Significance of Both High and Low Cortisol
at the Same Time

Can you even have BOTH high and low cortisol at the same time? Hmmm…. Well maybe, but it’s not good news!

It suggests that your adrenals (the glands responsible for making cortisol) are being constantly stimulated to crank out cortisol, and every now and then something causes the circuit to overload and short!

I’ve seen this happen in situations of

  • Prolonged Inflammation
  • Extreme stress
  • Environmental toxins
  • Stealth infections

But I’ll tell you one thing it’s NOT—It’s NOT adrenal fatigue! I hear people use the term “adrenal fatigue” in functional-medicine circles, but that’s not a real thing. It’s a deeper issue than that. In the vast majority of cases it’s something with significant importance in the body (a higher control center) that suppresses the adrenals from making cortisol, not that they’re too tired!

If it’s not Adrenal Fatigue… What is it?

It’s a symptom, not a root cause. The word “fatigue” implies that they just can’t do it anymore. But in the vast majority of cases if you STIMULATE the adrenals with an upper-level hormone, called ACTH, the adrenals will respond by releasing cortisol. In these cases (almost ALL cases of low cortisol) there is something else that is suppressing the adrenals from making cortisol. Kind of like a short circuit.

So then, what are the root causes of low cortisol?

Brain Suppression of Adrenal Function

In times of stress the adrenals pump out cortisol. It’s supposed to happen that way so that we are primed and ready to run from or fight the immediate threat. That’s called the stress (aka fight-or-flight) response. However, prolonged high cortisol is very irritating. It actually causes the brain cells to shrink–yikes!

Now, the brain is the CONTROL center–the mother-board. When it recognizes the irritation from the prolonged high cortisol it short circuits the switch, and BAM your cortisol levels go flat. And you feel like crap–depleted, exhausted, a complete lack of resiliency. The brain says “sorry guys, but I’m the control center! I know the rest of the body wants cortisol to get that get-up-and-go in the morning, but we can’t have the control center SHRINKING!”

It’s not that the adrenals are too tired, it’s that the brain has super-powers over the circuit and has the ability to flip the switch and turn it off in dire situations.

Immune System Suppression of Adrenal Function

The other system that has the super-power to short-circuit the adrenals is the immune system. Cortisol suppresses the immune system. In cases of low-grade hidden infections (I call them “stealth infections”) the immune system has the ability to flip the switch and says “sorry guys, I know the rest of the body wants cortisol to get that get-up-and-go in the morning, but we are fighting invaders here and we need all hands on deck! We can’t afford to be suppressed by cortisol so we are short-circuiting the system!”

The above two cases, the brain and the immune system acting to short-circuit the adrenal stress response, are far more likely the reason for low cortisol than any other possibility. So it’s not fatigue, it’s the response of a system with high priority in the body, because of a dire situation.

Of course, there is a rare condition, Addison’s disease, where the adrenals really can’t respond by making hormones. This is very rare though, affecting only 1 in 100,000 people. It is FAR more likely to be a short-circuit issue.

It’s Time to Take Action!

The ramifications of doing nothing are pretty severe. If your adrenals are short-circuited you are headed for serious trouble. It’s time to get testing done and then investigate which of the above causes is the issue for your low cortisol.

Unfortunately, traditional medicine is not well equipped to deal with adrenal dysfunction, unless it’s from the very rare Addison’s disease. You really need to work with a functional medicine provider.

If You Need Help We’re Here for You!

If you are ready to get help, reach out to my team and we can set you up with a call to see if we’re a good fit to work together. Just follow this link to request a session.