20 Feb 2011
PTSD and High Cortisol Level and How it Affects Us
PTSD — High Cortisol and How To Heal From It – PART 2
by Eileen Nauman, DHM (UK)
Copyright 2009 Eileen Nauman
All Rights Reserved
HOW DO YOU GET PTSD?
1. It can be a sudden, unexpected stress. For example, you see or survive an automobile or a train wreck, you live through an earthquake, you see a plane crash (or you survive one), you live through a flood, or some other kind of natural disaster, such as a tornado or hurricane. An explosion can cause it. Being involved in a fire, or seeing one wreak havoc, can also trigger this cascade of symptoms. The attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Centers is ripe for PTSD symptoms, as was the destruction of the Twin Trade towers on 9.11– for not only those caught in this horrible holocaust, but those who viewed it on television or heard it on radio not only in the USA–but around the world. So, you don’t need to have been there to “get” PTSD symptoms. We are all vulnerable to such global trauma. The death of a loved one (parent, child, grandparent, uncle, aunt, good friend, ect) can also trigger PTSD.
2. Men or women who have ‘gone to war’–whether in armed combat, or the ‘war’ on the streets as a police person, firefighter, paramedic, ambulance attendant, gang-banging, or the war in a dysfunctional family, all qualify. The Gulf War vets, the Iraq and Afghanistan vets as well as the Vietnam vets, have earned their PTSD symptoms from encountering the gory, super-stressful, bloody horror of war–up front and close. Their lives may have been threatened. Maybe not. Just living in a war zone is enough to trigger PTSD in some people. Terrorist attacks can create it. Living in a ‘war-zone’ neighborhood, or the inner city, will trigger these symptoms. Places such as Yugoslavia, now carved up into fiefdom, is another good example–all people of that area have suffered some form and exposure to PTSD. Israel is under constant threat of attack and I’m sure many of them suffer from these symptoms.
3. If the person is exposed to inhumane treatment–and this includes verbal or physical abuse (spousal), incest or rape or actually being a POW, prisoner-of-war, PTSD symptoms will manifest. Torture comes in many forms. If one lives eighteen years in a dysfunctional family, that is a special hell and torture in its own right. One doesn’t need to be put in a cage somewhere in Vietnam to garner the same PTSD symptoms. The cage for the trapped child is just as real because their is no escape for eighteen years. Either environment will create them. If an individual views atrocity, that can trigger symptoms.
Again, it doesn’t have to be in a war zone or in combat–it can be at a train wreck, an airplane disaster, a terrorist attack. As an example, the Oklahoma City bombing has, quite literally, created a city of PTSD survivors. Many police and firefighters view human remains at accident sites all the time–and never received help for what they view. Some did, fortunately–but others did not. Human or animal atrocity affects all of us. The question is just how much. At some point, we all have an inner boundary where inhumane treatment, torture or atrocity, will affect all of us.
Now, the latest trauma, the terrorist attacks on our Pentagon and the destruction of the World Trade Centers in New York City have, once again, created a massive PTSD epidemic in the wake of these assaults on our collective, USA psyche. Bosnia has been traumatized. Right now, it is Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention, Iran and Pakistan. Violence against anyone breeds PTSD.
4. The psychological and constitutional elements of ourselves, which is known collectively to the homeopath as the “vital force” will create more or less susceptibility to PTSD symptoms. Ten people can view a plane crash. There will be ten different, varying levels of reaction to it. Those whose vital forces are more susceptible to this type of trauma, will be more profoundly affected and they will be the ones coming away with PTSD symptoms and high cortisol levels. Others may be less affected or not at all. Four children in an abusive household will have four different coping mechanisms and reactions to the war-zone environment and each vital force will respond a little differently to it–but they will all walk away wounded with PTSD. It’s just a question of how much damage has been done and where. Some people’s psyche/vital force, are more resilient than others. However, the more long-term the ‘war zone’ that is encountered, the more sure you are that they will all be effected. It’s just a question of how much, at that point.
5. Any of the above situations combined with physical abuse or bodily injury will cause PTSD. Injury, particularly to the head region, will guarantee it. Homes where children are slapped, beaten, thrown around, will have a high degree of PTSD symptoms unless they have a very tough, strong vital force. And even then, they will still be wounded; but perhaps not as deeply as some other individuals who are more susceptible to such a combative environment.
