Posts Tagged ‘high cortisol’

As those who follow this blog know, I have found a combination of solutions that has kept the music out of my head for most of the past 2+ years now.

But I didn’t really know which parts were necessary, so I tried taking one part out: the phosphatidyl serine (PS). I didn’t stop it completely, but reduced my daily dose from 300 mg to 150 mg.  It seemed to be fine, as I’d been on this reduced dose for about a month and had had no problems.

However, I was only cautiously optimistic because PS takes a long time to build up in your brain, and presumably would take an equally long time to deplete.

In the meantime, I took on a rather manic project to produce a video in just a few days to support a proposal for one of my clients.  A few days stretched into a week when they got an extension and asked us to add a couple of animations to the video. And with the video goes music, three short pieces. And so for a week of sometimes 12+ hour days, I sat with my video editor making cut after cut, tweak after tweak…all with the music bits playing along with the images onscreen, sometimes even editing the music to make it fit the visuals.

So not only was I pumping out tons of cortisol to stay on my toes and try to figure out what key concepts from two 100-page proposals needed to be conveyed  in this brief 6 minute piece, but I was drumming the same 6 minutes of music into my head over and over in that high cortisol state.

Granted, that alone should have earned me this current soundtrack. But I fear that cutting back the PS may have been really bad timing. We finished the video last Friday, but the music didn’t stick right away. It has been slowly creeping in a little more each day, mostly in the morning then fading out… until today, when  it  has really become bothersome, intruding into my thoughts. It is now 3:00 in the afternoon and the music is finally calming down now. Then again, I took 200 mg of PS at 10 am. I don’t think the PS can possibly work that fast, but it may be a factor, for what it’s worth.

So just in case cutting back on the PS has played any part in this recent recurrence of the AMLs, I’ve decided to go back to 300 mg of PS daily until I am far enough away from a music-loop-inducing situation that I can try weaning off the PS again and see what happens.

I’ll keep you posted on this ongoing science experiment in my brain.

Wishing you peace and quiet,


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One of these days I will start going back and telling the stories of each of us who have come together over this crazy affliction. For now I want to introduce the two newest members of our unfortunate group.

First there’s BRIAN.

He’s been dealing with the auditory memory loops (AMLs) for 6 years and says they are destroying his life. 

He thinks the AMLs started when he began taking antianxiety medications, mood stabilizers and antidepressants. He is not the first of us who has suspected that brain drugs may have triggered the AMLs.

His working hypothesis is that the Klonopin (benzodiazapine) has depleted his brain of neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, triggering a form of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).  If that were the case, though, then anything that replaces serotonin should quiet our brains, and so far I haven’t seen any patterns indicating this it true for those who have tried SSRIs.

However, if the AMLs are related to serotonin depletion, then taking something like the supplement 5-HTP (which is what the tryptophan in meats like turkey breaks down into on its way to producing serotonin) should calm them down.

(BTW, If anybody decides to try the 5-HTP, please let me know what happens.)

For Brian, the only things that seem to help are cycling until his heart rate is very high and watching TV.

His loops seem to run in 3- to 5-second segments, unlike mine, which are usually about 15 seconds.

Our other new friend is MIMI.

She said she almost cried when she found us. I can understand…because there was nobody else out there when I started blogging about the phenomenon. Thankfully, you all have found me and we at least can share our experiences. And that’s what Mimi needed…to know she’s not alone.

Her AMLs started 2 1/2 years ago after having a partial hysterectomy. In most cases that means the uterus was removed but they left the ovaries intact to, ideally, keep them producing hormones. However, as I learned from writing my book about hormones and menopause, in about 50% of cases, the preserved ovaries shut down after surgery as a result of damage to nerves or blood vessels that support the ovaries.

If she is one of the unlucky ones who lost ovarian function after the surgery, then her story parallels mine in that her AMLs seem to have followed a dramatic drop in sex hormone levels.

Although I have my cortisol hypothesis which explains the very different effects of real and fake progesterone on the AMLs, it doesn’t explain why having all our hormones bottom out would have triggered our first episodes.  I now suspect there may also be at least one “protective” hormone whose deficiency makes us more vulnerable to the AMLs.

For Mimi, the AMLs weren’t the only problem she found herself coping with. She also started having major allergic skin reactions like hives. Lab tests showed she has Hashimoto’s disease…an autoimmune condition in which the immune system destroys the thyroid gland. 

I immediately suspected a connection to low progesterone. Progesterone is the first sex hormone we women will be deficient in, especially after 45 or after menopause or hysterectomy. And as it happens, one of progesterone’s major roles is to suppress/modulate the immune system, especially during pregnancy so our immune systems don’t attack our babies. Progesterone also supports the thyroid. So I have suggested that Mimi get her hormones tested and ask about supplementing progesterone.

