Cortisol Conundrum and AdrenalsYour adrenal glands are made up of an inner cortex and outer medulla. They sit right on top of the kidneys at the mid to lower back and release hormones as needed. In times of stress or danger (physical or psychological) the adrenal glands stimulate the sympathetic nervous system into a “fight or flight” stress-response, releasing adrenalin and noradrenaline. These hormones charge directly into your bloodstream constricting blood vessels and increasing blood pressure.

Overactive adrenals are often the culprit of health issues such as anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, infertility, GERD/IBS, weight gain, and fatigue. When the adrenals are completely exhausted, it can lead to adrenal burnout resulting in insomnia, environmental or food allergies, hypoglycemia, and chronic fatigue.


Sympathetic nervous system stimulation causes the blood vessels in your gut to simultaneously constrict which slows or stops all digestive processes. This is when your body is in sympathetic “fight or flight” mode and NOT in parasympathetic “rest and digest” mode. This can make food difficult for your body to break down, digest, and absorb when under stress. If you don’t have the proper enzymes to digest your food you also don’t have the proper enzymes needed to kill off microbes like bacteria and yeast, nor the enzymes to pull nutrients into the blood. Many people under stress will suffer from candida, anemia or low D and B vitamins due to this sympathetic nervous system dominance or lack of parasympathetic rest/digest process.


Chronic low to high levels of stress increase cortisol production which ultimately pulls on the bank of reproductive hormones, depleting them in order to make stress hormones. This depletion will start to affect fertility, sex drive, energy and mood.


How many times do you wake up and instantly check your email or start thinking about work? This puts your body in sympathetic mode, right upon waking. Then you may drink a cup of coffee and run out the door without breakfast to sit in traffic for an hour. This leaves no time for your body to enter rest and digest (or parasympathetic) mode.

Many of us suffer long term, chronic, low grade stress without even realizing it. It has become a lifestyle; an accepted and expected way to be. This is zapping your energy, your time with friends and family, your sex drive, your digestion, and fertility. We are constantly in a state of alarm- overstimulated, and overworked. Our bodies are not designed for these types of chronic stressors.  In short spurts our body is able to sense hypothetical danger and “run from the bear” in fight-or-flight mode. When that stressor is no longer there, our body may require weeks to recover and rest in a calm and safe zone. Unfortunately with our on-the-go society, this second step never seems to occur. Long-term, chronic stress and elevated levels of cortisol eventually lead to burn out and the adrenals have low to no function.


In men, high cortisol will lower testosterone, decrease libido and cause weight gain. Often cholesterol and triglycerides will increase as well as blood pressure. In women, high cortisol makes estrogen less recognizable at the receptor sites and we spend more time making adrenalin than estrogen and our estrogen progesterone ratios decrease. These changes can result in hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and PMS. In both men and women who have adrenal fatigue it is common to have difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Pain and inflammation will also often escalate, the liver will have trouble with detoxification resulting in digestive disorders, and anxiety or panic may arise or flare up.


When your adrenals are shot, all your hormones are thrown off. The body digests cholesterol from the diet to make hormones. It will run them down the hormone pathways to make cortisol, DHEA, estrogen progesterone testosterone etc…yet in chronic states of stress, cortisol creation dominates the pathways and the other hormones get out of balance or depleted.  High cortisol will suppress the pituitary’s ability to release luteinizing hormone (LH). An LH surge is essential for ovulation generally at about day 14 of the menstrual cycle to release an egg. Abnormal cortisol levels can suppress ovulation creating a state of infertility. Estrogen, progesterone and the sex hormone ratios will also be imbalanced making it hard to promote fertility. In men, high levels of cortisol will lower testosterone levels which can make it difficult to get and or maintain erections.


Stress creates high levels of cortisol, and high levels of cortisol create insulin resistance. Insulin resistance causes weight gain since carbohydrates are converted to fat rather than burned as fuel. Elevated cortisol weight gain is usually stored around the midsection while the rest of the body stays lean. With elevated cortisol, exercise and fewer caloric intake does not seem to have an effect on weight loss and may even make it worse. Skipping meals and over-exercising actually increase stress in the body further adding to already elevated levels of cortisol.


1. Balance is the key to healthy adrenals, healthy hormones and healthy weight.
2. Eat healthy food: more veggies and protein at every meal
3. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugar
4. Drink 8 clean glasses of water per day
5. Manage stress with exercise, meditation, and relaxation
6. Sleep and get rested. The more hours you take in before midnight, the better. Take naps!
7. Get tested: Pick up a Salivary Adrenal Stress Panel and Hormone Test kit today
8. Rule out any other health conditions, acute or chronic, that may be affecting your adrenals such as hypothyroid, low immune function, anxiety/depression, food allergies, or IBS/GERD.

For more information or to set an appointment with one of our doctors, please call 310.926.4415 or email info@nawellness.com.