Adrenal glands are the anti-stress glands of the body—the reserve which the body falls back on when it is faced with stressful situations. It is their job to enable your body to deal with stress from every possible source, ranging from injury and disease to work and relationship problems. Your resiliency, energy, endurance and your very life all depend on their proper functioning. Your adrenal glands respond to every kind of stress in the same way, whatever the source. Adrenal fatigue occurs when the amount of stress overextends the capacity of the body to compensate and recover from that stress or the combined stresses. Once this capacity to cope and recover is exceeded, some form of adrenal fatigue occurs. The number of stresses, whether or not you recognize them as stresses, the intensity of each stress and the frequency with which it occurs, plus the length of time it is present, all combine to form your total stress load.
(Information provided about Adrenal Fatigue includes highlights only, for detailed information please contact us).
There are four major categories of stress:
1. Physical stress—such as overwork, lack of sleep, athletic over-training, etc.
2. Chemical stress—from environmental pollutants, diets high in refined carbohydrates, allergies to foods and additives, endocrine gland imbalances (due to the interaction of all of the endocrine glands).
3. Thermal stress—over-heating or over-chilling of the body
4. Emotional and mental stress
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is a collection of signs and symptoms that is the results of the adrenal glands inability to produce enough hormones to supply the body’s demand. It should not be confused with Addison’s Disease which is adrenal failure. Such condition can worsen if proper Adrenal Fatigue Treatment is not taken.
Many patients appear in their practitioner’s office with symptoms of depression, anxiety, panic attacks and are placed on antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication when in reality they suffer from adrenal fatigue.
Significant social changes, beginning in the 1970s, paralleled and encouraged changes in eating habits. Consumer expectations rose (such as bigger houses, newer cars, and larger televisions), which led to greater numbers of dual-career couples. Two people could make more money and achieve a higher standard of living compared with one worker and a stay-at-home spouse. Yet dual-career families often experience more stress because, in addition to both partners working, they must also juggle parenthood, shopping, cooking, laundry, and other chores.
Under chronic stress, the body secretes stress hormones almost constantly. When people secrete high levels of stress hormones for weeks, months, or years, they stop protecting the body and instead start to damage it.
Elevated levels of the stress hormone Cortisol are particularly toxic to brain cells in the following ways:
- It interferes with the production of new brain cells.
- It shrinks brain size.
- It hinders thinking and memory.
Adrenal Fatigue and Thyroid Function
One of cortisol’s more important functions is to act in concert or synergy with thyroid hormone at the receptor-gene level. Cortisol makes thyroid work more efficiently. A physiologic amount of cortisol—not too high and not too low—is very important for normal thyroid function, which is why a lot of people who have an imbalance in adrenal cortisol levels usually have thyroid-like symptoms but normal thyroid hormone levels. When cortisol levels are low, caused by adrenal exhaustion, thyroid is less efficient at doing its job of increasing energy and metabolic activity. Every cell in the body has receptors for both cortisol and thyroid and nearly every cellular process requires optimal functioning of thyroid.
Too much cortisol, again caused by the adrenal glands’ response to excessive stressors, causes the tissues to no longer respond to the thyroid hormone signal. It creates a condition of thyroid resistance, meaning that thyroid hormone levels can be normal, but tissues fail to respond as efficiently to the thyroid signal. This resistance to the thyroid hormone signal caused by high cortisol is not just restricted to thyroid hormone but applies to all other hormones such as insulin, progesterone, estrogens, testosterone, and even cortisol itself. When cortisol gets too high, you start getting resistance from the hormone receptors, and it requires more hormones to create the same effect. That’s why chronic stress, which elevates cortisol levels, makes you feel so rotten—none of the hormones are allowed to work at optimal levels.
This is why you often can’t effectively treat someone with hormonal imbalance symptoms such as hot flashes by simply adding what seems to be the missing hormone, be it thyroid, progesterone, estrogen or testosterone. If your cortisol is chronically high you’ll have overall resistance to your hormones.
