High Cortisol levels can cause a lot of problems by itself. It can cause exhaustion, insomnia, anxiety, belly fat, cravings, headaches and many other symptoms.
But, too much cortisol can also affect your thyroid. Thousands of women have sluggish thyroids because they have high cortisol.
In this podcast we talk about how cortisol directly affects your thyroid. We also talk about the effect cortisol has on your estrogen levels.
TRANSCRIPT OF TODAY'S EPISODE
Dr Martin Jr: 00:03 You’re listening to the ‘Doctor Is In’ podcast for martinclinic.com. Although we share a lot of practical and, in our opinion, awesome information, what you hear on this podcast is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease. It’s strictly for informational purposes, so enjoy.
Dr Martin Jr: 00:25 Hello, I’m Dr Martin Jr.
Dr Martin Sr: 00:26 I’m Dr Martin Sr.
Dr Martin Jr: 00:28 And this is the ‘Doctor Is In’ podcast and this is episode 155. And today we wanna kinda continue a discussion that we had on our previous podcast where we talk specifically about cortisol. Now, if you haven’t listened to that one, don’t worry, we’re gonna recap some of what we talked about before. What we wanna do today is really show you how cortisol, for a lot of people, really starts all of their problems.
Dr Martin Sr: 00:54 Yeah, it really messes you up. It messes you up metabolically. And the reason is, if you think of what cortisol is, again, just to give you a little refresher, is cortisol is a hormone that your adrenal glands secrete in response the fight or flight. It’s the cousin of adrenaline and it’s long-lasting and it really has a major effect on … we talked about it last week, its main job is to get you ready for fight or flight, so what’s it do? It elevates your insulin. Right?
Dr Martin Jr: 01:29 Yeah. It brings up your blood sugar levels.
Dr Martin Sr: 01:31 It brings up your blood sugar and your insulin is secreted in response to that.
Dr Martin Jr: 01:35 Now we had a few questions about the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system and-
Dr Martin Sr: 01:41 We don’t like getting into weeds, but we’ll get into weeds for a second.
Dr Martin Jr: 01:44 Yeah, just real quickly. From a practical standpoint, you kinda have two different-I wanna say- kinda systems that you can go back and forth between. The one is the rest and digest stage, so that your bowel chemistry, your hormones, everything that is necessary for resting and digesting is taking over and then you have another stage where it’s your fight or flight. And so everything happens for that reason, so if you think of what the difference … when you’re resting, you need less energy. So your hormones that bring up your blood sugar levels so that you have more energy are not really all that active ’cause you don’t need the energy; however, when you’re in that fight or flight mode then hormones like cortisol are way more active, because they’re bringing up your blood sugar levels. And so there’s a lot that goes on physiologically. Now from the rest and digest standpoint, obviously that’s crucial for a healthy digestive system, so you can imagine that’s when you’re secreting digestive enzymes, that’s when all those things that are involved in breaking down food are doing their job, so-
Dr Martin Sr: 02:48 Your feel-good hormones are out big time.
Dr Martin Jr: 02:49 Exactly. You’re not stressed. So you can imagine if somebody has elevated cortisol all the time, what it does eventually to their digestive system. It absolutely can destroy it, it can cause a whole whack of problems.
Dr Martin Sr: 03:03 It’s a diversion, because what happens with cortisol, as it gets you to not even … you’re not thinking of digestion. If you were getting chased by a bear or whatever or something, the last thing you wanna do is eat, all you’re thinking of is … and that’s why you see symptoms and we might’ve touched a little bit on that last week. You see symptoms of … a lot of people that have high cortisol over a long period of time, they become nauseous, even at the thought of food, they’re nauseated and so they got that sort of-
Dr Martin Jr: 03:38 And yet they can’t lose weight.
Dr Martin Sr: 03:39 Yet they can’t lose weight and then they have cravings, so if there is gonna be food, give me something quick, just give me a fix, give me sugar or give me salt or give me sugar and salt.
Dr Martin Jr: 03:51 Yeah, it’s like chocolate or potato chips kinda summarize the cravings-
Dr Martin Sr: 03:54 Yeah, like just … ’cause I’m … and that’s just your body being diverted and it’s interesting how those two systems work. And if you’re feeling real good and you’re in real good health and nothing’s going on, these two things, you’re not even thinking about it, they just happen automatically.
Dr Martin Jr: 04:12 And what’s interesting then is high cortisol is also, as we talked about last week, is a major cause obviously of insomnia. And what we did last week was kind of talk about the fact that cortisol is a cyclical hormone and it kinda follows your circadian rhythm, meaning there’s a definite pattern based on the time of day that that hormone is supposed to be active naturally. You have a higher level of cortisol as you’re waking up in the morning and then it kinda goes down the rest of the day after. And it makes sense, because-
Dr Martin Sr: 04:45 And really low when you go to sleep.
