This Hormone Could Be Keeping You Sick

by Jordan Reasoner

Gut-Hormone-Connection

In this post, we’re going to dive into one of the most important hormones in your body… and why it’s usually depleted in people with gut health problems.

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:

  • Fatigue
  • 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 up-regulate and down-regulate 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.

Our experience has been that 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?

What to Do About Your Hormones

I hope this article on cortisol had an impact on you. I wish I could have read this years ago when I was banging my head against the wall trying to figure out what was really going on in my gut.

Since working with 500 people 1-on-1 over the last 2 years, we’ve seen 100’s of examples of this exact same problem. Not only that, but I would argue that most people with gut health issues also have a problem with their hormonal axis. That includes adrenals, sex hormones, and thyroid.

If you’re still struggling with digestive problems despite all your best diet, supplement, and lifestyle changes… you could have a hormonal problem. I highly recommend you check out our Gut-Hormone presentation, where we dove into what to do about this root cause problem…

During the call, we covered:

  • Is Adrenal Fatigue real? And How to prove it to your doctor with tests
  • What NOT TO DO when you have adrenal fatigue (most miss this one)
  • Signs and symptoms of a slow thyroid
  • The key differences between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism and what happens if you combine them with a leaky gut (hint: autoimmunity)
  • The specific thyroid tests to get from your doctor
  • Why gut problems, adrenal fatigue and thyroid issues all work together to destroy energy (and what to do about it)
  • Steve’s battle and shocking discovery about sub-clinical hypothyroidism
  • Jordan’s struggle to overcome the adrenal fatigue that kept him scary skinny and exhausted

We’ve recorded the call and transcribed it for you, so you’ll have the info you need to take action as soon as possible.

Grab access to the Gut-Hormone presentation today: http://energyhelp.scdlifestyle.com/

Hope this helps you,

– Jordan

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About the author

Jordan Reasoner Jordan Reasoner is a health engineer and author. He was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007 and almost gave up hope when a gluten-free diet didn’t work. Since then, he transformed his health using the SCD Diet and started SCDLifestyle.com to help others naturally heal stomach problems. You can check out his story here and find him on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim July 11, 2014 at 11:59 am

And what about those who have mixed cortisol levels? Mine is high when it’s supposed to be low, and low when it’s supposed to be high.

Reply

Heidi July 22, 2014 at 3:46 pm

I;ve been sick since 2008 with multiple disease’s piling up. At age 37 I was rushed to the hospital with severe gut, back pain, really pain all over my bod. Was diagnosed with Hoshimottos thyroiditis and Primary Addison’s Disease. Six days later, released from the hospital, I had a script for 5 mg Pred. m stomach was bloated to where I looked six months pregnant. At this time, I was pushing 87 lbs at 5’6″. The pain all through my gut sent me back to the hospital, forgetting to mention the sincope along with all that was going on, I was diagnosed with yet more, fertile, full blown menipause, GERD, and Celiac Disease. i’ve been bed ridden for most of the time since then and have found really no relief. I have low blood sugar attacks. I was a healthy athlete having to take in 6000 calories a day to maintain, until I had severe malnutrition. Where I live I haven’t fond anyone that can hlp me live a life outside my house and out of bed. I have been told that I have leaky gut and honestly I have forgotten some of the ‘diseases’ I now have no adrenal glands left. I would like to know if anyone could help me with any specialists anywhere! I’ve been turned down by some MD’s saying ” I’m to complicated of a case for them” If you can help.
I didn’t list all my symptoms, they are many and writing this is hard for I am exhausted and my consentration has become worse and m i.q. has fallen.
Thank you Heidi
574-238-3518

Reply

Brent Kovacs July 22, 2014 at 11:01 pm

Hi Heidi,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing all of this with us! Sorry to hear that you’ve been struggling so much, though. We’ve helped many people just like you get on healing paths and ultimately regain their lives. We suggest trying SCD and giving it 30 days to see how you feel and searching http://functionalmedicine.org to find a functional medicine practitioner near you.

Hang in there Heidi and keep fighting the fight!

Reply

Dawn July 25, 2014 at 10:32 am

Addison’s Disease support group (written just like that as there are a few) on facebook are my sanity. They have just under 2000 members and loads of us have Hashimoto’s as well as Addison’s. Sounds like you need Florinef but I don’t know much about primary. Check us out for a support network it really is better than feeling alone with this awful illness. Hugs and God bless.
Dawn

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James July 30, 2014 at 3:44 am

I’m currently phasing out using a corticosteroid inhaler called clenil modulite which I was given for mild asthma 3 years ago. After I started it my symptoms got worse: constant phlegm/mucus/coughing, fatigue, poor mood, reduced exercise stamina, rash under my arm and pruritus ani. The timing of the asthma I can link to a big mercury filling which I had removed last December. I assumed the other symptoms were part of the mercury poisoning but am not shifting them despite taking suitable supplements and following diet advice from here/Perfect Health/MDA/Free The Animal (I don’t have GI symptoms apart from the phlegm but thought my gut was still where most of the problems are persisting).

I now think my corticosteroid may have had as much to do with my problems as the mercury because it reduces my own cortisol production. Would love to know if this sounds likely to you and whether you know what sort of timescale I might be looking at to recover after stopping my inhaler plus any extra advice (I am going slower than previous attempts as I have read that this is necessary to avoid adrenal problems). When I tried before, my asthma symptoms were minor so I am not too worried about them, but I did get more depressed.

Reply

Jordan Reasoner August 5, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Hi James, Thank you for reaching out! It is hard to give time frames in general, but especially if we do not have a full health history. Our best suggestion is to find a functional medicine practitioner who can help you regain your health back. You can find one here: http://scdlifestyle.com/practitioners/

Reply

Stephanie August 7, 2014 at 1:52 am

Can you pls let me know if the grape juice is suitable for me as I am sure I have salicylate issues with chronic headaches everyday, especially with fruit. Lots of other foods I am sure contribute to the headaches in the salicylate group as well. I also suffer from fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease (in remission) arthritis and impaired glucose intolerance.
Could you pls send me an email as I did ask a question a few months ago and did not hear from anyone. Hope you can help me as I am feeling desperate.
Thanks for your help

Reply

Jordan Reasoner August 7, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Hi Stephanie, thanks for reaching out again! Sorry you didn’t hear back from us before… we’re stepping up our efforts though.

Sorry to hear that you’re having a hard time right now, but it does get better. 50% of people that try SCD react to the grape juice so we suggest skipping it. Have you read this post from the archives? http://scdlifestyle.com/2010/04/phenols-and-salicylates-what-they-are-and-why-it-matters/

Hope this helps!

Reply

eric January 9, 2015 at 3:09 am

hi, what if your Cortisol levels are high? Isn’t Cortisol supposed to be high when fighting an infection? I was diagnosed with SIBO.

Reply

Lori Jo Berg January 11, 2015 at 3:44 pm

Hi Eric, thanks for reaching out! We highly suggest working with a trusted functional medicine practitioner, as high cortisol levels can be a sing of the beginning stages of adrenal fatigue as well. If you are in need of one, please do search here: http://scdlifestyle.com/practitioners/

Reply

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