A study writes,
“Fourteen of the migraine patients and none of the controls displayed either consistently high plasma cortisol or an occasional aberrant peak.”
It’s very common for us to have things like fatigue with a dependence on caffeine, restless sleep that is often far shorter than the 8-9 hours needed, cravings for sugary or salty treats, PMS and even mood swings.
But these are not normal.
These are our bodies way of communicating to us that there is a problem, and that the problem is escalating.
Our body is like a web, any one system being pulled on, stressed and strained, is translated into the other systems.
You see, as the process of degeneration goes on in the body, more and more systems are pulled in and affected. This causes more and more symptoms.
Depending on the individual, the area where their brains are affected may be:
Close to the beginning in the first few years
Somewhere down the middle 5 or 10 years later
Or even towards the end 20+ years after the first symptoms of compromise began like is common in menopause
There is so much more to our health and we are nothing like a car. The body doesn’t simply have a part switched out and have chronic disease go away.
Chronic disease like recurrent headaches and migraines are systemic.
When we experience a symptom, it is our bodies way of trying to bring balance back into the equation.
Too many aggressive thoughts and emotions, coupled with exacerbating workouts that go on too long or too hard, coupled with foods that only heat the body and do nothing to cool down the heat already created on all of our other fronts ends with a severely imbalanced equation.
It has to equal out somewhere.
Our body is always running between the 2 polarities that are present in everything, from the heating or cooling foods we eat, to the heating or cooling drinks we drink, to the exhaustive or recuperative exercises we practice, to the restless or rejuvenative nights of sleep, to the quick and hot or slow and soothing breaths we take. Even the aggressive shame based anxiety or calm, cool and connected emotions we feel all go into the equation of our bodies balance. (Excerpt from the 10 steps program)
There are three areas we want to look to and 3 systems we assess in anyone looking for information on connecting what is going on below the surface and what is causing the pain in their head.
1. The stress hormone that kills your bodies ability to repair
When we are looking at our bodies overall functioning and we want to understand one of the most reliable indicators of how much, how little or how well our body is responding to the stressors in our lives then this well known glucocorticosteroid is a no brainer.
When we wake up it should shoot up within minutes of us opening our eyes, before we go to sleep it should be at an all time low and allow our more feminine regenerative hormones to shoot up and give us the restful recuperative sleep we need.
The test I use is called an HPA stress profile and this shows me how my cortisol is fluctuating throughout the day, is it shooting up in the morning, are we getting a steady drop throughout the day and are we at an all time low and ready for bed in the evening?
This test tells it all to us and gives me an idea of how well your body is adapting to stress, if your blood sugar is staying balanced, how well your hormones are doing, if your immune system is getting the reset it needs every day, if your moods have the resources they need to remain level and if you are able to take advantage of your sleeping time.
You see, cortisol is a very stimulating hormone, known as a stress hormone but it is responsible for almost everything in our body because it is a controlling hormone. It will dictate how all of the other systems in our body function.
If we have an imbalance here, it can cripple our bodies ability to heal. Whether that be from:
Poor circadian rhythms
Blood sugar imbalances
This is a great way for us to know how stressed we really are, to get an objective view and understand how long this stress has really been going on. But it also gives us an idea of how long it will take to start feeling better.
When your cortisol is balanced, your inflammation is too and this provides a massive relief to the pain and symptoms that we experience.
See the graph below from a study. The white dots are controls and black dots are chronic migraine sufferers. The chronic migraine sufferers have significantly increased cortisol levels.
2. The blood sugar balancer
There is always a balance in the body. Where there is a hot and aggressive hormone, there is another hormone on the opposite side of the spectrum that helps us build and cool and calm.
In terms of cortisol, which in the body brings blood sugar UP
We have insulin, which brings blood sugar DOWN
Where cortisol is well known to release sugar into the blood in the case of situations where we are in danger, threatened or enter into “fight or flight mode” also known as fight/flight/flee/freeze and befriend mode. When our body senses danger, it makes resources available to us through cortisols raising of our energy levels and release of blood sugar.
But if this is happening all of the time, if we are constantly missing sleep, caffeine dependant and living in stress mode, then this puts a massive strain on our bodies.
