Adrenal Fatigue and the role of the Hormone Cortisol…
The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprises him most about humanity, he said, “Man. He sacrifices himself to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate health. And then he is so anxious about the future, he does not enjoy the present.”
That describes the rat race in which we live. Like the energizer bunny, we keep going and going and going. Maybe I should speak for myself, but I know I am not alone. Sacrificing ourselves – and the poor adrenal gland feels the brunt of that sacrifice.
The adrenal gland is that little gland at the top of the kidney, little, but very important as the storehouse of many of the hormones we need to fight, or to have flight, to endure stressful times. At high levels it acts as an anti-inflammatory and increases blood sugar. These are good things, at first. Our immune system is on high alert, and we have elevated blood glucose levels to do what we need to do, even if we do not eat. In an effort to create a balance, it then also begins to suppress the thyroid gland and this helps to slow us back down. Nature will always create balance with an inherent feedback mechanism. The aim of this is prevent more cortisol release.
But what happens when the stress is chronic? The feedback mechanisms do not work as they were not designed for that. Your blood sugar levels continue to be high. If you don’t exercise, and curb eating, then insulin is secreted in excess. What happens next? Diabetes. The great anti-inflammatory effects we had at first, from cortisol, now become dysfunctional. Food intolerances, weird allergies, chronic infections, pain issues now become more common. The pain is everywhere. This we are now beginning to understand are the roots of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. The interplay with other hormones also become dysfunctional. Osteoporosis is accelerated, cortisol is a steroid, after all. Fat begins to accumulate in the waist and protein breaks down more, because of insulin excess. Salt and water retention increase, hunger increases, insomnia is worse. These are effects of the steroid.
In the first stages of adrenal dysfunction, we will see elevated cortisol and the effects on other hormones become apparent on testing. The symptoms are:
- poor sleep (melatonin effects)
- loss of muscle (insulin and cortisol effects)
- weight gain around the abdomen (insulin and cortisol)
- depression (serotonin effects)
- fluid retention (aldosterone effects)
In the last stages of adrenal dysfunction, we will see on testing, low cortisol levels. The adrenals cannot keep up with the super normal elevated cortisol levels we demand. Many other steroid hormones will also flatline. Testosterone, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), progesterone as they are all steroid hormones and they all positively and negatively affect each other’s production. These are also apparent on testing. The symptoms now extend into:
- carb cravings
- mental fogginess
- salt cravings
- exercise intolerance
- poor wound healing
- dark circles under eyes
- lack of sexual interest
- inability to perform sexually
- low blood pressure
- fainting or feeling as though you will faint when you get up from a lying or seated position
Practical ways to reduce high cortisol levels:
- Balanced diet with low glycemic carbs
- – whole foods
- -high fiber in foods
- wheat over white
- protein, fat and carbs in each meal
- low salt
- Eliminate alcohol
- Eliminate Stimulants – caffeine, energy drinks
We will deal with medications and natural therapy to deal with adrenal fatigue next time.