Dr Martin Jr: 04:47 Yeah, cortisol is like you’re in that rest and digest phase completely, so you should be … cortisol’s very low at night time and that’s normal. So it’s higher in the morning, it’s raising your blood sugar levels up, which is why-interesting enough-a lot of diabetics have a hard time with blood sugar regulation in the morning and a lot of it is that circadian rhythm, it’s that cortisol. So you have a diabetic and then you throw on a real high cortisol and then it just creates a real morning issue for them. And you see that a lot of times, which is why a lot of diabetics, when we talk about fasting, research has shown and we’ve heard this or seen this many times that a diabetic is actually better to fast at the end of the day. So they would actually eat in the morning and they would stop eating kinda around four in the afternoon and they tend to do really well that way; whereas, a diabetic fasting ’til lunch can have a hard time because they already have high cortisol levels and … anyways, it’s really interesting stuff, it’s amazing how some hormones are directly tied to our circadian rhythm. For example, growth hormone is mainly secreted while we’re sleeping at nighttime, it’s a nighttime hormone. So if growth hormone-
Dr Martin Sr: 05:58 But you better be sleeping.
Dr Martin Jr: 05:59 You better be in the right cycles of sleep as well as the right stages. And growth hormone is what keeps you young, it’s that anti-aging hormone. People inject it, they spend a lot of money getting growth hormone injections as they age because that naturally decreases as you age and a lot of people call it that fountain of youth. Needless to say, you secrete it at nighttime. Now, if you have a high cortisol and you’re not sleeping, you’re not secreting human growth hormone, which is why cortisol-especially elevated cortisol-is a massive … we call it an accelerant, we use that word a lot. It’s an accelerant of aging, it ages you a lot faster because not only does cortisol cause inflammation which can then lead to a whole bunch of bad things for your brain, your heart, your body, your joints, your skin, everything, it also will affect how you sleep which will then decrease your human growth hormone secretion, which then mean you’re gonna be aging faster. So it’s an accelerant of aging as well. A lot of people don’t realize this, that if they just concentrated on cortisol, they would have … that’s one of the best anti-aging things that you could do.
Dr Martin Sr: 07:02 Absolutely. And that’s why, in a sense too, that we talk about … you just mentioned heart and a lot times where men’s cortisol is very high, a little bit different than women, not that … well, you know what … because if it’s an accelerant of aging, think of what happens in aging. We talk about this in the past, where you get much more inflammation. You don’t get a good sleep, you don’t get growth hormone, one of the ways it ages you is because you’re creating a lot more free radical damage. The body, it doesn’t have time to repair because you’re … when you really think of it, like I always tell people, “Look. I don’t know any …” You know this, I don’t have to tell you, but I don’t know much about my phone. You know that, I’m upside dead. When I do Facebook, like, “Dad you’re upside down, you don’t know,” and I say, “Well, why didn’t you tell me that? How do I know?”
Dr Martin Jr: 07:54 And in all honesty, what raises my cortisol level is if you call me with a computer question. That elevates my cortisol. I go from rest and digest rate to fight and flight.
Dr Martin Sr: 08:04 But okay, now enough about me. Let me tell … just ’cause I wanna give this illustration. If you ever go into on your phone and you go into airplane mode, what does that do to your phone? No data’s coming, you’re not getting data. Right?
Dr Martin Jr: 08:22 Nothing. You’re not wifi, Bluetooth, everything gets shut off.
Dr Martin Sr: 08:25 It gets shut off. So that’s the way it’s supposed to be with sleep. Your body … so think of cortisol keeps you out of the airplane mode on your phone, your battery’s being used and you’re not even sleeping. So a lot people they have this symptom, “You know what? I fell asleep, but I couldn’t stay asleep,” ’cause all of a sudden you see the cortisol’s waking them up or they might have to go to the bathroom, which if you’re a little bit older as a man or even women, they go-
Dr Martin Jr: 08:53 Yeah and research has shown that if you fall back to sleep within a few minutes, it doesn’t affect you.
Dr Martin Sr: 08:59 It doesn’t even affect you.
Dr Martin Jr: 08:59 But a lot of people then they’re up after, ’cause they can’t fall back asleep.
