Low cortisol is the most common pattern we’ve seen in 100’s of labs from people with digestive problems.
It’s almost like an epidemic. We have yet to work with someone suffering from digestive problems that doesn’t have varying degrees of low cortisol.
You might know about cortisol… many people call it the “The Stress Hormone,” saying it shouldn’t get too high. And that is true, chronically elevated cortisol has its fair share of negative effects on the body.
But while everyone is pointing fingers at high cortisol for causing health problems, it’s becoming apparent to us that someone needs to look at the opposite side of this problem.
Because Chronically Low Cortisol Can Be Worse…
Most people don’t even realize how important cortisol is when dealing with chronic illness. Cortisol (a glucocorticoid) is necessary for several major body processes to function normally. It’s integral to blood sugar regulation, proper immune function, blood pressure, and the metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrates.
And when it gets low, these systems begin to have problems.
For example, here’s a few symptoms related to low cortisol:
- Chronic inflammation
- Poor response and “crashing” during stress
- Increased allergies and environmental sensitivity
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar with irritability when hungry)
- Low blood pressure and dizziness upon first standing
Any of these symptoms ring a bell for you?
Most every person we work with writes down fatigue as one of the main complaints other than digestive problems. The remaining symptoms tend to come out later as we discuss their health in more detail.
And anyone dealing with digestive problems most likely suffers from severe chronic inflammation.
I suffered from every single one of these symptoms when I was sick. At the time they didn’t seem related, but once I was treated for low cortisol they got substantially better. As I’ve gotten healthier I realized the important role cortisol plays in a healthy body and why chronic inflammation is the first red flag you need to be aware of.
Chronic Inflammation Is Like a Fire Raging Inside Your Body
Inflammation is a normal immune response in your body. It’s usually our friend. Think of it like the first responder to the scene of the injury. Pain, swelling, redness, and warmth are all signs of inflammation arriving at the site and helping your body with the healing process.
After inflammation gets the job done, the body will release various controls like cortisol to turn off inflammation and go back to business as usual. (1)
But sometimes inflammation doesn’t turn off… and that’s when things start to go wrong.
Inflammation becomes chronic when it stops being an acute response and remains a constant low-level physiological response. Think of it like starting a small camp fire meant to keep you warm that doesn’t get put out and then grows into a forest fire, burning 100,000 acres.
Chronic inflammation is when your body no longer has the ability to turn off the inflammatory response and it starts damaging healthy tissue in your body. It could damage the intestinal lining in your gut and cause digestive problems, it could damage the arteries in your heart and cause heart disease, and it could damage your joints or cause rheumatoid arthritis. It also leads to just about every chronic disease we know of.
Cortisol Is Your Inflammation Off Switch
Inflammation is just one part of our complex and amazing immune system and cortisol plays a huge role in how well it functions. Studies on the effect of glucocorticoids like cortisol on gene expression shows that they upregulate and downregulate up to 2,000 genes that are involved in regulation of the immune response. (2)
The research on cortisol suggests it’s the main anti-inflammatory hormone in the body:
“There is a bidirectional communication between the immune system and the HPA axis, in which cytokines stimulate the HPA axis and the resulting release of glucocorticoids provides negative feedback control of the immune response, keeping inflammation in check. It is well established that glucocorticoids exert an important modulatory role on the immune system, both suppressing and enhancing a variety of immune functions.” (3)
The mechanisms for naturally controlling healthy levels of inflammation are complex and there are many different processes that play a role. However, cortisol is one of the biggest players in turning off inflammation and when it’s low… inflammation can run wild. (4)
The bottom line: Cortisol puts your inflammatory fire out. But not when it’s low.
Therefore, chronic inflammation is a strong sign you may have low cortisol. Your body doesn’t have enough of the necessary ingredient (cortisol) to put the fire out.
Most of our clients have a history of chronic inflammation and by the time we talk with them we find their cortisol levels are low. We’re talking about clients ranging from Inflammatory Bowel Diseases like Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis, to Autoimmune conditions like Celiac Disease or even just general gut inflammation.
In our experience, cortisol is vitally important to having a healthy and fully functioning digestive tract, in which controlling inflammation is a requirement.
Unfortunately, That’s Why Prednisone Works
Earlier, I told you low cortisol seems like an epidemic in our private clients dealing with digestive disease. If you have low cortisol, your body is more susceptible to autoimmune and inflammatory reactions. That’s why steroid medications (corticosteroids) like prednisone are prescribed to suppress immune responses in people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Most of our clients have been on one at some point along the way, and typically it helped them a lot. But plenty also paid the price with weight gain, a moon face, early onset osteopenia and some become dependent on low doses to keep symptoms at bay. And that makes sense given what I explained in this post today, because taking Prednisone or hydrocortisone is taking a man-made form of cortisol (but with severe side effects).
So, if Prednisone worked for you… it’s a red flag that you’ve got low cortisol.
That’s why it’s so important to get to the root cause of the low cortisol issue. Because long-term use of man-made forms of cortisol has a laundry list of negative symptoms and conditions associated with it.
So, if you’re someone who’s reading this article going, “Jordan, you’re totally talking about me,” then you need to work with a skilled practitioner that can order proper saliva testing and find the root cause of your low cortisol.
It could be a big step toward taking control of your symptoms and beginning to heal your gut. If anything, it’ll help you get a better handle on chronic inflammation and strengthen your immune system. Who doesn’t need a little of that in their life?