An Update: My Struggle with Low Cortisol & Adrenal Fatigue (Part 2)

February 3, 2017


“Julie, are you okay”. My husband asked. We were having our usual weekend long coffee in a local coffee shop. It’s a weekly tradition for us both to sit for a good hour or two where I catch up on emails, newsletters, blog posts etc.  “Why?” I ask.  “You just seem ‘out of it'”. Lethagic, low energy, distant.

I was out of it.  My energy had completely tanked.

A few days later, out with a girlfriend, she experienced the same. I was honest with her about what was happening with me and I admitted that it likely had to do with my low cortisol. And, a day or two after that, a colleague of mine witnessed the same.


You may have recently read that I was diagnosed with low cortisol and as a result of that, adrenal fatigue.  I’ve been quite open about my struggles with this diagnosis.

I had also experienced this a couple of times in my 20’s and mid-30’s which catapolted this website and my journey to health.

So what is cortisol anyways?

Cortisol is produced in the cortex of the adrenal glands, and is transported around your body via the bloodstream. When your adrenal glands are overworked and exhausted, things quickly become dysregulated. This can result in erratic spikes of cortisol at inappropriate times which can eventually lead to “burnout”. In the more severe or late stage of adrenal fatigue, your body is no longer able to effectively regulate cortisol levels correctly.  Now, don’t get confused here – we need cortisol to manage the daily stressors of life so it is an essential hormone to have.

Have you felt the feelings of being zapped of energy, and have a general lack of enthusiasm for life?

If you have, it would be worth speaking to a functional medicine professional to go through the series of tests that I did.

As promised, in today’s post, I wanted to tackle the following with you:

What are some of the symptoms of both high and low cortisol? (most people have high cortisol while I have low)
My recent episode of anxiety that sent me to the hospital
My treatment plan with managing low cortisol

I’ve clearly got low cortisol but for many of us, it starts with high and oftentimes erratic levels of cortisol. So what are the symptoms of both…

Typical high cortisol symptoms include the following:

Rapid weight gain
High blood pressure
Muscle weakness
Mood swings, anxiety and depression
Fuzzy brain (or formally – Impaired cognitive function)
Sluggish thyroid (or specific thyroid issues)
Blood sugar imbalances
Poor sleep
Lowered immune function
Slow wound healing

On the flip side, here are the typical symptoms of low cortisol:

Unexplained weight loss
Dark rings under the eyes
Cravings for salty food

As someone who has been diagnosed with low cortisol, I have experienced all of the above symptoms except the unexplained weight loss (darn!).  Over the past two weeks, I had three people ask me if I was okay. We had been in a conversation and my usual high energy, positive attitude came across lethargic and disinterested.  Immediately I was like “yes?” but when I checked in with myself, I really didn’t feel all that great.

Let me tell you about a very personal story and one that, quite frankly, I’m a bit ashamed about because it’s a story that I thought would never ever repeat itself.

In August, my husband’s mother got quite ill. There were so many assumptions about what had happened to her that were unclear. In any event, she was hospitalized. We then had to make the drive out to see her. (I should also note that this was the third time that I had taken an emergency trip to see her. The last trip, which was several years ago, was a very difficult one. It’s actually part of the reason that I rarely make the trip out there as I brings up a lot of uncomfortable memories).

In the few days leading up to the drive out, I started to feel a tightness in my chest that came and went. I was also extremely lethargic.

We made the drive and arrived to our hotel later in the evening. We got a call the following morning from the hospital that my mother-in-law was unconscious and had to be intubated. We immediately got ready and went to see her.

This was the first time I had seen someone unconscious or intubated. In a very short period of time, the tightness in my chest resumed. I also had heart flutters that came and went as well. My first thought was “well, I’m in the intensive care unit so if anything happens, I’ll be taken care of!”.

I hesitated in telling my husband but I did. Of course I downplayed it, and told him that I would just keep an eye on it.

Long story short, my mother-in-law woke up and made a relatively quick recovery. We then decided to take a very scenic, beautiful trip to Whistler for our anniversary. But, I still didn’t feel quite right. We had a great trip but I was still definitely “off” and very low in energy. We returned back to Vancouver and I started back to work.

But, this is where it got interesting (but scary at the same time).

The chest tightness resumed first thing on Monday morning. I was worried as it was more intense. I called my doctor and was told to go to the emergency department. Great.

