7 Signs Your Cortisol And Adrenals Are Broken.

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Hormones, Podcast

Click here for the full written transcript of this podcast episode.

You spend countless hours training, working out, eating right and buffeting your body…

…and hundreds or even thousands of dollars on gym equipment, training equipment, health supplements, healthy food, and if you're a triathlete, marathoner, cyclist, adventure racer, obstacle racer or anything like that, travel and race entry fees too…

…but if you're overlooking your hormone health, you're often either taking two steps forward and one step back, or stagnating in your performance and fitness, or worse yet, backsliding in your results!

Go take a look at the results from your last workout or event.

What was the time gap between you and the top of your category, beating your last workout, or making the progress you wanted?



Here's the important thing you need to know – your hormones could be holding you back. And an optimal level of cortisol, DHEA, testosterone, progesterone, estrogen and melatonin could easily be the difference that changes your body, your sleep, your drive, your energy and your training and racing season.

It's time to learn how to make a difference, and to discover the 8 signs that your cortisol and adrenals may be broken.

So in today's podcast, I am joined today by two of the founders of the functional medicine practice Nourish Balance Thrive. chriskellyChristopher Kelly (pictured right) is a Pro mountain biker, certified Functional Diagnostic Nutrition practitioner and a recent graduate of the Kalish Institute. Along with Christopher, I interview Dr. Jamie Busch, also a Pro mountain biker. Jamie is board certified in Family Medicine and by the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine.

During this episode, you'll learn about how to recognize adrenal stress, how to test adrenal stress, and what you can do about it. Christopher has also given you seven simple signs below that can help you decide if it’s time to get to know your adrenals a little more intimately.


7 Signs Your Cortisol And Adrenals Are Broken.

1. Reduced interest in all things sexy.

Been a long time since you woke up, um, excited? Finding yourself coming up with lots of reasons you really need to just ‘get some sleep?’ Yeah, it’s not fun, and it’s not normal, even for athletes.

Sex hormones pay the price of increased adrenal hormone output, which is directly affected by proper digestion, nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, sleep patterns, amount of training, pretty much everything.  Testing your adrenals along with your sex hormones tells you exactly what you need to do to get yourself back on track.

2. Uneven energy throughout the day.

You drag yourself out of bed but really you’d rather hit the snooze button. A coffee outage is a major crisis. The rest of the morning is not too bad, but fatigue sets in soon after lunch. What a wonderful time to take a nap! You don’t get as excited about working out as you used to, but feel much better after a really long warm up.

These are all signs of cortisol dysregulation. Cortisol follows a diurnal rhythm, highest first thing an hour or so before sunrise, reaching a nadir a couple of hours after bed, but that doesn’t mean that first thing should be your most energetic time of the day, instead you should perceive a consistent level of energy throughout.

3. Sudden onset sugar and carb cravings.

You’ve just had lunch and yet you’re still hankering for another handful of nuts or maybe one of those gluten-free Paleo bars. You have a standing date with the office snack pantry and coffee machine at 3PM.

Cortisol affects carbohydrate and fatty acid metabolism, and low cortisol nearly always means low energy. Eating for symptom relief always leads to weight gain, especially in the presence of other hormonal imbalances.

4. Disrupted sleep.

On rest days you sleep like a baby, but every other day is pretty hit or miss.  Race day? Forget it, no rest for the wicked. Wired and tired. All. Night. Long.

The half life of cortisol is hours, and high cortisol means high energy and low melatonin, the sleep hormone. In addition, training might not be your only source of stress.  High nighttime cortisol can also be associated with an infection, or GI pathogen like H. pylori or Blastocystis hominis.

5. Slow or little muscle gain despite strength training.

You’re losing interest in strength training because you’re just not seeing the gains. If you really go for it the delayed onset soreness affects your other training for days.

DHEA and testosterone are essential for long term muscle building projects, and over producing cortisol will always lead to low levels of both because they are produced from the same precursors. It makes perfect sense to favor the stress response over building new lean muscle. Your body doesn’t need new muscle if you might not even survive the day.

6. Injuries. A lot of them. Most of them ending in ‘itis.’

You’ve started collecting more insurance bills than race medals every season. You keep getting injured, and you don’t even know how.

Cortisol is hormone designed to liquidate your assets, and overproducing it leads to excessive breaking down. Too much breaking down leads to injury. Not to mention the inflammation and reduced ability to recover from said injuries.

7. Less than stellar digestion.

Really dreading that race food. Runner’s trots. On the bike isn’t much better. Oh the bloating, the bloating is the worst.

In the presence of stress, digestion is inhibited. There isn't enough time to derive the energetic benefits of the slow process of digestion so why waste energy on it? Chronically over producing cortisol leads to chronically poor digestion, sometimes through lowered immunity and infection.


What You Need To Know About Testing

Any one of these scenarios can be the start of a vicious cycle. Athletes and busy, hard-charging individuals alike place a heavy burden on the adrenal system, so it’s even more important to figure it all out.  Establishing a baseline can save you tons of time trying to pinpoint every little sign and symptom, it will allow you to start and end the season at a place of health. The best part? Figuring it out isn’t hard.

This one simple saliva test that we discuss in today's podcast, and the help of a well trained practitioner, allowed me to design a diet, lifestyle and supplement protocol which after just six months showed some quite remarkable improvement. For example: DHEA-S ng/ml: before 1.75 after 7.6 (+434%), Testosterone pg/mL: before 62.9 after 109 (+173%).