The catch is that if she needs progesterone to calm down her autoimmune issues, then it is possible (according to my cortisol hypothesis) that the AMLs will get WORSE instead of better…unless we can find that “protective” hormone and raise its levels enough to prevent the music.

If she can’t take natural (bioidentical) progesterone because of the music in her head, then she may need to try synthetic progesterone, which increases the risk of breast cancer. Not a great choice.

She says she has been taking an antihistamine at bedtime for about 3 years, plus Pepcid every afternoon, and wonders if they might have had something to do with the AMLs. Tho I also take antihistamines to help me sleep, I think the more significant factor we have in common is the hormone depletion.

However, let me know if any of you also take antihistamines (like benadryl/diphenhydramine, dramamine, chlorpheniramine, zyrtec/cetirazine, etc.) or over the counter sleep aids (which also use antihistamines to make you sleepy). And if you do, did you start taking them before or after the AMLs started?

Like most of us, Mimi reports that the AMLs are worse when she is stressed. When she’s talking or reading or otherwise occupied, she doesn’t have them…which is fortunate.  She doesn’t have them when she dreams, but on nights when she isn’t dreaming the AMLs seem to fill the void.

Like most of us, she reports that the songs can come from a long time in the past, or may be tunes she just recently heard.

And, as we’ve all come to expect, her doctors don’t really know what to do. She has an appointment with another endocrinologist for her thyroid issues and will take the info from this blog to see if any of it might help the doctor figure this out.

As always, we hope both of new friends find solutions that work and give them the quiet they so desperately seek.

Have a peaceful day,


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Something that inevitably comes up in every story about what I call auditory memory loops (AMLs) is the issue of sleep.

For some of us, it is just a matter of getting our heads quiet enough for a few minutes to let us fall asleep. For others, the crazy broken record shows up in our dreams too, hicupping through that same 15-second music clip for hours upon hours until we wake up in a tortured panic.

If my cortisol hypothesis has any merit, then the very act of losing sleep is, in fact, feeding the AMLs and creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

So we need to find ways to do 2 important things: (1) reduce stress, and (2) get sleep (and they are related).  Yes, I know: it’s easier said than done.

We have to reduce stress, but what exactly is stress?  Let’s define it as “circumstances or conditions that elevate cortisol levels.”

Remember that our bodies were engineered to pump out cortisol to give us a burst of energy so we could get away from that saber-toothed tiger chasing us. But that burst comes at a price. To release emergency energy reserves, cortisol burns tissues. And it’s not all that particular about which tissues it burns. Could be brain, heart, liver, kidneys, muscles, whatever. It’s a great thing if it helps you live to hunt and gather another day, but bad when the least little thing causes the same reaction.

It’s like burning your furniture if the weather’s freezing and the power’s out and your house is buried in 20 feet of snow. It’s the right thing to do under the circumstances, but not something you can afford to do on a regular basis. In our modern world there are too many little situations that our bodies react to as if they were life and death: an angry email or phone call, clogged plumbing, showing up in the same dress as someone else. Not quite the same caliber as being eaten by a tusked predator, but our bodies react the same way.

And if we keep the stress levels high enough for long enough, our adrenal glands will burn out and then we’ll feel tired all the time. (Adrenal burnout can be reversed by the way.)

So what raises cortisol levels?

  • Life situations that excite us, either negatively or positively. Happy things, like a wedding or new baby, can be just as “stressful,” in terms of releasing cortisol,  as facing an IRS audit or divorce.
  • Poor diet. If we eat nothing but junk food, too many carbs, not enough fruits and veggies, our bodies panic and release cortisol. If we skip meals or starve ourselves or purge to stay thin, our bodies release cortisol.
  • Too little or poor quality sleep. When we don’t get enough of the right kind of sleep, our bodies produce cortisol because sleep is supposed to recharge our batteries. Without proper sleep, we may have to run on backup fuel (cortisol). 
  • Too much exercise. When we exhaust all the normal stores of energy, cortisol cranks up to try and keep us going. Even with normal exercise, the push to get past “the wall” can tell our bodies that we have an emergency that needs an extra shot of energy. 
  • Illness, injury.  When our bodies are harmed or damaged, cortisol kicks in to provide extra healing energy. (Illness can also reduce or drain cortisol.) 
  • Disease. I’ve listed this separately because there are certain diseases/conditions that cause an overproduction of cortisol. In Cushing’s syndrome, for example, patients may have tumors either on the cortisol-producing adrenal glands themselves or on the pituitary gland in the brain that sends out messenger hormones that tell the adrenal glands to produce too much cortisol.  

I think those are the main ones. So what can you do to reduce each kind of stress?


  • Learn to meditate

Obviously you can’t control the negative things in your life, and don’t want to eliminate the positive stressors, but meditation may help you reduce the amount of stress your adrenal glands think they need to respond to. When you feel yourself getting wound up, stop, sit in a quiet place and let go for a few minutes.