6. PTSD symptoms can worsen especially if there is no social net or fabric in which to seek help or protection from this warlike environment or warlike person. Without an abuse shelter being available, without the means to talk to someone who recognizes the bottom line of the problem, survivors, if left in such an environment, simply become worse over time. A military vet who cannot seek help, is left to suffer in his or her personal hell that only deepens and stains their entire life, year by year. PTSD symptoms, if not caught and reversed, only become worse with time. It ruins marriages, children, and stains the PTSD survivor irrevocably. In a sense a PTSD survivor is still in their POW cage–it just isn’t visible, but it’s there in the guise of high cortisol symptoms.
Here is an illustration of where our Adrenals sit on top of our kidneys. When everything is normal, there is ‘talk’ and communication hormonally between the adrenals and the pituitary. But when there is high cortisol, this connection is broken.
THE THYROID IMPLICATION
There is synergy between cortisol and thyroid hormones. Both have to be in our cells, bound to their respective receptors at normal levels in order to work efficiently. If cortisol levels are low, caused by Adrenal exhaustion, our thyroid is less efficient at doing its job of increasing our energy and metabolic activity. The person may end up with hypothyroid symptoms and unwanted weight gain.
When your cortisol is too high, it interferes with the thyroid hormone signal. In essence, it creates what is known as ‘thyroid resistance.’ This means the thyroid hormones levels can be ‘normal’ in a test, but our cell tissues fail to respond as efficiently to the thyroid signal. This too can be misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism. Throwing thyroid supplements at it won’t fix it, either. Why? Because the foundational problem is the high cortisol. You bring the cortisol within normal operation and the hypothyroid symptoms go away and your thyroid is able to function fully and normally once more.
Signs of hypothyroid symptoms are:
* Weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight
* Coarse, dry hair
* Dry, rough pale skin
* Hair loss
* Cold intolerance (you can’t tolerate cold temperatures like those around you)
* Muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches
* Memory loss
* Abnormal menstrual cycles
* Decreased libido, low or no sex drive
High cortisol also causes insulin resistance as well. It takes more insulin to drive glucose into the cells when coritsol is high. And so you have a high coritsol and insulin and this creates the ‘insulin resistance.’ You are going to gain weight around the waist because our body stores fat there, rather than burning it off like it should. This is the “apple” body shape.
PERI-MENOPAUSE AND MENOPAUSE
When cortisol is high, our brain is less sensitive to estrogens. This can throw women into “early” menopause. It can also amp up hot flashes and night flashes….which are not only bothersome but at night, when we’re trying to sleep–we are constantly be awakened. The sleep deprivation from this one symptom alone will put any woman into a tailspin over time. In peri-menopausal women cortisol should drop at night. Progesterone plays an important role here because it actually competes with cortisol for the glucocorticoid receptors. It can counter the stimulating (wide awake vs sleeping) effects of cortisol at night when you need to be sleeping deeply and soundly. With high cortisol, the progesterone is shoved aside and loses out. The result is insomnia for the woman.
You can have post menopausal women with reasonable amounts of estrogen but when the cortisol rises, she will get hot flashes–which are seen by the medical establishment as an estrogen deficiency. In this case, it’s not a deficiency. It’s the cortisol interfering in the process. If the cortisol levels are brought down to normal, the hot flashes end once and for all. And if your doctor misdiagnosis your hot flash symptoms, he or she will give you other hormones to compensate–and they won’t work. Be sure, if you are past menopause, and continue to have hot flashes, to get your cortisol levels checked first (Part 3 will have information on who to contact and what tests to get) before taking any other hormones.
There’s real problems with bone loss (spinal shrinkage among them) when cortisol is high. It activates many of the biochemical pathways that are involved with bone resorption. It specifically inhibits osteoblast activity which is responsible for bone building. It suppresses production of androgens (male hormones) in the gonads and adrogens help build bone in men. It activates osteoclasts which causes bone to be resorbed faster than normal. It decreases mineral absorption in the gut (and that is why a good mineral supplement is vital). You won’t be able to absorb calcium and magnesium–both of which are needed to build bone and keep our bones strong. It also increases kidney spilling of calcium. So that’s another loss of calcium for us.
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.
High Cortisol, Thyroid, Bones, Menopause
HOW CORTISOL LEVELS AFFECT THYROID FUNCTION AND AGING
Interview with David Zava, Ph.D.