The Cortisol Downward Spiral (or How Moving To Georgia Saved My Life)

I’m sharing this in the hope that it may help others and possibly save someone years of suffering.  And by suffering I mean everything from depression to cancer, loss of interest in life to dementia, auto-immune diseases to osteoporosis, arthritis to chronic fatigue, inability to sleep, weight gain, thyroid dysfunction, constant sickness, general malaise, inability to work, hair loss, thoughts of suicide, brain fog, chronic inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, diabetes, memory problems, and all manner of other afflictions.

I am not implying that (what I’m calling) the cortisol downward spiral is the *only* cause of the above, rather, the body’s inability to down-regulate cortisol, over time, can cause be a primary causative factor in any or all of the above.

Cortisol is a resource intensive hormone that the body produces in response to stress.  It is a fight or flight hormone, which means it’s really important.  It could be the difference between living and dying! Because of this, it has a powerful effect on the body/mind complex, and has a dampening and depleting effect on many of the normal and regulatory body processes. This is a normal and good process when a bear is headed your way. However, if the stress/fear/anxiety is ongoing, the body continues to produce the cortisol to the detriment of other body systems.

cortisol

 

What starts as a prolonged high level of cortisol then becomes adrenal fatigue, and new symptoms arise.  Here is a sample list.

By the time I moved to Georgia, I was exhausted all the time.  My brain was slow and foggy. I couldn’t read and retain information.  I couldn’t exercise.  I would barely muster the energy to do minimally life sustaining tasks, such as cooking meals and paying bills.  I had many symptoms besides the brain fog.  A continuous low level pain existed in all my joints.  I put on weight, even though I didn’t eat that much. I couldn’t sleep through the night because I would wake up after 90 minutes, then it could take hours to get back to sleep. Of course the lack of adequate sleep made everything worse.

I have always had a low threshold for noise. Minor inconveniences were barely tolerable to me.  I would tell my friend James (who pointed this out to me regularly) that life is just so damn hard as it is… I can’t take anything else that brings more stress or pressure.

I didn’t realize how sick and non-functional I was. I just knew that my life felt significantly harder than others’ lives, and I attributed it to childhood trauma.  If you’ve followed me on Facebook for a while, you know that I think the ACE test (Adverse Childhood Experience test) is a powerful tool to help identify at-risk children at a young age, intervene, and prevent a lifetime of illness and dysfunction. Having experienced my own childhood trauma (like so many others) I created adaptive behaviors that kept me always on the lookout for danger and always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I was always ready for fight or flight.

stress
Before my arrival in Georgia, several of my friends here had begun living a “Bulletproof” lifestyle to varying degrees.  As I read Dave Asprey’s blog posts I hoped that this would help me.  I started taking the supplements and nutrients that Dave recommended, and within a couple of weeks, I was feeling significantly better.  I felt like the tide had begun to turn.

At that point I started to have a bit of life force and energy to do more reading and research.  I soon realized that many of my physical symptoms were those of leaky gut syndrome.  I read everything I could, further shifted my diet, and learned about functional medicine.

As one of the small percentage of people who fell through the cracks in health care, I had been uninsured since 2011. Since I could only work minimal hours as a consultant, I was unable to procure my own insurance. Through the generosity of family, I was offered a visit to a functional medicine doctor.  I got recommendations, did research and ended up at a doctor several hours from my home.

This is where I learned about the cortisol spiral.  And I learned about the myriad things that were going wrong in my system. I began a rigorous regime including multiple supplements, conventional medicines, homeopathic treatments, IV treatments, light therapy, chiropractic and diet modification.

Today, a month since my first visit to the clinic, I’m feeling better every day.  I have moments of sensing the sharp intelligence I had as a child now returning.  My brain works again – and I feel my clarity and ability to process information improving. My body is getting more flexible, the inflammation in my joints is decreasing, and I have started having energy to exercise.

Moving to Georgia probably saved my life. I don’t know that I would have gotten the treatment and care I needed while I was in the Bay. Certainly it is there, but for whatever reason, I had to come here to find it.

 

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6 thoughts on “The Cortisol Downward Spiral (or How Moving To Georgia Saved My Life)

  1. I don’t know how old you are, but note that around age 36, our female bodies start producing less progesterone. This leaves our estrogen unbuffered, which can give us brain fog, constant feeling of overwhelm, “tired but wired,” etc. Drinking coffee probably exacerbates it. Being stressed by city life likely also does. It escalated for me to fever pitch in the SF Bay area, which is a fairly stressful place.

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    1. Hi Carol. Thanks for your comment. Yes, I had blood tests that included all my hormone levels, which were not surprisingly, incredibly low. I learned that estrogen alone performs over 300 bodily functions “that we know of”! Add DHEA, testosterone, progesterone, thyroid (T3 as well as T4), etc. and all of the bodily functions each of them does… The human body is an amazingly complex and wondrous thing. No wonder I was so sick. My friend called it The Unseen Unwellness. From the outside you look fine, and by Western cultural standards you should be able to function…

      There’s so much more to say about this – perhaps for a future article. 🙂

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      1. Hi Elizabeth, thanks again for sharing. I had never heard of the ACE Test before. That’s something that I would like to pursue and read up on. I’m just finishing up here in Kansas after spending 20 months up in Washington. What a change of scenery. I think I need to take a little time to heal myself as well. The stress of my work can certainly take it’s toll. Like you said, sometimes life itself has its challenges. So, I hope you continue to improve everyday, in every way, alone your way. Steve

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      2. Thanks, Steve. It has been quite a journey. Happily, yes, improving every day. Let me know what you think when you take the ACE test and read up on it. It’s quite eye-opening.

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  2. Hello, I have suffered from very similar symptoms and was wondering what the name of your doctor is. Thank you!

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    1. Hi Katie. Find a good functional medicine doctor wherever you are and they’ll help you out. I’m using the Bremen Clinic in Bremen, Georgia. The clinic has an awesome team, led by JoAnn Donaldson, MD.

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