Your adrenal glands are two small glands that sit on top of your kidneys. They produce important hormones that help you buffer stress and adapt to every day life. Under short-term stress, the adrenal glands make more cortisol and DHEA to help you maintain your health during stress. They also make adrenaline, which gives you that boost of energy when you need it.
If the stress lasts a short while and then goes away, no harm is done. After all, that’s what your adrenal glands are designed to do: handle immediate stress. But if the stress becomes chronic, the adrenals produce too much stress hormones over a longer period of time, something that the body wasn’t designed to handle. These hormones have “side effects”, such as poor immune function, abdominal/belly weight gain (due to water retention), and excess blood sugar (which can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes). In addition, you may find it very hard to get to sleep at night and your short-term memory may begin to slip. Over time, these blood sugar and nervous system effects can lead to insomnia, diabetes, fibromyalgia, obesity, mood disorders such as depression, irritability, anxiety, and more.
Eventually, if the stressor(s) continue further, the adrenal glands begin to get tired and wear out. This is known as adrenal fatigue. They begin to produce lower amounts of stress-management hormones because they simply don’t have any more left to give. People with adrenal fatigue often experience low energy, great difficulty getting going in the morning, and afternoon fatigue. If the adrenal fatigue advances, so does their feelings of fatigue, and often the person begins to crave salty foods.
Stress comes from three separate sources…
1) Emotional/psychological stress. Most of us are aware of this type of stress. This can come in many forms – the death of a friend or loved one, a long city commute to work, a demanding boss, an unhealthy marriage, uncooperative children, aging relatives, the loss of a pet, a career you don’t enjoy, difficult co-workers or in-laws, and the list goes on.
2) Physical trauma or injury. Believe it or not, even a physical, non-emotional injury can cause your adrenal glands to work overtime. This can include anything from a sprained ankle to a serious motor vehicle accident, and anything in between. This holds true even if you don’t perceive you’ve been injured. Many times, my patients will have gotten into a minor fender-bender 10 years ago, maybe felt a little stiffness the next day, and that was it. Guess what? It can still kick the adrenal glands into high gear, many years later.
3) Chemical stress. This can include anything that alerts the body’s immune defenses or interferes with the body’s chemistry. Examples are many, and may include any kind of bacterial/yeast/fungal/viral/parasite infection (such as Helicobacter pylori, Clostridium difficile, Candida, pinworms, or Epstein-Barr, etc), heavy metals (such as Arsenic, Aluminum, Cadmium, Mercury, and Lead), an autoimmune disorder, a household or industrial chemical (such as paint thinners, pigment colorings, etc), a problem food (such as wheat gluten, dairy, MSG, soy, or artificial flavorings, colors, preservatives, sweeteners, or flavor enhancers), or environmental allergies (mold, cockroaches, grasses, pollens, animals, dust mites, trees, nuts, etc).
Wow, that’s a long list! And how many of us have these? How many of us have ALL THREE? And how long have we had these issues? It’s mind-boggling to think about.
These stressors throw a monkey wrench into your health into all aspects of your health and thus need to be evaluated and dealt with effectively. Only then can a person can heal fully.
Evaluating adrenal function…
Evaluating adrenal gland function is the first step. After all, the effectiveness of the remedies used will depend on exactly what’s happening with the adrenal glands, and at what time of day. When we evaluate adrenal glands, we are checking for several things, each of which has clinical significance beyond what is immediately visible on the test:
- The amount of adrenal hormones produced throughout the day
- The timing of the hormone production at different times of the day
- The robustness of the adrenal response
- A cross-reference of each hormone to the others
- Additional markers that give more information about the chronicity of the situation and additional impact on other body systems
The above markers also give us information about various parts of the brain and nervous system and whether these parts are over- or underactive, how chronic the stress pattern is, how advanced along the adrenal dysfunction continuum the person is, which other systems are impacted, and the extent of that impact.
No two people will look exactly alike, so there is no one set protocol that fits everybody. Some people will need to prolong the presence of cortisol in their bodies, while those with adrenal stress will not see any improvement with supplements that preserve cortisol. So it’s important to evaluate your adrenal function thoroughly, and take sample readings throughout the day so that you know the full state of your adrenal function; this is because remedies for adrenal overactivity are *not* the same as those used for adrenal fatigue. Some people are in a transition from one stage to the other, and may need a combination.
To address adrenal health, it’s only useful to use remedies for adrenal support after you’ve eliminated–or at least minimized–the cause(s) of stress (see the list of 3 types of stress above). Otherwise, your efforts to rebuild your adrenals may not be as effective. Again, we must eliminate the cause of the problem in order to begin to heal fully.
One thing I recommend for almost all of my patients is a quality of B-complex. Some people require larger doses than others. I’ve had people come to me with lab work that says their B12 levels are high but when I evaluate the cellular level B vitamins, they actually show up with a deficiency, despite supplementation. These people may either need larger doses to make a positive impact, or they may need an alternate form of B12 that is more easily absorbed and utilized.
B-complex alone doesn’t fully regulate the adrenal function, but it does provide a nice foundation because it has such a positive impact on so many aspects of healthy function. I will say that most people will not use the B-complex very well, usually because of an intestinal infection or lack of good bacteria. We absolutely must deal with that first so that you can absorb the B vitamins.
For help with adrenal dysfunction, chronic fatigue, poor blood sugar regulation, or the evaluation of adrenals, cellular functions, vitamin absorption and utilization, please call Dr. Sweeney’s office at (210) 340-2150.