Dr Martin Sr: 09:01 And I get people talking to me all the time about that and it’s so common. So anyway …
Dr Martin Jr: 09:07 Cortisol, that’s what it does with the rest and digest and the fight or flight stage and how it really can mess up a lot of different systems in your body; however … and, we talked about what happens in the last episode, when your cortisol is high all day, you can’t sleep and you’ve mentioned a bunch of systems like exhaustion and stuff like that, but what we wanna do for the rest of this episode is we wanna basically show you how that process of elevated cortisol, which is so common, can absolutely destroy your hormones altogether. But before we do that, I just wanna kinda add one little comment to something you said about in men specifically. One of the problems-and we’re gonna talk about the hormones that really affect women coming up here in a second-but really quickly, a man who has elevated cortisol, like you said, it goes to their heart differently. But you know one of the other things it does? When cortisol is elevated, you’re not making testosterone. One of the biggest problems that men have today is their testosterone levels are way too low, so it just affects all aspects of their well-being.
Dr Martin Sr: 10:11 And a lot of people think that, just on the thought of testosterone, is that as you get older your testosterone should be sinking like the titanic. No it shouldn’t, not if you’re taking care of yourself.
Dr Martin Jr: 10:21 No and that’s the thing, at one point that was taught was that you lose your certain percentage every year of testosterone, but what they found in research now is that that’s not true, that if it does decrease, it’s more likely due to lifestyle than actual age. So it is interesting. So that was an aside for men. It affects our testosterone. Now in women, and this is what makes it really interesting, is once cortisol’s elevated, it’s an accelerant. It affects their sleep, it accelerates their aging, it accelerates inflammation, but it also will tear apart their hormonal system, right?
Dr Martin Sr: 10:55 Yeah.
Dr Martin Jr: 10:55 So let’s talk about one of the most common complaints that women have about hormones is … and it’s one of the top googled, if you do a search query for hormones, half is the thyroid.
Dr Martin Sr: 11:07 Thyroid.
Dr Martin Jr: 11:07 Right. And-
Dr Martin Sr: 11:10 And isn’t it interesting how women know it’s thyroid?
Dr Martin Jr: 11:11 Well, they know it’s thyroid because they have every symptom of thyroid, then they get frustrated ’cause they get the blood test done and the thyroid comes back normal. And we talk about that a fair amount, but one of the reasons for that is because they have a cortisol problem masquerading as a thyroid problem. And the thyroid is being affected, make no mistake about it; however, they got a cortisol issue that’s coming across as a thyroid issue. Because cortisol … what happens and it’s interesting, so if you look at cortisol really hurts your thyroid three ways. Now let’s talk quickly about the thyroid, let’s just talk quickly about the thyroid.
Dr Martin Sr: 11:46 What is it.
Dr Martin Jr: 11:48 Yeah, the importance of it. A lot of times it’s referred to as your master gland, ’cause it can influence every-
Dr Martin Sr: 11:55 The orchestra leader.
Dr Martin Jr: 11:56 Yeah, that’s exactly it. That’s a great analogy. Every instrument is being affected by the leader, the conductor. That’s the thyroid gland. When the thyroid is functioning normal, your body is normal, when it’s sluggish, everything is sluggish. I use the analogy of … I remember as kids, well not even kids, sometimes just even going with your kids. You go to a go-kart park and you always wanna race, especially a lot of guys they wanna race and I remember even racing my kids when they were a little older at these go-kart parks. But here’s the thing, they all got little governors on them which are things that kinda keep the speed down and if your governor is on more than somebody else’s, it doesn’t matter how hard you press that gas pedal, you’re gonna go slower than everybody else and it could be frustrating if you’re racing. I remember as a kid getting in, it was like six of us, we get into these go-karts and we all hammer the acceleration, they take off and it didn’t matter what I did, I wasn’t gonna catch them, because mine was slower, my governor was working too well, it was sluggish. Right?
Dr Martin Sr: 13:01 Yeah.
Dr Martin Jr: 13:01 And that’s like a thyroid. When the thyroid is sluggish, it doesn’t matter how hard you’re pushing the gas pedal, in a sense, it doesn’t work. And it does that with every aspect of your body, from your metabolism to digestion to hair falling out. It’s amazing. But what’s fascinating is that a lot of people have thyroid because of their cortisol is high. And here’s what’s interesting, cortisol will affect the thyroid in three different ways. Three big ways. One way is that it lowers TSH, cortisol directly will lower TSH production. And TCH … again, we always say this about the thyroid, the thyroid is kinda like a puppet, it only does what it’s told to do and it’s told by your pituitary and your hypothalamus. Hypothalamus tells your pituitary and then pituitary will tell your thyroid and one of the ways that they communicate is with this TSH hormone. TSH, what does it mean? Well, literally-
Dr Martin Sr: 13:57 Thyroid Stimulating Hormone.
