Tag Archives: cortisol

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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Natural Weight Loss Alternatives: Part 1

One of the most common questions people ask is, “how do I lose weight?”  Indeed, most of us are carrying around a few extra pounds.  If you are, you’re not alone; two-thirds of the population is now officially overweight.

There is good news and bad news.  The good news is, the problem can usually be solved.  The bad news is, it’s not a simple answer.  If it were, we wouldn’t all be struggling like we do!

Weight gain is a symptom of an underlying problem, and as with any healthcare dilemma, it’s extremely important to get to the bottom of what’s causing the extra weight to accumulate.  There are lots of causes of extra weight gain, too many to explore completely in one article, but I will touch on the most common causes and perhaps write a continuation in the future.

Cause #1: Low Thyroid Function – your thyroid gland makes thyroid hormone, which is a biochemical gas pedal for your cells.  It tells your cells how fast their metabolism should be.  It keeps you going, but also eases back on the throttle when necessary so that you don’t burn out. If your cells aren’t getting enough thyroid hormone, their metabolic activity slows down.  When this happens, your cells don’t burn fuel (blood sugar, oxygen, etc) like they should and the extra fuel gets stored in the fat cells.

Now, consider this: there are literally 22 different causes that fit into 7 different categories of thyroid dysfunction.  And it may not even be an actual problem with the thyroid gland at all!  The real culprit may be coming from any one of several other body systems, and the thyroid gland could be the victim, not the suspect.  This is why it’s extremely important to have a *complete* thyroid function panel done, and to have it interpreted correctly.  There are two problems that most people encounter; one is, most conventionally-trained doctors will only run TSH and maybe T4 or if you’re lucky, they’ll add T3 Uptake. The second problem is, the lab results aren’t interpreted in a way that evaluate for proper function, so many conventional doctors miss an underlying thyroid problem.

Cause #2:  Overactive Adrenal glands – your adrenal glands are small triangular-shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys.  Their main function is to help us deal with stress.  They produce and release cortisol, our “stress hormone” whose job it is to raise blood sugar and heart rate so that we have more energy to handle the stress we face.

The catch is this: we’re only designed to handle immediate stressors that quickly pass.  If we’re under too much stress for too long, our bodies pay the price.  If cortisol levels are consistently too high, they will promote weight gain, especially around the lower abdomen and hips.  If the problem worsens, a person’s face can become rounder and slightly more pale.  It is important to have your cortisol hormone levels checked.  The best test for this is actually not a blood test; it’s a saliva test.  The cortisol found in saliva is the amount of active hormone readily available for your body to use, so it’s a more relevant test.

Cause #3: Liver Congestion – the liver is a large organ under the right side of your rib cage that basically acts as a garbage disposal or water treatment plant.  It has more than 500 jobs, and detoxification is at the top of the list.  Every toxic chemical we breathe, eat, or drink (air pollution, food additives), and every metabolic waste product from all your cells passes through the liver to be cleansed and converted to a less- or non-toxic substance.  The result is that the wastes go to the kidneys and the circulating blood is clean.

If your liver gets bogged down with too many toxins (poor diet, polluted area, or excess hormones), then it creates a traffic jam and all the toxins waiting in line to be detoxified start to back up.  As a defense mechanism, your body will try to pick the safest spot to store the excess toxins, where they will do the least amount of damage.  That would be (drumroll, please): the fat cells.  There are excellent tests that evaluate true liver detoxification function that go much further beyond the basic blood tests your conventional doctor is familiar with.  The functional tests are usually part of a much larger panel designed to evaluate a wide variety of body functions.

Please see Part 2 for more!

Testing, testing: Lab testing and Functional Medicine

A Revolution in Advanced Clinical Nutrition…

A segment of Clinical Nutrition began to evolve considerably–quietly–about 30 years ago.  Now, it has bloomed into a full-fledged, legitimate medical subspecialty.  We now know much more about the mechanisms behind chronic disorders than we did even 10 years ago.  We also now realize that pharmaceutical medications, while necessary at times, don’t usually offer much in terms of resolution or long-term relief/improvement for these conditions.  Irregular blood sugar, autoimmune disorders, nutrient malabsorption, gastrointestinal microbes, inefficient liver detoxification, and adrenal fatigue don’t necessarily respond all that well to medications.