  • Get moderate exercise

I’ve never been able to meditate, but I accomplish the same thing by walking. Not power-walking or doing errands, but just peacefully walking down a country road or park path. I find that I have to walk at least 30 minutes before the craziness of life finally starts to drain away.

  • See a hypnotherapist for relaxation techniques

You may not be able to “will” the AMLs away, and trying to will only create more stress. It’s like willing yourself not to think of a pink elephant: you focus on it even more. But a good hypnotherapist may be able to help you create a peaceful mood whenever you need it.

  • Simplify your life

If you are stressing because you have too much going on and can’t do justice to it all, then let go of some of it.

  • Make peace with the stresses you face and the things you can’t do or choose not to do

If you’re stressed about money, then consider how to reduce your financial needs. If you can’t find a fancy job in your chosen field, take a different job doing something fun, even if it pays a lot less. And if you are stressed because you can’t do everything on your plate, forgive yourself, allow yourself some freedom and pleasure, and ask those around you to help you find some peace in every day.


Yes it’s hard to sleep with a 24-hour disco  in your head. And I know the usual advice about doing relaxing things and keeping to a routine every night isn’t the answer for this 800-pound gorilla. So how do you get to sleep, stay asleep and get restful sleep? Beats me. But here are some ideas from the rest of us:

  • Do about 30 minutes of light exercise before bed

Crazy? I thought so, till a doctor told me that getting some light exercise, like walking on a treadmill (I walk in place while watching TV), will burn off excess adrenaline (related to cortisol) that you’ve produced during the day. That way, you’re not all juiced up when you’re trying to fall asleep. Just don’t let your heart rate get over about 100.

  • Take melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime

This is the hormone your body produces while you sleep to help make repairs and balance other hormones overnight. In the past, melatonin supplements were great for about 4 hours’ sleep, but then you were awake again. Now, many manufacturers offer a 3 mg time-released product that gives you at least 6 hours. Some people take 6 mg or more, but check with your doc and work up on dosage to see how you like it. (I personally find that my melatonin sleep isn’t quite as sound as with the Zyrtec.)

  • Take over-the-counter sleep meds

But try not to take more drugs than you need. If Tylenol PM has Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Benadryl in it, then just take Benadryl (or generic diphenhydramine) by itself instead. No point ruining your liver with the Tylenol if you don’t need pain relief. Most OTC sleep meds are antihistimines like Benadryl anyway. So look at the ingredients and see if you can find a different product (allergy/sinus or sleep product) that only contains the sleep-inducing chemical /antihistimine.  

I find that Zyrtec helps me get to sleep and stay asleep the longest. But it doesn’t cause drowsiness in everyone. If it does work for you, you can find the generic cetirizine a LOT cheaper online.

  • Take a cortisol reducing herb like Relora at bedtime

For people with stress-related AMLs, Relora may just take the edge off the noise and relax you enough to fall off to sleep. (Relora may also reduce your appetite.)

  • Sleep in complete darkness

Studies have shown that our bodies can pick up even the tiniest bit of light (like the light on a power strip or TV) and that light will suppress the amount of melatonin we produce at night. For the most restorative sleep, try sleeping with a comfortable sleep mask or get the room as dark as possible.

  • Try chanting or humming just one note

When my AMLs were bothersome at bedtime, I ran a large floor fan in the bedroom to mask out little noises like the heat/AC kicking on, ice cubes dropping in the icemaker, etc. But I also discovered that I could manage the music enough to fall asleep by picking one note from the the fan’s hum and then concentrating on that note…effectively “humming” it in my mind. It’s like the chanting in certain types of meditation. If my mind had to be  sticky anyway, I could try to give it a peaceful, one note “song” to stick to.

  • Other solutions

I didn’t mention the more dramatic solutions like taking sleep-inducing prescription drugs with all their crazy side effects and dangers. I also didn’t mention hitting yourself in the head with a hammer to knock you out at night, or taking IV sedation that’s used for surgical anesthesia. They might work, but the consequences can be undesireable at best.

Diet, Health and Exercise

These are pretty obvious. Eat moderately-sized healthy meals on a regular basis. Get all the nutrients you need, either from food (ideally) or supplements. Don’t over exercise. And if you are ill or injured, give yourself extra time and babying to recuperate.


If you crave carbs, are overweight no matter what you do, and have excessive thirst, consult an endocrinologist and have him/her test your blood sugar and your cortisol levels.


You may be stuck with the AMLs but you don’t have to let the stress feed them and make them worse. Be good to yourself, find ways to sleep, eat properly, exercise moderately and relax every day.

And if you have any solutions that work for you, please share with the rest of us!

