Sanctuary for the Abused

Friday, March 23, 2018

Abnormal Cortisol Levels, Depression, Anxiety & PTSD = Signs of Long-Term Abuse & Psychological Trauma

Long-term emotional stress is a well-known culprit in the development of abnormal cortisol levels and consequent damage to the endocrine system of hormone-releasing organs throughout the body, most notably the adrenal glands that produce cortisol itself. Most of the research on this common health problem has been conducted in adults, but it turns out that abused children experience many of the same health effects seen in stressed out adults. Furthermore, studies are showing that chronic abuse can disrupt the balance of the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis for many years or decades.

Child Abuse Triggers Abnormal Cortisol Levels

Researcher Kate Harkness looked at the relationship between cortisol levels and abuse and mental illness in children and found a strong connection. She believes that the high stress levels experienced in many children who are being physically, emotionally, or sexually abused drive up cortisol dramatically. Over time, the high levels of cortisol damage the brain in regions such as the hippocampus and hypothalamus. Chronically elevated cortisol also damages the endocrine system consisting of hormone releasing organs such as the adrenal and pituitary glands. Abnormal levels of cortisol have also been linked as a factor contributing to the development of many other health problems involving metabolic disorders such as diabetes, high levels of blood lipids, and low CoQ10 levels.

From Biological Links Found Between Childhood Abuse and Adolescent Depression:

“This kind of reaction is a problem because cortisol kills cells in areas of the brain that control memory and emotion regulation,” explains Dr. Harkness, a professor in the Department of Psychology and an expert in the role of stress and trauma in adolescent depression. “Over time cortisol levels can build up and increase a person’s risk for more severe endocrine impairment and more severe depression.”

Researchers analyzed measurements of urinary cortisol levels and collecting profiles of the children’s past histories of absence or presence of abuse and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety spectrum disorders such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). They noted that children displaying mild depression symptoms triggered by abuse often have elevated cortisol levels. But those who are severely depressed have often had their endocrine systems collapse and that typically results in low levels of hormones such as cortisol.

Symptoms of depression are usually more than just a low mood. They often include problems with focus and memory, weight changes, sleep and fatigue problems, loss of interest in formally interesting activities, withdrawal from social groups, and chronic pain. Depressive symptoms are often accompanied by high levels of anxiety from frequent worries or a pervasive sense of unease or discomfort all the way up to panic attacks and PTSD flashbacks.

Child Abuse Connected with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

The observations of altered hormone levels in abused children is similar to the physiological phenomenon seen with patients suffering long-term pain and fatigue conditions such as fibromyalgia and CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome). These people often have pervasive endocrine system damage and low cortisol levels, too.

People who are suffering from chronic pain and fatigue disorders such as fibromyalgia and CFIDS (chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome) should look back into their histories to evaluate whether some long-ago psychological trauma may still be impacting them severely today. Counseling or psychotherapy directed at resolving the psychological damage may be helpful in recovering from chronic pain and fatigue.

These conditions are not “all in the head” — there is real physiological damage to the body that is objectively seen via medical tests such as cortisol saliva tests and hormone blood tests. It’s important to realize that many such patients will need far more than just counseling. In particular, many of them need hormonal support for cortisol, pregnenolone, and DHEA via supplements and medications.

Normal Changes in Cortisol Levels Are Short-Term

Cortisol in and of itself is not a damaging hormone. Indeed, it’s normal for there to be short-term elevations in cortisol levels such as during an emergency or as a reaction to the impending birth of a baby or the adaptation to taking care of that baby.

From The Making of a Modern Dad:

The second hormone, cortisol, is well known as a stress hormone, but it is also a good indicator of a mother’s attachment to her baby. New mothers who have high cortisol levels can detect their own infant by odor more easily than mothers with lower cortisol levels. The mothers also respond more sympathetically to their baby’s cries and describe their relationship with their baby in more positive terms. Storey and her colleagues found that for expectant fathers, cortisol was twice as high in the three weeks before birth than earlier in the pregnancy.

Cortisol essentially sends a message to the body to prepare itself for stressful operations and to temporarily shut down or slow down some of the long-term repair mechanisms the body uses to keep itself healthy. The basic reasoning is that if you’re being chased by a lion intent on eating you, you would be better off with your body focusing on running away or fighting than on repairing buildup of plaque inside your arteries. If your cortisol levels spike under dangerous or stressful situations now and then and then fall back to normal levels within a few hours or days, probably there is no lasting damage from that. But when you are chronically stressed and cortisol is high all the time, eventually your body will be damaged in many areas because the normal healthy repair mechanisms slow or shut down.

Eventually, the damage may become so severe that the endocrine system organs responsible for making cortisol that the body simply can’t make much of it any more. The effect is most obvious in the adrenal glands that are making the cortisol, but the hypothalamus and pituitary also have much influence over the production of cortisol and appear to be damaged by long-term high levels of cortisol. So via some mix of damage to these organs, eventually the body isn’t able to muster the burst in cortisol you’d typically see from routine stressors such as waking up for the day or to deal with some pain or injury. As a result, you get aggravated symptoms of chronic fatigue and pain seen in many chronic medical conditions such as adrenal fatigue, fibromyalgia, and CFIDS. Some elements of this dysfunction may also be involved in other chronic pain and weakness conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

Using Pregnenolone, DHEA, and IsoCort or Other Cortisol Supplements

Low levels of pregnenolone, DHEA, and sometimes cortisol are common in people who have experienced chronic stress or abuse. Supplementing DHEA and pregnenolone is quite safe under most circumstances, the main possible exception being patients who are suffering from hormone-dependent cancers. One of the benefits of pregnenolone supplementation is that the body can convert pregnenolone to cortisol or to DHEA as needed. DHEA is needed for production of testosterone and testosterone is needed to make estradiol, one of the most common forms of estrogen.