When you have any chest tightness you get bumped up to the front of the class and get right in. You also get special attention – nurses, cardiac specialists, doctors, heart monitors and so on.  It’s all very overwhelming.

My results were all negative, except for mild arrhythmia. The doctor had asked me if this had every happened before. Then, it quickly hit me.

I was having another extreme anxiety attack.

Another? Yes.  About six years ago, I had an anxiety attack that I had to go to the hospital for.  The symptoms were different but at the same time, completely indescribable. At that time, it felt like the most overwhelming feeling came over me. So much so that I thought I was going to die.  One night, the symptoms were coming more frequently, so I went to the hospital and went through the exact same round of tests that I had this past August.

When this last episode happened, I was like “shit, this is happening again?”. I just couldn’t believe it.  And, I literally have not told many people about this last episode.  You are all pretty much the first to know.

This recent diagnosis puts everything together. Anxiety is definitely a symptom of adrenal fatigue. As with any health issue, once you know the source of your symptoms, it brings an opportunity to heal.

Here’s a little bit about my specific protocol. (Disclaimer: this protocol was developed for me. As always, seek the attention of a nutritionist, naturopath, or your regular medical doctor to get your own protocol. What will work for me, may not necessarily for you).

(my regular protocol)
Vitamin D – to support my immune system and for energy. With the Vancouver weather being so dreary during the winter, this is an essential supplement to take.
Magnesium – a calming supplement that helps with sleep. Most people, primarily women, are low in this supplement. I also balance this with epsom salt or oil baths.
Vitamin B Complex from EON Elite-B which is essential for boosting energy. This is a great blend as it also includes plant-based spirulina!
Omega Fish Oils from NutriSea in both pill and liquid which has many benefits but it is essential for brain health.
Digestive Enzymes from New Roots Plant Digestive Enzymes to help with the digestion of fats, proteins, carbohydrates. In times of stress, we need extra help.
Probiotics from New Roots Probiotic Intensity – when 90% of our immune system is in the gut, it is important to keep it optimal. If you’ve ever taken antibiotics, you should definitely take probiotics.

(My add-ons as a result of my diagnosis)
Multivitamin from New Chapter Every Woman’s One Daily Multivitamin – this is to ensure that I get the basics but also amped up with maca and vitex which are great for women’s health.
Vitamin C complex from New Roots C8 – to support my adrenals and immune system.  It is rich in antioxidants that are critical in times of stress.
Adrenal Fatigue Support from AOR Ortho Adapt (vegan) – this is a unique blend of adaptogen herbs that help to support the body and to help it recover in times of stress.
Iodine from Organika Liquid Kelp – iodine is essential for your thyroid which is also linked with adrenal fatigue.  I only take this as needed.
Host Defense Myco Shield Spray – this is chalk full of medicinal mushrooms which are essential for boosting the immune system.  I would recommend this spray to anyone that is suffering for any immunity issues. It’s amazing!

Bonus Energy Supplement:


I have been experimenting with Marine Phytoplankton from The Karen Project over the past few weeks. Considered one of Canada’s superfoods, marine phytoplankton is single-celled aquatic organisms that can be found in both salt and freshwater environments. These micro-organisms are high in chlorophyll and are responsible for creating the Earth’s atmosphere and allowing life to flourish. Phytoplankton is high in nutrition, and bursting with nutrient particles that are easily absorbed by the body. Aside from giving the ocean its pretty green color, marine phytoplankton is a vegan-safe, micro-algae that is more potent than chlorella and spirulina! I personally take The Karen Project’s Phytoplankton first thing in the morning in order to provide me energy first thing. It can also be taken 3-4 times per day for additional benefits. You can learn more about this amazing product HERE.

You can also get 10% off your first order of Phytoplankton from The Karen Project by using the coupon code: KAREN4FRIENDS
Expires: December 31, 2017
(Cannot be used in conjuction with other coupons; Unlimited usage per coupon and per person (in separate orders)

In my next post (about two weeks), I will be providing you with another update.  We’ll chat about the following:

The diet/eating changes that I have been incorporating to help support my health
Should you be eliminating coffee, alcohol and other stimulants?
The lifestyle changes that I have had to adopt to get back to “ME”

I can’t wait to share this all with you! Lifestyle and nutrition changes are a great passion of mine to share with other women that have had same or similar issues as me!

Eat Life Balance and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. 
All material on Eat Life Balance is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health related program.