Chronic Disease and Stress

Kokolulu Labyrinth

Kokolulu Labyrinth

Kokolulu Cancer Support Blog… Chronic stress elevates our cortisol levels that can lead to serious disease or worsen existing disease in our bodies. Learning the tools to mitigate the effects of stress is crucial to healthy living.

According to Brian D. Lawenda, M.D. Integrative Oncologist… Chronic stress causes adrenal exhaustion:

The top 4 causes of cortisol imbalances: #1) emotional stress, #2) dietary stress/poor diet, #3) pain, #4) hidden sources of systemic inflammation (i.e. toxins, gut inflammation, free radicals, etc.)

Normally, when the stress goes away, the adrenal glands have time to rest and prepare for the next stressful event. However, if your stress levels remain chronically high (months-to-years), your adrenal glands will continue to produce higher than normal levels of these hormones. This can lead to:

• Impaired immune system strength (long-term exposure to cortisol suppresses the immune system), which can lead to diseases like cancer

• Increased production of free radicals • Insulin resistance (leading to increased blood sugar, insulin levels and body fat)

• Increase bone breakdown (cortisol causes calcium to leach out of the bones)

Theoretically, if your stress hormone levels remain elevated for extended periods of time (years-to-decades), the ability of your adrenals to make cortisol and DHEA can be compromised.

If this stress continues, the high levels of cortisol and DHEA begin to drop as the adrenals eventually “burn out.” At this point, the adrenals become exhausted/fatigued and can no longer sustain an adequate response to stress. Although they continue to produce these hormones, they do so at much lower levels. This is can lead to the following:

• Constant fatigue (lower than normal levels of cortisol & DHEA make you feel tired) • Low-level depression (lower than normal levels of cortisol & DHEA can cause a depressed mental state)

• Poor memory and mental confusion (lower than normal levels of cortisol & DHEA can cause diminished brain function)

• Increased systemic inflammation (lower than normal levels of cortisol lead to increased systemic inflammation)

• Impaired immune response (short bursts of cortisol are needed to activate immune cells against infections)

• In men: decreased muscle mass and sexual libido (lower than normal DHEA levels lead to lower production of testosterone)

• In women: diminished sexual libido and increased hormonal symptoms, such as menstrual cramping, infertility, night sweats, hot flashes, emotional lability (lower than normal DHEA levels lead to lower production of progesterone, estrogen and testosterone)


Cancer prevention: We know that every one of us produce many millions of cancer cells in our body each day. When our tissues are more conducive to cancer growth, we have a greater chance of developing a cancerous tumor. Research shows that we may be able to prevent the development of 90%+ of cancers by ‘anti-cancerizing’ our bodies through living a healthful lifestyle and avoiding exposures to carcinogens.

Your body may be less able to prevent cancers from developing when your adrenals are not functioning properly, as you can have an impaired immune system, increased inflammation, increased insulin resistance, increased production of tumor growth factors, etc.

After a diagnosis of cancer: Studies have shown that the majority of people who have been diagnosed with cancer live with the fear that it could grow, spread or come back after treatment. These emotional feelings can become a chronic source of stress on the mind and body (leading to adrenal exhaustion).

Cancer treatment itself is often hard on the body. Depending on the specifics of the treatment, the affected tissues in your body can be subjected to injury and inflammation that may lead to chronic elevations in systemic inflammation and free radical production (leading to adrenal exhaustion). Although no studies have yet been done on this, it would not surprise me if “chemo brain” and “cancer-related fatigue” could partially be explained by adrenal exhaustion.


Fortunately, you absolutely can recover from adrenal exhaustion. It is treated mainly with lifestyle changes that reduce chronic stress (i.e. diet, exercise, stress reduction, elimination of toxic exposures, optimize sleep).

In more severe cases, counseling/therapy, supplements and/or medications may be recommended.

Consider a retreat at KOKOLULU FARM and CANCER RETREATS in Hawaii and learn tools to help you and guide you in your journey on living the healthiest lifestyle you can. If you want more information, see

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