Normal Adrenal Gland Functions
Your adrenal glands are two tiny pyramid-shaped pieces of tissue situated right above each kidney. Their job is to produce and release, when appropriate, certain regulatory hormones and chemical messengers.
In order to determine the health of your adrenal glands you will need to be tested.
ACTH Stimulation Test:Testing the Adrenal Glands
Adrenal insufficiency is a state of inadequate cortisol production caused by a problem in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. It can be primary, like Addison’s disease (a problem with the adrenal glands themselves), or secondary (as when the anterior pituitary fails to release adrenocorticotropic hormone [ACTH] or the hypothalamus doesn’t produce corticotropin-releasing hormone [CRH] to stimulate ACTH release from the pituitary). Healthy adrenal glands require ACTH stimulation to release cortisol into the blood.
An ACTH stimulation blood test is ordered to evaluate whether the adrenal glands are producing sufficient amounts of cortisol. If your patient’s adrenal glands are normal, administering synthetic ACTH should raise his serum cortisol level. But if the adrenal glands are dysfunctional, they won’t respond to the administered ACTH, and his serum cortisol levels won’t rise.
Performing the test. An ACTH stimulation test is usually started at 8:00 a.m., when the patient is fasting and blood cortisol levels are typically highest, so keep him N.P.O. after midnight. For a critically ill patient, facility protocol may permit doing the test at any time because critical illness typically stresses the adrenal glands, keeping cortisol levels constant throughout the day. A baseline blood cortisol level and blood cortisol levels drawn 30 and 60 minutes after synthetic ACTH administration are obtained following facility protocol.
What do the results mean? Normal cortisol values vary among labs. Most labs define “normal” as 18 to 25 mcg/dl, but a normal value can be as low as 16 mcg/dl if ACTH was administered I.M. All three results below normal signal adrenal insufficiency. At least one cortisol value must be within or above the normal range to rule out the problem.
If your patient’s adrenals are producing normal amounts of cortisol, a CRH test may be ordered to determine if his pituitary or hypothalamus is causing his problems.
What can affect the results? Taking estrogen, exogenous steroids, amphetamines, or alcohol can increase a patient’s cortisol levels. Other factors that can influence results include stress, physical activity, collecting blood in the wrong type of tube (plastic is generally required), and taking specimens at different times of day.
What care does the patient require? All patients with primary or secondary adrenal insufficiency should receive exogenous steroid replacement. Hydrocortisone I.V. or oral prednisone is typically administered to simulate diurnal adrenal rhythm, with two-thirds of the dose given in the morning and one-third in the afternoon. When a critically ill patient has signs and symptoms of adrenal insufficiency but his cortisol levels are within the low-normal range, the practitioner may order a trial treatment with exogenous glucocorticoids.
As much as you may want them, stimulants are the equivalent of giving too much gas and “flooding the engine” in a car. It puts further stress on the adrenals to work harder and produce more energy, and ends up further depleting the adrenal glands. Things to avoid include: caffeine, ephedra, guarana, kola nut, and prescription stimulants.
Balance Your Blood Sugar With Your Diet
To minimize stress on the adrenal system, and ensure maximum energy, you should consider a low-glycemic (low-sugar) diet, consisting of sufficient protein and fat, low-glycemic carbohydrates, eaten in smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Sugar and simple carbohydrates put stress on the adrenal glands due by rapidly shifting blood sugar levels. By switching to vegetables, fruits and proteins, and high fiber carbohydrates, blood sugar remains more stable, providing less strain on the adrenal glands.
Adrenal Fatigue Supplements
Supplements for adrenal fatigue play an important role in nourishing and strengthening your adrenal glands. They will allow the adrenal glands to be restored to a more healthy level of functioning which could not occur without them. It can consist of herbs, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.
Adrenal Support for Excessive CortisolLife Style ChangesReduce stress: family, job, financial and marital stress are factors that must be reduced or eliminated when possible.
In Relation to Childbirth and Postpartum