Happy chanting. Ommmmmmmmmmmmm…

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A lady named Dana contacted me about a month ago. Her 6-year-old son apparently suffers from the stuck music (AMLs). She does not know exactly how long he’s had this issue because he’s only recently developed the ability to express what’s going on inside his head.

Until fairly recently, he had assumed that everyone had stuck music in their heads. He has had the AMLs for some time, but is only now wanting them to go away.

For years, Dana had thought her son might have a hearing problem because he was always shouting and wanting to turn up the volume on the TV and radio. But multiple hearing tests have come up normal. As a sufferer myself, I told her that I could absolutely understand why a child sufferer might try to “turn up the volume” on the real world thinking the external noise could override or drown out the noise in his head.

Then she told me something very curious and critically important from a diagnostic standpoint: Her son is an identical twin. But his brother does NOT have the AMLs.

So I asked her if there are any obvious differences between the two boys. The key differences she noted were that the AML sufferer: (a) craves carbs, and (b) is excessively thirsty.

I knew the carb craving was an indication of insulin resistance (which could be the result of high cortisol levels).

And I knew the excessive thirst was also a symptom of something, but I needed to do some research before I said anything to Dana. It turned out that, in the TV show I recalled seeing, the patient’s thirst was the final clue to her diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome, which is a condition involving high cortisol levels.

When I told Dana (who is a nurse) what I’d discovered, she agreed that taking her boys to an endocrinologist might be a good next step. I’m hoping to hear back from her after they get the results of the boys’ labs.

If the doctor finds that the AML-suffering twin has much higher cortisol levels than the normal twin, then theoretically he can find an appropriate treatment to suppress the cortisol production. 

However, in doing some more research, I found that many of the current cortisol blocking agents are as bad as, or worse than, the problem they intend to treat. One blocks the development of all steroid hormones (which we need to survive). Another reduces cortisol by destroying parts of the adrenal glands. Not good choices, in my opinion.

In any case, I believe that if we can find a researcher willing and able to study these two boys to see what’s different about them, I think we can significantly advance the state of our knowledge about this condition.

And, ideally, we can help get one little boy back to normal. I’ll report if I hear more about this curious case.

Have a great weekend!

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My broken record (BR) or auditory memory loops (AMLs) started in my late 40s. First I noticed that I had little stuck songs more often, mainly after I played a favorite over and over. But like always they faded after a day or so.

Then one day I realized couldn’t get them out of my head. It was as if my brain was a music magnet and everything would get stuck.

Around the age of 48-49, after a year of dealing with the worst of it (couldn’t hear my own thoughts, couldn’t sleep), I went to the doctor to ask if this might be a symptom of menopause. He sarcastically said, “Either you have a thyroid problem or a brain tumor…and you don’t have a brain tumor!” But to shut me up he tested my sex hormones as well as thyroid hormones.

Turned out my thyroid hormones were normal…but the sex hormones were seriously low. So, yes, I was hormonally menopausal.

He put me on Prempro, the horse-estrogen and fake-progesterone drug that at the time was the gold standard for hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This was before the big WHI study said the stuff is really bad for you. (Duh.) Curiously, this bad drug stopped the music in my head. So it was a matter of good news / bad news.

Thinking I’d discovered that it was indeed the low or imbalanced sex hormones that caused the BR/AMLs, I boldly proceeded to switch from those nasty alien hormones in Prempro to the more natural approach of using bioidentical hormones. These are hormones that are chemically identical to those nature gave us.

Well, they were good for me in most ways. But sadly, the more natural hormones didn’t stop the BR/AMLs.

Since that time, I’ve developed the cortisol hypothesis written about in previous posts. The hypothesis began when I was writing my book, What Part of Menopause Don’t You Understand?  I thought about how real/bioidentical progesterone differs from fake progesterone (Provera or MPA). The key difference is that the real/bioidentical stuff can break down into cortisol. The fake stuff can’t.

Not everybody I’ve talked to can make a connection between high stress (with high cortisol levels) and the triggering or increase of the BR/AMLs, but probably 80% can. Some seem to have first noticed the AMLs after a traumatic event or situation in their lives. For some, it seems the BR/AMLs started when they took one of those very same antidepressants that are given to try and quiet the AMLs (however, the need for those meds may have been preceeded by a traumatic or stressful situation that might have been the real cause).

But I suspect there is also another factor in addition to cortisol involved. After all, I know I faced stress many times in my life before age 50. So something else changed after 50 that made stress cause my brain to become “sticky.” Maybe there’s too much of the enzyme that converts progesterone to cortisol, or too little of the one that converts progesterone to estrogen and testosterone. Maybe there’s something new in my brain, maybe low or high neurotransmitters, or something physical like a lesion acting like a leaky faucet.  That’s what we need a researcher to figure out.

Anyway, that’s how my nightmare started.

How and when did your music magnet turn on?

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