Three Ways Chronic Elevated Cortisol Disrupts Endocrine System Balance

Pat Garner

How many times do we hear we shouldn’t be stressed out? We should be in the namaste state of chill. Easier said than done. We live in a fast-paced world where everything we do seems to stress us out. Even the morning alarm puts us into a stressful state.

What does all this stress do to our bodies? Where should I start? Let’s start with the hormone cortisol. In our primitive ancestor’s time if we were face to face with a saber tooth tiger the adrenals fire adrenaline to give us the burst of energy to our muscles to run, noradrenaline to mobilize the brain and body to act and cortisol which increased blood sugar for fuel or energy. When the threat has passed the adrenals stop firing and these hormones return to normal levels.

Why would having chronically elevated cortisol levels disrupt the endocrine system balance? When you’re constantly stressed the elevated cortisol can lead to adrenal exhaustion, which can lead to even more dysregulation like insulin resistance, low DHEA, low T3, depression, increased cancer risk, obesity, intestinal dysbiosis, and the list continues.

In addition to the issues named above, your liver takes a huge hit. The liver is responsible for removing hormones that are in excess or no longer needed. The hormones need to be broken down, conjugated and removed from the body. Elevated cortisol levels decrease the effectiveness of the liver pathways that perform the conjugation.

The pancreas also takes a hit from high cortisol levels. The insulin receptors on cells do not respond adequately to insulin. This puts a huge strain on the pancreas to secrete more insulin to move glucose into the cells (chronic high insulin levels can result in diabetes and can lead to obesity).

And what about sleep? Chronic lack of sleep has been associated with several possible health consequences. These include lowered immunity with increased vulnerability to infections, lowered glucose tolerance, low morning cortisol levels, and increased carbohydrate cravings. Lack of sleep can also elevate the circulation of estrogen levels, upset hormonal balance, and slow healing and prolong the recovery period. Our physiology is so delicate and a cascade of dysfunction of any of our systems will lead to additional dysfunction. It’s a catch 22.  When we’re not sleeping well there’s decreased alertness and concentration that so many people experience.

Do you find yourself waking between 1am and 4am? If so, low nighttime blood sugar can also result from inadequate glycogen reserves in the liver. Cortisol causes these reserves to be broken down into glucose that is then available to the cells. When low cortisol and low glycogen reserves coincide, blood glucose will most likely drop, disrupting sleep. This is going back to possible adrenal dysfunction and further evaluation should be sought by your practitioner.

In the end the endocrine system takes a major hit. When the body goes into fight or flight mode more adrenal function is favored over reproduction, metabolic rate and other endocrine functions. The adrenal glands can “steal” nutrients and hormonal precursors from the rest of the endocrine system.

More next month . . . Pat


Pat Garner holds certifications in Professional, Addiction & Recovery Coaching, is a Sedona Method Facilitator and a Certified Canfield Success Principles Trainer.  Most recently, a number of her articles on addiction and wellness have been featured by the World Coaching Institute. She has earned the reputation as a dedicated leader and advocate of change.

During her own journey from addiction fifteen years ago, Pat discovered the world of holistic health and wellness that led to her adopt and promote a ketogenic lifestyle that has become an integral part of her mission to awaken people to their infinite potential so they can achieve lasting personal success in all areas of life. Pat invites reader comments and questions.


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