naturopath feels this is also a contributor to the fact that his estradiol levels are very high, although his testosterone levels are borderline low - not as low as one might imagine given estrogen levels higher than most women's (and I wondered why we weren't getting frisky!). The adrenals/cortisol sedondarily produce sex hormones, the primary sex hormone glands being the gonads. But crummy levels of cortisol are going to affect things 'down there'. Once the adrenal system is functioning happily, it's bio-identical testosterone shots for him. Before this underlying system is healthy, anything else would be a prematurely applied bandaid which wouldn't hold for long.

So, just thought I'd add my anecdotal evidence to the mix. The moral of the story being - it's good to know where you're at hormonally before self diagnosing and experimenting with powerful substances that could make things alot worse - even with a physician's tacit approval. My experience is that most docs, endos, ob/gyn's only measure obvious or extreme cases of hormonal disorders and in the case of adrenal disorders, recognizing only the extremes of Addison's Disease and Cushing's. The standard methods of treatment are usually to prescribe a single fractionalized medication addressing the obvious issue. This can cause further imbalances by not addressing the synergy of our very complex hormonal interplay. I happen to be a great proponent of skilled naturopathic care (and I've kissed quite a few naturopathic frogs) in chronic conditions like this that should be brought back to balance in a gradual way that does not cause any jolts. All the best to us all. - BarbaraCat




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