With high cortisol comes high insulin.
Insulin can be thought of as the key to a door on our cells. The insulin unlocks these doors and allows the sugar in the blood to flood into the cell to be used for fuel so that the blood sugar doesn’t cause us any damage in the blood.
Remember that a diabetic who has no insulin can be put into a coma with enough of a blood sugar imbalance.
When insulin is balanced, blood sugar is balanced. But when insulin has to be raised because of chronic overexposure to calories or chronic stresses like the ones listed above, then insulin becomes too common place in the blood.
Eventually, if our cells are not processing the sugars into energy and have no reason to use up their energy stores, they will begin taking away the doors on the cell. These doors are known as receptor sites.
As insulin goes UP, receptor sites go DOWN.
This is known as insulin resistance.
And, this poses a large problem because we will need more and more insulin, to maintain the same balance.
More and more insulin, leading to more and more resistance by the cells.
So what do we do?
We cannot simply add more insulin like is often done in diabetic management because this does not address the ROOT of the cause.
There are two sides to this equation if we do not include the complex energetics inside of the cell.
There is the increased blood sugar on one side of the cell and the decreased need for utilization of energy on the other side.
So we want to resolve all of the above issues to bring our cortisol and blood sugar back into balance.
We want to Increase our bodies ability to utilize blood sugar and give it something it needs to use it for, like exercise!
But this is just the beginning of the vicious cycle because everything we do to our aggressive or “yang” hormones, we are also doing to our regenerative or “yin” hormones.
3. Hormones – The depletion that gives us symptoms which will not go away
In the HPA stress profile there is half of the equation which is cortisol and its rhythm but then there is another half which is DHEA-S.
DHEA is one of our “mother” hormones and it helps produce a number of other hormones. When in balance, it also helps balance out the effects of cortisol.
But we are not balanced. If we already have symptoms and systems breaking down, we have lost homeostasis here.
As cortisol rises to meet the demands of whatever stress whether acute or chronic is going on, so will DHEA to balance it out.
The cool part about DHEA is that it forms hormones like our estrogens and testosterone.
But the rise of these hormones to help balance out cortisol is problematic.
It drains our bodies resources very quickly.
Our acute response inflammatory hormones are extremely resource intensive and demand a lot from us.
The way we can think of it is a plane taking off.
When a plane is building up speed on the run way to take off, you will have to give the power full throttle to give it enough juice to get there. If you don’t, the plane wont be able to lift off before the runway runs out.
But full throttle is not sustainable and it will burn out the engine if it continues indefinitely. It should only be used acutely for short periods of time to help resolve the situation, help us fight the tiger, deal with the infection, get over a relationship or get us into the air.
Our hormones are very costly molecules and after a few days/weeks/months even years, they will not be able to maintain a high degree of stress without rest and recuperation.
This cripples our hormonal system.
Soon enough we are not able to:
Reap the benefits of exercise
Regulate female hormones involved in the menstrual cycle to avoid PMS
Our blood sugar is hanging on by a thread and any sweets that we now have cravings for send us into aggravations and drive up our trigger levels
Maintain steady levels of hormones to give us energy as our body starts yelling at us and forcing us to “slow down” with fatigue and all manner of irritable moods
And here begins the cycle.
At the beginning it may have just been simple symptoms like some PMS which everyone tells you is “normal,” or some fatigue which is almost always medicated with caffeine.
But over time as system after system becomes affected by these imbalances we develop more symptoms.
The headaches may have come with the loss of hormonal balance, the loss of immune integrity because of imbalanced cortisol or maybe it took all the way to the point where an infection took up housing in our gut because of the loss of immunity and lack of digestive capacity from the stress.
There are so many areas we break down when this system is compromised and without knowing how compromised we are, we just wait until another system starts showing symptoms.
Have you ever had your cortisol rhythm tested? I invite you to join me on this teaching journey by sending me a message here.
Holistic Health Practitioner
Mark Canadic is a writer, speaker, holistic health practitioner and migraine community leader. Read Mark’s inspiring comeback story, “My Burnout and Brain Fires that Lead me to the Root.” Feel free to send Mark a message here.