As regular readers of BenGreenfieldfitness will know, long term supplementation with hormones is a bad idea. Supplement with testosterone, and first you’ll get disqualified if you are racing or competing, and next, your body will downregulate its own endogenous production and sensitivity to it.

A more intelligent solution then would be to uncover and address the root causes of the stress that appears on the test result. Each individual is unique, but a good protocol should take into account eating to maximise nutritional density, getting sufficient rest, a well thought out training program, and lab-based supplementation.

For me, there were far more than seven signs that I needed to get to know my adrenals, but it turned out to be the single most important training exercise I may have ever done. If you have  questions about about this or other tests, then leave your comments below, and I promise to answer!  

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

21 thoughts on “7 Signs Your Cortisol And Adrenals Are Broken.

  1. arlene says:

    I took a cortisol saliva test measuring 4 times throughout the day. It came back with cortisol being too high at night. I was taking a lot of anti-anxiety medicine while taking the test. Does that affect the test or is the cortisol the same with or without taking these meds.?
    Thanks for your reply.

  2. Alex K says:

    Hey Ben, after reading this article I do not believe my cortisol or adrenals are broken. And my sleep, nutrition & training are actually already pretty dialed in. However, I’m still experiencing some fatigue. Are there any options to give the adrenals a little boost during periods of intense training, or is it better to just double down on sleep & nutrition? Thanks!

    1. I recommend Chinese adaptogenic herbs, particularly Tian Chi: https://getkion.com/shop/body/tianchi-chinese-ada…

  3. sheila miller says:

    I suspect adrenal fatigue is among my problems. Low energy poor appetite disrupted sleep. Can a regular md test for this or

    do I need naturopath or functional md.? if yes what do I ask a cortisol test?

    1. I'd recommend checking out this podcast for more info on cortisol: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/transcripts/tran… A regular MD should be able to test for cortisol. If you'd like to find a functional medicine or naturopathic practitioner here are a few directories that may help you find one in your area:
      • FunctionalMedicine.org – Find a Practitioner, including MDs, DC, ND, etc.
      • aihm.org/find – to find an integrative health practitioner
      • acatoday.org – for a good chiropractor – Use their "Find a Doctor" tool to use their directory
      • Naturopathic.org – Use their "Find a Doctor" tool to use their directory
      • Undoctoredhealth.com – A good, relatively new directory of trusted practitioners
      • HealthProfs.com – Another decent directory
      • PrimalDocs.com – Good docs who treat based on an ancestral medicine approach
      • PaleoPhysiciansNetwork.com – Paleo "friendly" physicians

  4. Renee says:

    Thanks so much for this, will definitely be ordering an adrenal stress lab, really hope they ship to France…

  5. Bren Murphy says:

    I’m wondering if my really slow to heal calf injuury is related to this – I have a tear in my calf and it seems to not heal after 10-12 weeks now – any suggestions?

  6. Sajid says:

    I’m interested in getting cortisol test done. I live in Canada can you do these testing done for Canadian.



    1. You bet! Just order them here and find a lab that will do the blood draw in your area. https://greenfieldfitnesssystems.com/product-categ…

  7. darcieg76 says:

    I've had the Biohealth 205 and the Mucosal Barrier function for leaky gut. Went on a 3-month supp protocol and attempted to rein in the stress and just retested. Awaiting results.

  8. texasrunner says:

    I am a 56 yr old female, active, just found out my testosterone is 11:(! Which explains recent muscle pull that is taking forever to heal. At my age worried about bone density so i am going to start on a compounded female testosterone cream. Thoughts? A good source for dietary changes to go along with this step?

    1. I would highly, highly recommend you read the section on estrogen dominance and hormone balance at https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2012/05/ben-r…

  9. runnerva says:

    This is me! I am a marathon runner and have battled injuries the past 5 months and have been trying to cut weight since December and slowly keep gaining! I even used Bens fat loss pack and no results! Just did salivia and blood panel but would love to specifically know what to ask doctor about! I feel at my end…I have never struggled like this and am so discouraged….I have even had people ask if I am pregnant! I am so disciplined in my training and diet it is ridiculous and I feel I have no control! Can't wait to listen to this!

    1. If you still have specific questions after listening to the podcast, consider booking a one-on-one consultation http://pacificfit.net/items/one-on-one-consultati…

  10. Misty says:

    Oh my god…this is me.

    1. cck197 says:

      Hi Misty, do the test! The right diet and lifestyle could see you right in as little as six months. Feel free to schedule a free consultation http://bit.ly/1j6E7KZ

  11. Toni says:

    Hi I have been suffering for over 6 years and 40 doctors who all say to deal with my ody and give up because I keep gaining. Almost 40 pounds. No one believes me about my cortisol. I cant lose the fat no mater what. How can I change this?

    1. Listen to the podcast and if that isn't enough, I'd be happy to help http://pacificfit.net/items/one-on-one-consultati…

  12. Chris S. says:

    Well, this sounds like my last couple of years. Workouts that had 2-4 days of DOMS, eventual tendinitis in both elbows from pull ups, low back soreness, lack of energy, disinterest in sex for awhile, dietary cravings, lack of interest in workouts, especially as the winter dragged on, and inevitable weight gain from food intake and lack of exercise. I’m going to listen to this podcast. I have a few bike races this summer and need to be able to train for them without completely breaking down. I can handle a high training load in the pool, but running or biking take a huge toll on my body that I haven’t been able to overcome.

    1. cck197 says:

      Hi Chris, it sounds like you've suffered an awful lot of stress. Schedule a free consultation with me or Dr Busch and we'll figure it out http://bit.ly/1j6E7KZ

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