20 Feb 2011
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)/High Cortisol and How To Heal From It
by Eileen Nauman, DHM (UK)
Copyright 2009 Eileen Nauman
All Rights Reserved
How to Normalize Cortisol and Say Good-bye to PTSD Symptoms
My good friend, Rosemarie Brown, MSW, suggested I see Dr. Maya Brownsberger, MD, Functional Medicine specialist. She knew my violent dysfunctional family background and felt that this might be an important step in my healing process to take. I had my doubts, but I drove up to Flagstaff to see Dr. Brownsberger.
Dr. Brownsberger is part of a new branch of medicine known as “Functional Medicine.” If you go to their website: http://www.functionalmedicine.org/findfmphysician/index.asp, you can not only learn more about this important new branch, but also to locate the nearest FM specialist near where you live.
She spent an hour and a half with me and missed nothing. She was especially interested in my childhood, the dysfunction and gave me a thorough physical examination as well. She missed NOTHING. I was impressed with that alone. She then told me that I needed a saliva test to determine my cortisol levels. She gave me a box of goodies from Diagnos-Techs, Inc. from Tukwila, Washington. There were four vials with four pieces of rolled cotton in each one. According to the directions I was to place one under my tongue at a specific time of day for about ten minutes. Then, I was to place it back in the tube and mark the day/time it was collected. After I was done with that, I was to send it off over night, to the Washington lab.
I did that and had to leave for Europe for three weeks. I set a second appointment with her to see the results of my tests. In early October I got up to see Maya. In her office, she showed me the first of many pages of reports on me. My cortisol levels were so high and off the map, Maya wasn’t sure if her protocols to bring them back into normal alignment,would work or not.
I looked at the report and saw, yes indeed, my cortisol was literally, all over the place and nowhere near ‘normal.’ Maya said that she believed me when I told her I was hyper vigilant, but this test was so ‘bad’ (my word not hers), she really “got” how alert I really was. I laughed at that. I know I have eyes in the back of my head! Thanks to PTSD and high cortisol.
Maya explained that all my symptoms were the result of the high cortisol. It was no wonder I slept lightly at night; my cortisol was high. I never dreamed. Nor did I remember many dreams. And that was why, she said. And during the day I had told her at the intake session, that I was always anxious and super alert, my highest cortisol was at noon. And in the morning when it was supposed to be high, it was low. I woke up groggy and unable to ‘wake up’ like I should.
Of the four points, I had one barely inside ‘normal’–by one point. Everything else was like a yo-yo and nowhere near the normal flow of what cortisol should be like in one’s bloodstream.
I felt pretty vindicated as I looked at this test result. And given my dysfunctional family background that I survived (barely) for eighteen years, I realized the enormity of this test. I then asked Maya what could be done to bring the cortisol levels down to normal levels.
Here is part of my ASI saliva test to find out where my cortisol levels were at. As you can see, 3 out of 4 are ‘out of bounds’ of normal cortisol operating limits. Based upon these three times, Dr. Brownsberger authorized Seriphos, an adaptogen supplement, to be taken at 11 am, 3 pm and 10 pm by me. WHEN you take Seriphos is strictly based upon the results of this test. You don’t want to take it at times when your cortisol is in bounds and normal. That’s why the ASI saliva test is so important. More on this test down below in my blog.
She put me on Seriphos, an adaptogen that was to “plug” the cortisol receptors, thereby forcing the cortisol back down to within normal levels. It also would “wake up” and retrain the Pituitary gland and get it back online to do its job, which is to police how much cortisol should be in my bloodstream at any given time. So, there is a twofold action to Seriphos. And she had me take it at 11 am, 3 pm and when I went to bed. These times corresponded with my lab profile you see above:
I was also put on Hydro-zyme, two tablets with each major meal of the day. This is an HCL (hydrochloric acid) supplement. Why? Because as we get older, our stomach acid isn’t like it used to be. The results of weakened stomach acid is heart burn, esophageal ulcer, acute gastritis and full blown stomach ulcers. I had one bout of heartburn about six months ago and Maya felt that even one episode was a red flag. And so, I am on them, too.
I was very excited and hopeful about the Seriphos even though Maya had initial doubts because I was such an extreme cortisol case. Within three days, I began to note a huge difference in myself. At first, I couldn’t believe it. What happened was the cortisol went down to normal and I felt normal for the first time that I could ever remember in 63 years of living! I felt calm and centered inside. I didn’t realize how anxious I was until it was GONE. Completely gone. I marveled at how quiet and balanced I felt. Even more astounding and heart rending was I was myself for the first time in my life.
A person who has high cortisol is ALWAYS in a constant state of anxiety. It can fluctuate, but it’s always there. To have Seriphos stop this completely just shocked me. I had no idea how much anxiety I was feeling until that seminal moment. What was even better was usual situations that would trigger my adrenaline flooding through me, my heart beating hard and feeling frightened or angry, simply did not occur. My mind, which was trained for the situation saw it–but my emotions did NOT ENGAGE. And when my emotions, which were level and calm, did not jump to the scenario, the mind was left with a “huh?” kind of moment.