Dr Martin Jr: 13:58 When that thing’s there, it stimulates your hormones, they get to work. It wasn’t … the same is TSH, it sounds cool, but like a lot of things in medicine, when you break it down, it just literally means Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. That’s all it is. So once it’s released, it stimulates your hormone. Cortisol can block TSH production, which means right from the start, right from your brain, you’re not telling your thyroid to work properly. So that’s one way. People wonder, when they have elevated cortisol … and why we talk about it so often and especially if you’re a woman, if you’ve had this problem for a while, you will have a thyroid issue. You’ll have symptoms of thyroid. Now you may have a lot of symptoms of thyroid or you have a few symptoms of thyroid, but regardless, if you have a problem with cortisol for a long time, you’re gonna have eventually an issue with thyroid.
Dr Martin Jr: 14:47 And so the first thing it does, it blocks that TSH, but that’s not it. That’s not the only way it does. Cortisol lays the hammer down on the thyroid, it really does, because it tells the brain to make less TSH, so your thyroid’s stimulated and what it also does, the thyroid makes a whole bunch of hormones: T1, T2, T3, T4 are the main one it makes and a majority of it is T4. Now we don’t wanna bore you to death, but T3 is the active form of the thyroid hormone. So you make a ton of T4, that T4 has to be converted into T3 and then converted-
Dr Martin Sr: 15:23 Where is it converted?
Dr Martin Jr: 15:23 And it’s converted in the liver, which is why insulin can affect the thyroid, which is-
Dr Martin Sr: 15:27 That’s another issue.
Dr Martin Jr: 15:28 That’s another issue. There’s a lot of things that can affect the thyroid, but insulin’s one of them. But what’s interesting is, so you convert T4 to T3. Here’s the thing, cortisol decreases the conversion of T4 to T3, so now your brain is telling your thyroid to not work as well and you’re not making as much T3. So again, it can hammer your thyroid, it can really affect your thyroid as well. And here’s another thing as well, it increases something, what they call Reverse T3. So every hormone has a mechanism in place to tell it to stop, so when you have a lot of this RT3, this Reverse T3, circulating, that’s telling your thyroid, “We don’t need anymore hormone right now”. So you can kinda take the … you can stop making it. So cortisol tells TSH to go down, it drastically decreases the conversion of T4 to T3 and then it also increases your Reverse T3, so it’s telling you to stop making it in the first place.
Dr Martin Sr: 16:25 So now your thyroid has just gone to a crawl. It’s into a crawl.
Dr Martin Jr: 16:30 So you can see why elevated cortisol hurts your thyroid and why a lot of times people, their thyroid symptoms go away a lot of times when they start to really deal with the cortisol aspect of things as well.
Dr Martin Sr: 16:42 Big time.
Dr Martin Jr: 16:42 But again, like anything else, once your thyroid is affected and it hasn’t been functioning properly for a while, well it’s interesting, ’cause then nutritionally you have to support the thyroid as well. It needs the nutrients to get back healthy again after, so that’s what makes that interesting. And there’s another thing as well, we have a program that we had done a while ago called ‘The Metabolic Storm’ and we really talk about the effect that cortisol, thyroid and estrogen have on your body. And here’s the thing, cortisol is kind of the starting point for a lot of hormonal issues in people. You can enter the metabolic storm with a thyroid which will affect your cortisol which can affect your estrogen or you can enter it and there’s a rate, anyone of those three can start you off that path. The cortisol does it the most direct, fastest way, it really does.
Dr Martin Sr: 17:31 And what is the biggest issue, we mentioned this the last podcast, what is the biggest issue in the world today? In medicine, in healthcare, what’s the fastest growing … this is one of them, but what is it in psychiatric health? What is it? It’s anxiety!
Dr Martin Jr: 17:50 Yeah, anxiety is the new-
Dr Martin Sr: 17:51 It’s the new depression.
Dr Martin Jr: 17:52 That’s right.
Dr Martin Sr: 17:52 It’s amazing how prevalent this is in our society today.
Dr Martin Jr: 17:58 It is. I really spent a lot of time trying to just think of all the different reasons why that is and it’s funny, if you even sit back and kinda self-evaluate, you’ll even notice that you’re more stressed or anxious than you used to be for whatever reason. It’s the weirdest thing. And it’s one of those things where … so you can imagine what that’s doing to our biochemistry, which well, we know what it’s doing. It’s causing a real imbalance of cortisol and it’s causing a lot of issues. But you’re right. And I guess, the last thing we just wanna mention quickly when it comes to why it can mess up a woman’s hormones badly, because then cortisol will increase estrogen dominance as well through a whole bunch of different mechanisms. One of the things that happens, when you have a lot of cortisol, you have a lot insulin, you have a lot of inflammation, you tend to store more belly fat and then estrogen-
Dr Martin Sr: 18:47 Belly fat does what?