Since many of these disorders mimic each other (sometimes very closely), it can be difficult to determine exactly what’s going on using symptoms alone.  This can pose a problem, because if there is any hope in making progress or getting relief, the right treatment approach must be followed.

For example, let’s say Betty has fatigue.  The first remedy that come to mind might be caffeine pills.  It sounds logical; if she’s tired, the idea of a stimulant probably appeals to her.  If she doesn’t like the concept of chemical stimulants, she might opt for a more natural route; a naturopath or herbalist may suggest Ginseng or something similar.  Functional Medicine, on the other hand, asks why she is tired, and considers all the possibilities.  Fatigue is a common symptom, with many causes – maybe her adrenal glands aren’t producing enough cortisol.  Maybe her thyroid gland isn’t producing enough T4, or maybe she has a sluggish liver or gastrointestinal tract and can’t convert inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to active thyroid hormone her body can use (T3).  Maybe she’s got a lingering virus.  Maybe her energy is being diverted toward immune system activity because she has seasonal allergies.  Maybe her blood cells aren’t carrying enough oxygen.  Maybe she’s got candidiasis (overgrowth of candida albicans, a problematic yeast); maybe she’s fighting a bacterial infection.  Maybe she she has a food intolerance (these can make people profoundly drowsy).  Or maybe she has low blood sugar.

Each of these possibilities is a completely different problem.  Ten people with fatigue may all share the same symptom, but have completely different reasons for feeling the fatigue.  If the underlying reason isn’t investigated, and the person assumes they have adrenal fatigue when really they have a low thyroid, and they begin taking herbs that boost adrenal function, then they’ve missed the thyroid issue and they fail to correct the problem…and the problem remains.  This begins to illuminate the reason why lab testing is crucial.

As I mentioned before, when most doctors order lab testing, they tend to stick only with what insurance covers.  What you may not realize is that the testing insurance will cover is bare-bones, hardly scratching the surface of what’s actually going on.  Essentially, it’s a screening tool for basic disease and that’s really about it.  The limited tests that are ordered and the way in which the results are interpreted does not do much of anything to accurately assess someone’s actual baseline health.

This is not to “bash” the medical profession at all or paint some kind of “us versus them” polarized picture that illustrates that Functional Medicine is everything while conventional medicine has no place.  Indeed, some of those basic disease screenings can be highly appropriate and unquestionably warranted.  However, those basic screenings are sorely limited in their ability to comprehensively assess someone’s genuine health, wellbeing, and quality of life.  And that is where Functional Medicine has a chance to shine…

Functional Medicine doctors will order comprehensive testing that evaluates multiple areas of body chemistry and multiple important functions that are hardly ever touched on in hospitals or regular clinics.  When we order testing a patient has never had, we find things other doctors have never found.  A good Functional Medicine practitioner will evaluate (at minimum) several areas during routine testing:

  • Nutrient metabolism
  • Cellular energy production
  • Oxygen delivery
  • Inflammation markers
  • Organ and gland functions
  • Infection screening
  • Status of certain nutrients
  • Blood sugar consistency, long and short-term
  • Intestinal microbes, beneficial and hazardous
  • Adrenal stress
  • Central Nervous System state

Another important tenet of Functional Medicine pertains to how the lab testing is interpreted.  Most doctors simply scan the lab test results, looking for anything that the lab has “flagged” as abnormal.  In order for a result to show up as abnormal, it must fall outside of the “normal” or “reference” range.  These ranges are set based on statistics.  They vary by lab and even by region.  Look around you; you’re being compared to your neighbors, your friends, family, and co-workers.  How healthy are they?  I don’t know about you, but being “normal” compared to everyone else isn’t exactly reassuring.

What Functional Medicine doctors do is look closer at the lab test results.  They are familiar with what healthy ranges look like and where a person’s body chemistry should be.  These doctors will find literally a dozen or so dysfunctional/abnormal results that labs and conventionally-practicing doctors will flat-out miss.

Many Functional Medicine doctors take yet one more step further, to analyze patterns between these abnormal results, to attempt to find a common denominator, because often, various dysfunctions are related.  It is indeed entirely possible that a person may have multiple dysfunctional processes happening at once, and it’s also possible that multiple symptoms may stem from one underlying disorder.  Functional Medicine practitioners spend a tremendous amount of time behind the scenes pouring over lab test results and conducting any necessary research.

In short, the rabbit hole that is human physiology can go far deeper than expected; Functional Medicine is the only discipline to ever rise to the challenge.