I found in the first month that I had relief from anxiety I’d had all my life. I felt intense peace, calmness, extra patience and no irritability. My fear was gone. I could think of things that would make me fearful, and I had no emotional reaction to them. It was simply amazing and life-changing for me. I found after a month, that I could, once again, feel happiness. The only feelings I felt were fear, anger and threat. I did not know what it felt like to feel joy and happiness until just now. And now, my heart stirs and swells with these wonderful ‘other’ emotions. The positive ones.
I also feel an incredible detachment from everything that I used to fear or have anxiety about. Now, my mind can clearly see what is going on without the ‘haze’ of the cortisol kicked up emotions to cloud my perspective. I haven’t felt one bit of fear, irritability or anger in the first month since being on the Seriphos.
I have been living in a wonderfully centered, grounded, peaceful and quiet inner radiance that simply did not exist for me until now.
This is what one hormone can do to a person’s entire emotional systems. It’s tragic. And yet, it shows everyone how much of our emotions can be skewed and distorted by that high level of cortisol. I used to have what I termed a mental gray attitude toward life. Before Seriphos, I would see nothing but problems and possible outcomes and then never feel hope that something different could occur. My emotions were so on guard, so waiting for something bad to happen that hope had been erased from my life. Now, it’s back! I no longer look at a problematic situation and try to figure out all the ways it might occur. Now, I just shrug and understand I don’t have any need to waste precious energy and time on such things. I have hope that things will turn out just as they are meant to be without my mental meddling.
By the third day on Seriphos, my sleep changed. I slept deeply. I slept longer. I didn’t wake up three times a night. Now, after being on it nearly two months, I might wake up once, for about five minutes and then go back to sleep–a huge change.
Maya had mentioned that another sign of high cortisol in a woman was hot flashes–a lot of them, very intense and ongoing for much longer than they should. I had that symptom. Now, I have maybe three or four hot flashes in a day compared to the thirty or so I had before. What a relief. And my “night flashes” have pretty much gone away–at least ninety percent. And they were responsible for me waking up three times a night.
I can dream again! I’ve had several powerful, life-changing symbolic dreams and its so wonderful to remember them after I wake up. I remember dreaming when very young–in Technicolor and vivid and wonderful. Now, they are coming back.
My weight has slowly been lowering. I was at 183 and I’m at 164. But I stay on a 900 calorie a day diet with 2 miles of brutal uphill/downhill walking. I haven’t seen any change there, yet, but I’m hopeful. If I had high cortisol since I was so young I don’t remember that age, I’m sure it’s going to take more than two months to straighten out all the rest of my systems. I’m a patient person now (and with high cortisol, I was terribly impatient). I can wait. I know there’s a multitude of changes going on within me.
My memory is coming back too. It was awful. Now, words that had hidden in the fog, are returning. And as a writer, this loss was terrible for me. Cortisol will steal your memory. Now, it’s coming back.
FINDING A FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE PHYSICIAN
There are two places to go. First is the FM web page. You can find an FM specialist nearest you at: http://www.functionalmedicine.org/findfmphysician/index.asp
Secondly, Diagnos-Techs. Inc., the creator of saliva tests for hormones, has a directory at http://www.diagnostechs.com/gibby/PROVIDER_wrap.html
These providers utilize the all-important ASI, Adrenal Stress Index saliva test by Diagnos-Techs, Inc. See more below about this test.
SALIVA TEST FOR HIGH CORTISOL
Since 1987, saliva has been found to be a good indicator of a number of our hormone functions. Diagnos-Techs, Inc., led the way in this discovery. If you’d like to know more about how our saliva can be utilized, go to their website and read up on: Saliva is a Valuable Diagnostic Tool for Hormone Assessment, 9.19.2009. It can be found at: http://www.diagnostechs.com/gibby/index.html#EVENTS
Dr. Brownsberger likes the ASI (adrenal stress index) saliva test that is put out by Diagnos-Techs, Inc. http://www.diagnostechs.com/gibby/index.html. This test is $99.00 and opens up the world via saliva, on a number of hormones, among them cortisol. You cannot buy this test without a physician’s prescription. It may be sent in by a physician’s assistant, Naturopath, or other health care providers as well as MD’s. There are other test kits out there, but this is the BEST one.
My advice is if your physician (who may not be Functional Medicine oriented), ask them to call this company to order this particular kit: 1-800-878-3787.
Here is the info on that test:
The Adrenal Stress Index (ASI)
The ASI Index evaluates several markers of stress on the body, which include:
4 Cortisol tests help assess stress response
2 Insulin tests help examine blood sugar control
DHEA – Helps determine stress adaptation Secretory IgA – Helps evaluate possibility of strain on immunity
17-OH Progesterone – Helps determine adrenal reserve
Gluten Antibodies – Help identify grain intolerance
Abnormal adrenal rhythm can influence:
Immune system health
Muscle and joint function With only four saliva samples, your health care provider can use the findings in this panel to recommend customized treatment and preventive measures that may include diet and lifestyle changes, hormones, botanicals and vitamins.
