How HIGH or LOW Cortisol levels are causing your IBS
You’ve probably been told “long term stress is bad for your health.” Pretty vague, right? Thousands of other things are “bad for your health”, so how is this different?
Why is stress bad and what symptoms can long term stress cause? To understand this, you need to understand what a normal, healthy stress response is.
This is what’s SUPPOSED to happen in your body when you get stressed.
When humans were stressed thousands of years ago, it was typically because they were in imminent danger (think life or death situations). Maybe a lion was chasing them or they were starving and had to find food.
In stressful situations like these, the brain only wants to focus on survival and GETTING OUT OF DANGER. So the brain signals a normal stress response, which includes telling the adrenal glands to secrete more cortisol, which is also known as the “stress hormone”.
The increased cortisol output raises heart rate, increases alertness and makes you stronger, faster and smarter so you can escape danger.
It also tells the body to stop focusing on things it doesn’t need RIGHT NOW to survive, like digesting food, sleeping, and defending against disease.
So in a stressful situation, you get amped up to escape the lion or find food, and when the danger has passed, you go back into a relaxed state with normal, healthy cortisol levels. And everything is well again.
As a human, this is the kind of stress your ancestors lived with for THOUSANDS of years. And you are designed the same way – to handle SHORT TERM stress.
Today, different stress means VERY different outcomes.
You might deal with things like work, taking care of family, bills, school, deciding what clothes to wear, traffic, staying on schedule, etc. Even WORRYING about something in your mind can cause stress and raise cortisol levels.
Do you notice a trend here? These are all everyday things that can keep you stressed ALL DAY LONG. And you were not designed to handle LONG TERM or CHRONIC stress.
When you’re stressed for longer periods of time, cortisol levels STAY ELEVATED.
And it’s important to know that your body is designed to be a fine BALANCED MACHINE. When cortisol levels increase above normal, this balance is thrown off and there are some major downsides.
You may have even heard about the dangers of high cortisol in the mainstream media. I hear so many people worrying about HIGH CORTISOL… and with good reason.
Gut dysfunction can first begin with HIGH cortisol levels…
Remember, when you are stressed, your body thinks a lion is chasing you. It is only focused on survival and ESCAPING STRESS. So digesting food, sleep, burning fat, and fighting bacteria are all of a sudden not so important and this should not be ignored!
More specifically, when cortisol levels are elevated, your body slows down production of secretory IgA (or sIgA). And sIgA is your body’s FIRST line of DEFENSE and it is found throughout the lining of your digestive tract.
So think about it…
If the first line of defense in your digestive tract is severely weakened, what’s gonna happen?
If you said, “I’d start to have digestive pains,” then you are correct!
When this happens, your digestive tract struggles more to digest food AND it has a much harder time fighting off parasitic, yeast and fungal infections. It’s not good news and this is where the first major signs of bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea can begin.
You’d be surprised at how quickly this can happen after your secretory IgA gets depleted after you’ve been stressed for a long time!
And on top of that, HIGH cortisol levels may also cause…
- sudden weight gain, regardless of diet and exercises
- low testosterone
- female hormone imbalances and PMS symptoms
- brain damage (confusion, forgetfulness, difficulty focussing)
- getting sick and “under the weather” frequently
- muscle loss
However, despite all this, you may actually still feel pretty good with high cortisol levels! That is because cortisol increases energy, decreases inflammation, and makes you feel awake and alert for very long bouts of time.
So you can usually still juggle whatever life throws at you with high cortisol levels, despite some nagging symptoms!
But cortisol levels can’t stay high forever – and that is when REAL problems begin.
The crazy thing is, most of my clients’ lab tests are showing LOW cortisol levels and the effects of this are even WORSE.
But before I tell you why low cortisol levels usually lead to even worse outcomes…
I want you to understand WHY people end up with low cortisol levels.
When you’re stressed out for days, weeks, or months, your brain still thinks a lion is chasing you all day, everyday. Your brain keeps telling them to pump out more and more cortisol without giving time for rest. Think slave labor!
When you fall into this pattern, two things happen.
First, your adrenal glands become physically EXHAUSTED and can’t keep up with the demand.
Imagine driving your car over 100 mph for a really long time, or blasting your air conditioning non-stop in 200 degree heat. Eventually, something is gonna give… and the same goes for your body. Eventually, cortisol levels start to go down as the engine burns out.
Second, your brain becomes DESENSITIZED to stress.
