Lyme affects our energy levels, personal lives, and zest for life.
Cortisol is one of the main hormones we make in response to stress. It is made in the adrenal glands that sit on top of our kidneys. Cortisol gives us a boost of energy and has anti-inflammatory properties. Hans Selye created the General Adaptation Syndrome in 1946 to described how the body responds to stress (1).
During periods of acute stress, adrenaline and nor-adrenaline are released quickly. As these levels peak and being to decline, cortisol begins to rise. If a stress becomes chronic, cortisol stays elevated and provides energy while buffering inflammation. If the stressor is intense enough, lasts long enough, or adds to other stressors that are already present, a person’s cortisol with eventually crash. This is called adrenal insufficiency (2). Symptoms consist of low energy, increased inflammation, and pain.
The ultimate building block of cortisol is cholesterol. Cholesterol is also the building block of testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. Because cortisol a stress hormone, we can think of it as a “survival” hormone.
Testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone can be thought of as our “sex” hormones. In the presence of stress, the body sacrifices “sex” for “survival.” Cholesterol is diverted into producing cortisol and sex hormones are sacrificed, often referred to as the “cortisol steal.”
Low sex hormone production results in fatigue, lack of motivation, depression, low libido, and reduced exercise tolerance.
Many people are aware of the mental and / or emotional stressors in their lives. However, there are many physical stressors that drive the body to release cortisol as well. These include things like: blood sugar swings, inflammatory foods, leaky gut, excessive exercise, metallic and non-metallic environmental waste build-up, and lack of restorative sleep.
Chronic infections (including Lyme Disease) are often overlooked as a source of stress on the body. They operate in the background and often go unnoticed in the early stages. Even though a person may not be experiencing any conscious stress, the body is being stressed by a chronic infection. This initiates the cortisol steal and eventually drives them a state of adrenal insufficiency.
The stress of a chronic infection goes beyond physical symptoms. It enters into the mental / emotional realm and negatively impacts personal relationships.
In addition to impacting a person’s relationship with themselves, this can’t help but also impact how partners interact. The dynamic can shift as one spouse slowly takes on the role of a caregiver. Support of the caregiver in this kind of situation is often overlooked.
This scenario can happen not only in the case of chronic infections but in other chronic illnesses as well. It’s helpful to identify short-term and long-term strategies to help buffer the mental / emotional symptoms that can disrupt connections with spouses and family while addressing the more slowly changing root cause issues behind the illness.
Author: Dr. Shaun Riddle
September 1, 2018