Dr Martin Jr: 18:48 Well, and that’s the thing, ’cause you store estrogen, estrogen is released from fat. The more fat, the more estrogen, you become estrogen dominant and then what’s interesting is that the more estrogen dominant you become, that will also basically block T4 to T3. So really the thyroid … the reason why a lot of women have thyroid symptoms. And the reason why that’s a high search query on Google is because a problem everywhere else in their hormones will eventually whack the thyroid. It eventually … the thyroid is always the victim, always. If you have cortisol, it hurts your thyroid. If you have estrogen dominance, it hurts your thyroid. So that’s why, that’s why women have these really epidemic issues of thyroid symptoms, because everything eventually affects your thyroid. Why? Because your thyroid controls everything, so eventually these things will affect your thyroid.
Dr Martin Jr: 19:42 So it’s just fascinating stuff and it’s just so consistent with all the symptoms that people are experiencing today when it comes to their hormones and they can look at these things, they’re like … I find this interesting, ’cause somebody will email us, they’re like, “Yeah, I looked up the symptoms of thyroid, I have those and then I looked up the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and I have those as well and then oh yeah, I also notice I have a lot of symptoms of too much estrogen. That doesn’t make any sense.” But we’re here to tell you that, that makes a lot of sense. Not only does it make a lot of sense, there are a lot of women who are going through the exact same thing and then they go see their family doctor and their family doctor, to be honest, is just confused. They’re just … it falls so far outside of what they normally deal with that it becomes a real issue, so that women get really frustrated ’cause their hormones are a mess, they know they have thyroid problems, but they just can’t get those answers.
Dr Martin Jr: 20:35 So listen, we’re here to tell you that it makes sense. It does. And a lot of times, you control that cortisol and you really get that cortisol down to where it should be, you start getting a better night’s sleep and you reset that circadian rhythm, you get those hormones flowing when they should be and when they shouldn’t be and it’s amazing.
Dr Martin Sr: 20:55 The growth hormone starts being produced again. Your cells at the cellular level, your mitochondria. We didn’t even talk about that, I think we did a little bit last time, where your ATP, your energy coming out of your battery packs within your cells can regenerate. Again, we mentioned it last week, but chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and a lot of these things are all that metabolic storm that’s just so messed up.
Dr Martin Jr: 21:22 Yeah, they’re just extensions. It really is … a lot of these have the same root problem, but they present themselves differently. ‘Cause if somebody has chronic fatigue, they have a lot of hormonal issues. Their hormones are a mess.
Dr Martin Sr: 21:38 Oh, they’re a mess.
Dr Martin Jr: 21:38 They’re a mess.
Dr Martin Sr: 21:39 They’re in a major, major breakdown of hormone.
Dr Martin Jr: 21:41 A lot of people that have chronic fatigue are really, what we would call a category 5 storm, their hormones are just so messed up it’s affecting every aspect of their body and their sleep included. And then they can’t stay asleep, fall asleep, they don’t get restful sleep, ’cause they’re not going through all the cycles of sleep, not getting enough REM, again, it’s just all connected. It’s fascinating stuff. And you spent a lot of time over the years asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of research, reading a ton of stuff and a lot of experience talking with people and you’ve really gone ahead of the game when it comes to hormones. But again, that’s what you do.
Dr Martin Jr: 22:24 So anyways, I know we gave a ton of information again today. We wanna thank you for listening to this episode. If you have any questions, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, every Thursday morning, you do a Facebook Live where you answer a ton of questions, but we have a newsletter as well. If you wanna join our newsletter, just go to martinclinic.com, you can join our newsletter there. We also have a private Facebook group where it’s a great community of people, awesome people in there, it’s a fairly active group, so it’s a lot of fun. So you can go as well and request access to join our private Facebook group. Again, we wanna thank you for listening. Have a great day.
Dr Martin Sr: 23:00 Thanks for listening to the ‘Doctor Is In’ podcast from martinclinic.com. If you have any questions, you can reach us at email@example.com. If you’re not a newsletter subscriber, you can head to your website and sign up for free. We also have a private Facebook group that you could join, it’s a community of awesome people. Finally, I do a Facebook Live every Thursday morning at 8:30. Join us again next week for a new episode.