Pregnenolone and DHEA are particularly helpful for people suffering from anxiety which is very common in those suffering from a history of abuse or stress. You can read more about that in Reducing Sedative and Addictive Side Effects of Anti-Anxiety Drugs Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, etc.) with L-Theanine, Pregnenolone, and DHEA.

Cortisol supplementation is a more difficult area to address because it’s important to have an accurate picture of your daily varying levels of cortisol before you try to alter your cortisol levels. High and low cortisol levels both cause some similar symptoms and both can damage the body. So while you can get over-the-counter bioidentical cortisol via supplements such as IsoCort, it’s really important to get the proper tests to figure out where your cortisol levels are before supplementing with cortisol directly.

DHEA supplementation can also help boost low levels of testosterone seen in many people. But some men may still not be able to normalize their testosterone levels to those of the young and healthy because most of their testosterone is being converted to estradiol estrogen. They may need additional bioidentical testosterone or supplements or medications that impede this conversion. Particularly for older men who are overweight, some additional caution is needed regarding hormone supplementation because many of these men are suffering from very high estrogen levels because the fat in their bodies converts much of their testosterone to estradiol via activity of the enzyme aromatase.

It’s important to get a complete picture of your hormone status both before and during supplementation so you can understand if you may need additional supplements or medications to keep the added hormones in their most useful state. Otherwise, some men may find they inadvertently end up boosting their unhealthy estrogen levels even further when this could have been prevented if the appropriate supplements and medications were used along with the added pregnenolone and DHEA.


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shared by Barbara at 12:33 AM



Barbara, This doesn't go with this article but once again, something very important to think about.

I've wondered before if sperm banks screened for a conscience. (If parents required this or if they screened parents for this.) Anyway, there's an interesting article on-line. THINK about this in light of the fact that psychopathy is GENETIC. The article is titled, "British man allegedly fathered up to 600 children through sperm bank donations." By Eric Pfeiffer The Sideshow – Tue, Apr 10, 2012.

This isn't the first time I've heard of this. There was another situation years ago where the doctor was donating his own sperm. Parents had ordered certain genetic characteristics and here was this squat, fat, doctor "donating" his own sperm.(Cecil Jacobson) I wonder if these sperm donators had a conscience or if they thought (like all psychopaths do) that they were God and it was their right to do this and also, that these unsuspecting people were "lucky" to have their great sperm. (I'm tired.)

8:27 PM  

Don't forget to add that oftentimes, abuse victims become alcoholics or abuse drugs. So more and more physical damage. We (the conscienced) never stood a CHANCE! Even now we lie to victims and try to make them take some of the responsibility. Nope, just start doing mri's that check for psychopathy and then turn around and PROTECT THE VICTIMS!

5:18 PM  

"Why do you care?" All my life I have been asked this question. So many times and I never understood what it meant. I now know. I care because I have a conscience. This is rare I believe. People like me who can truly care about others, even when we haven't experienced their exact situation. This question was almost always asked with disdain and was more of an accusation. The person asking was usually angry that I could have compassion or empathy.

The result of my being able to care has destroyed me completely. This ability to empathize and the lies of psychology that says we are all the same and that we should just try to understand evil.

Like the article explains, our bodies can sustain such damage and because the abuse is on-going and RARELY even attributed to abuse, very few people ever get help.

6:40 PM  

Funny thing...the father of the psychopath in my life is a top researcher on the effects of stress on the body. Maybe he should study the ones his child has been abusing for so long. Thanks Barbara. Praying for you and what you are doing for those of us enslaved.

12:15 AM  


I'm a 21 year old woman that has been in a very emotionally/physically abusive relationship for about 3 years. I have been hospitalized as well and lost insane amounts of weigh. I was hospitalized for dehydration, fatigue and exhaustion. They diagnosed me with PTSD and put me on multiple medications, I even went through therapy but I let my abuser back into my life. Finally when he's had enough of me or when he felt like I was " damaged goods " he just tossed me to the side saying he needed space and left me feeling empty and worthless. I have researched multiple times about abusers and their ways but somehow that didn't stop me from going back. Also as many blogs/articles and books I have read I have never seen one so on point with everything, like the blog you have posted here. I want to thank you for this because I really needed the hope that I can get out of this emotional rollercoaster I am in, as much as I wanted to leave and left many times before it never truly hurt as much as him pushing me away after he felt like I no longer served him. Your blog shows extensive research and as sad as it is I can relate to 75-80% of the information. Once again I just wanted to thank you for making me see that " I am not crazy " and that this is not my fault and that I too can recover from this.

_ I have attached my e-mail below I would love to communicate with you and hopefully ask you a few questions if you have the time.

Once again thank you and this blog is amazingly done.

9:06 AM  

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