This means that your brain thinks your body is crying wolf and that you actually AREN’T stressed all day, everyday. “How can a lion be chasing you for twelve hours a day, seven days a week?!” is what your brain asks your body. And so the normal stress response STOPS.
So, at this point you’ve got exhausted adrenal glands, which can’t produce the healthy levels of cortisol AND you’ve got a confused brain that no longer knows how much cortisol the body should be producing!
Trust me, it’s a bad combination. It’s like beating a dead horse, and not even knowing what you want it to do!
This simple graph gives a clear picture of the path that people generally take when they go through a lot of STRESS. And this can include emotional stress, dietary stress, or even prolonged stress in the form of physical pain.
Here’s how it happens, step-by-step.
- Cortisol levels are normal to begin with, and they increase when you are stressed
- If you relax, they go backwards, back down to normal
- If you stay stressed for a long time, cortisol levels remain elevated in Stage 1
- Eventually, your body can no longer maintain this, and cortisol levels start to drop to Stage 2 and may keep dropping to Stage 3
And LOW cortisol levels can make you feel even worse.
When this happens, the above symptoms can STILL remain because your body continues to feel stressed, but the symptoms have often gotten worse by this time.
And, since you NEED sufficient cortisol levels to be healthy, new problems may emerge when they get depleted, such as…
- low back pain or joint pain that won’t go away
- feeling tired for no known reason
- hypoglycemia (low blood sugar, feeling jittery)
- food sensitivities
Yes, these symptoms can all add up. Because if you have low cortisol levels, your body is running on HALF (OR LESS) of what a normal healthy person should be running on.
Low cortisol levels also INCREASE the risk for scary DISEASES.
This is so important, but so overlooked!
First, cortisol is the body’s major ANTI-INFLAMMATORY hormone. And it’s known that almost all diseases are rooted in inflammation or closely related to INFLAMMATION.
- Autoimmune disease
- Skin conditions like eczema
- Heart attacks
and so much more.
When cortisol levels are low, your body really struggles to regulate inflammation. So if you’ve got low cortisol, plus your immune system is down from all the stress, you can see why this is not a good sign!
That is why prednisone shots (which are like synthetic cortisol) are so effective! But these can have DEVASTATING side effects and can cause your body to STOP producing cortisol on its own.
But there is one BIGGER problem…
Most doctors don’t know how to test for HEALTHY cortisol levels.
And most doctors definitely don’t know how to restore the body’s normal cortisol output. That’s because there’s no pharmaceutical drug or surgery that can do this!
When conventional medicine doctors think about cortisol and the adrenal glands, they’re only looking for EXTREME medical conditions, like Addison’s disease or Cushing’s disease. (And I’m thankful we have medical treatments for these extremes!)
However, these are extremely rare and most people don’t suffer from them.
Most doctors also don’t take into consideration that cortisol levels are supposed to CHANGE throughout the day.
You’re supposed to wake up with high levels, and they’re supposed to decline throughout the day. That’s why it is SO important to get your levels tested for an entire day.
Check this out…
If you look at these lab results from my client, you can clearly see the imbalance. Cortisol levels were LOW in the morning, then HIGH mid-morning, then LOW again, and are NORMAL by the end of the day!
Not only were their total levels low, but their rhythm is like a roller coaster, rather than a nice smooth wave. And yes, this client could definitely feel the roller coaster of energy levels each day!
This client also had sleeping problems, bloating with meals, and a lot of lower back pain. BUT this client’s doctor said everything looked “normal” for their annual physical. And after working with me, we were able to REVERSE all the symptoms, and much more!
FUNCTIONAL wellness finds the DYSFUNCTION that CAUSES the symptoms.
With functional wellness, I’m not looking to diagnose any medical disease. I’m looking for DYSFUNCTION and imbalances that can CAUSE the symptoms. In many cases, this includes imbalanced cortisol and other hormones.
By addressing ROOT CAUSES and restoring OPTIMAL function, you won’t believe how much better you can feel!
When my clients start to work on their cortisol levels, we see great things…
- bloating and gas with meals go WAY DOWN
- food sensitivities decrease
- more regular bowel movements
- less joint pain, better sleep, more energy, clearer skin… and the list goes on
Book a FREE consult to see if cortisol imbalance might be affecting your life.
Are you sick and tired of dealing with IBS? Have you been through some stress and now you’re curious if your cortisol levels might be off balance? Do you want to make sure your body is functioning at its best?
If this sounds like you, you can book a FREE 30 minute consult below to talk about your goals, get some quick tips to improve your health starting NOW, and see how I may be able to help you in the long term.
Talk to you soon!
With your health in mind,