Tag Archives: adrenal fatigue

How To Rebuild the Adrenal Glands Naturally

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.

 

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How to supplement serotonin? Natural alternatives for depression

A reader writes:

Is there any way to supplement serotonin?  I used to be such a happy person; now I am very angry…irritable…depressed.  I MISS the happy-go-lucky girl that I was.

I am so sorry to hear that you’re going through such a hard time.  Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, but you do have options.

The lion’s share of the serotonin your body makes is not actually made in your brain.  Although it’s important for your brain and your brain uses quite a bit of it, it is actually produced in the intestines.  The intestinal environment is delicate and can be prone to problems.  Any one of over 10,000 different microorganisms can interfere with intestinal function, so it is very important to be screened for these organisms.  It is also important that the test be very sensitive.  Most conventional stool cultures used by family physicians and hospitals are not nearly sensitive enough and may not reveal an existing problem.  Many Functional Medicine doctors use a DNA-based test that is anywhere from 200-1000 times more sensitive.

In addition, food intolerances can create digestive inflammation, which can also interfere with proper serotonin production.  Many food allergy/sensitivity tests can be misleading as well; a positive result can almost always be trusted, but a negative result may well be a false negative.  Test panels that evaluate multiple types of immune reactions are best.

And then there’s stress.  Stress suppresses stomach acid production, which is required to break down protein.  If your body is not efficiently breaking down proteins into their building blocks (called amino acids), then it cannot make serotonin or other neurotransmitters (a fancy word for brain chemicals), because several particular amino acids are precursors to major neurotransmitters.

Next, to manufacture serotonin requires several complex biochemical reactions.  For these reactions to take place, several vitamin and mineral cofactors are needed, such as B vitamins and iron.  Many ladies are lacking in iron due to heavy monthly cycles or uterine fibroids.  Lots of people also lack iron because their bodies can’t convert it to a usable form.

Chronic stress and adrenal dysfunction often deplete B vitamins because of B-complex’s role in supporting adrenal function.  Extremely high short-term stress or even mildly high long-term stress force the adrenal glands to work harder, using up B vitamins before your body can use them in the production of serotonin.  There are excellent functional lab tests for both adrenal function and to assess cellular Vitamin B complex status.

And last but not least, if your liver isn’t functioning as efficiently as it should (usually due to toxin exposure, environmental pollution, heavy metals, hormone overload, or a diet heavy in processed foods), then it can’t fully clear your body of hormones, wastes, and toxins.  This causes a traffic jam in which these harmful substances will build up in the body, circulating in the blood and affecting sensitive brain tissue and serotonin usage.  Toxic overload is one of the most common causes of depression, and it is almost always entirely overlooked by the conventional medical system.

Note: There is no clinically reliable lab testing for serotonin or other neurotransmitters themselves yet.  There are some doctors and other practitioners who use a urine test that claims to indirectly evaluate levels of various neurotransmitters.  Current research failed to verify the validity of the claims made by the proponents of this type of testing (typically the lab company offering the test).  So, please do NOT fall for these claims!  At present, the closest we use clinically are some excellent questionnaires derived from observations in academic settings and a superb lab test panel that measures several principal biochemical pathways (including some by-products of neurotransmitter production pathways) for their efficiency and metabolic activity.

So as one can see, a LOT of variables come into play here – we’ve covered adrenal stress, gastrointestinal function, liver detoxification ability, hormone overload, environmental and heavy metal toxin exposure, and even uterine fibroids!  Truthfully, there are probably more to add to the list that are beyond the scope of this post.  Since the appropriate treatment is different for each, it is crucial to narrow down the cause to avoid lost time and money, and the progression of the underlying condition!

I certainly hope your world begins to look up for you soon!

Additional Information:

Serotonin deficiency symptoms: how and when to suspect you’re short on serotonin:

  • You seem to be more sensitive to pain than you used to
  • Your appetite is irregular
  • You experience sadness, but can’t pin down the cause – you just feel sad.
  • You sleep poorly
  • You have tinnitus, or ringing in the ears that isn’t linked to any particular event (or if it can vary every so often)
  • You’ve lost pleasure or enjoyment from activities/people/situations that you used to enjoy before.
  • Your self-esteem is low

What about Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)?

Antidepressant drugs such as Zoloft, Prozac, and Paxil don’t actually produce any serotonin at all.  Instead, they attempt to concentrate the levels of existing serotonin to keep it viable for a longer period of time.  The problem with this is that brain cells have been shown to adapt to their surrounding environment; if this environment is saturated with serotonin (since pharmaceutical drugs cannot duplicate the delicate balance of normal body mechanisms and will often “overshoot” the level needed), then the cell may become desensitized to serotonin.  An in-progress study that will soon release its results has suggested that long-term use of SSRI medications may actually reduce serotonin levels, which is the last thing a person wants if they are suffering any of the symptoms above.

Dr. L. Sweeney, DC is the Director of the Functional Medicine program at San Antonio Family Alternative Medicine.  She works  with a wide variety of patients, many of whom suffer depression, insomnia, fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, gastrointestinal dysfunction, adrenal fatigue, and more.  She runs a wide variety of quality diagnostic lab testing, leaving no stone unturned.  She can be reached at (210) 340-2150 or you can visit the clinic website at http://mysanantoniochiropractor.com.