Advantages of the ASI
1. The test is non-invasive & can be performed wherever you are. Only four saliva samples are needed.
2. Saliva is collected under real life conditions. There are no stressful blood draws and no gallon-sized urine containers to carry around for 24 hours.
3. With typical blood and urine testing, a number of borderline adrenal conditions are missed due to lack of sensitivity. ASI samples are taken within one circadian cycle (24 hours) and are able to provide more definitive measurements of adrenal health.
4. The ASI is an in-depth test, such that options for treatment are expanded by 400-500% over serum and urine test results.
Note: The ASI was invented and introduced by Diagnos-Techs, Inc. in 1989. All other panels offered on the market today are reproductions.
Do you need the ASI Test?
Request a stress questionnaire from your physician to determine if the ASI is the appropriate test for assessing your health condition. The score can help your doctor determine a course of action. The ASI is typically ordered for individuals that suffer from:
Chronic stress and related health problems
Lack of vitality and energy
Muscle and joint pain
Low sex drive
Low body temperature
Dr. Brownsberger likes Seriphos, which is manufactured by InterPlexus. In order to reduce high cortisol Seriphos is what is known as an ACTH-dampening Phosphorylated serine supplement. I am going to be on 2 bottles (there is 100 capsules in each) because of my extreme PTSD high cortisol test results. Seriphos will basically plug the cortisol receptors and not allow them to fire off and keep the cortisol high in my bloodstream. Instead, by taking it daily, based upon the lab test results, I take it at 11 am, 3 pm and 10 pm, when my cortisol is outside the ‘normal’ limits. Over time, the cortisol resides and comes back within normal boundaries. At the same time, the Pituitary gland, which is supposed to be the “brake” that stops cortisol from being poured into the bloodstream,wakes up and starts to take over this function once more. Seriphos, in other words, retrains the brain/Pituitary hormones, to get involved once more in monitoring the amount of cortisol in my bloodstream and when the ‘threatening’ event is over, orders the adrenal glands to stop pouring cortisol into my bloodstream. The result of this retraining is that the cortisol is controlled, as it once had been before the trauma experienced, and goes back to normal limits.
Seriphos should be administered by your health care provider after you’ve gotten the saliva ASI test. Why? Because where the points of your cortisol lab test our out of normal range, you take a capsule at that time. This shouldn’t be guessed at or assumed by you. If you use it at the wrong times, you’re actually messing up the cortisol process. That’s why it’s so important to enlist the help of a health care provider who knows when you need this product.
Seriphos can be ordered online at http://www.vitacost.com. Just put “seriphos” in the Search box and it will turn up.
There are many other products out there that are ACTH dampening like Seriphos, but I’m going with what I have been on because it worked for me. Your health care provider may have another brand label that does the same thing.
WHAT IF I CAN’T FIND A FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE PHYSICIAN WHERE I LIVE?
After going to the FM website and you find that the closest physcian is hundreds of miles away from you, I would suggest you go to your primary care physician and discuss this ASI test with her or him. And give the health care provider the name/phone number of the nearest FM physician. In this way, they can talk with one another on your behalf and your primary care health provider will be guided on what to do, and how to do it for you.
Or, if your primary health care provider refuses to work in this way, call and make an appointment with the nearest FM phyiscian and drive there. To me, after experiencing the miraculous changes in myself, no amount of driving would be too much. Even if it’s 200-500 miles, it would be worth it, in my opinion. But, that is something you must decide for yourself.
Also, check with Naturopaths in your area–frequently they may be aware of the ASI test. That’s another lead.
NORTHERN ARIZONA REFERRALS
If you are lucky enough to live in Northern Arizona where I live, there are two people I recommend. First, my primary care physcian, Linda Haggard, PA. You can call her for an appointment at (928) 284-0166 at their Sedona Integrative Medical Clinic, Oak Creek, Arizona. She and her husband, Eric Haggard, PT, have a website at: www.celebrationsoflight.com. They take care of the entire Verde Valley area and will be your connection for further cortisol testing. Linda has been a PA for twenty years and knows about high cortisol and its deadly affects on a person.
Secondly, if you live in the Flagstaff, Az area, there is Dr. Maya Brownsberger, Functional Medicine specialist. Her office is at: 1 (928) 214-7005 and her website is: www.optimalhealthandaesthetics.com.
I hope you find this helpful. You can always email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have questions. I’d like to see everyone with high cortisol get the benefits I’ve been given. No one realizes the change in their life until they’ve had their cortisol corrected and the brain retrained. I wish freedom for all of you who have this condition. Please pass this series of blogs on to your family and friends who you suspect may have the same condition. You can be giving them a gift that lasts a lifetime.
Schmookler, E., Ph.D., Trauma Treatment Manual, 1996, Revised 2001, http://www.trauma-pages.com/s/schmookler-manual.php
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, American Psychiatric Assn., Washington, D.C., January, 1995
The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, 16th Edition, edited by Robert Berkow, MD, Merck Research Labs, Rahway,NJ, 1992.
Butler, K., The Biology of Fear, July/Aug., 1996, The Family Therapy Networker, Washington, D.C.
Diagnos-Techs, Inc., ASI test