Stress and depression are main factors that elevate levels of the adrenal hormone CORTISOL. Once cortisol becomes elevated CHRONICALLY the consequences start piling up. There is a weakened/decreased immune system, increased risk for osteoporosis, fatigue, irritability, sugar cravings, shakiness between meals and confusion. If that’s not enough, add low energy, night sweats, binge eating, increases in blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar and insulin resistance. Increased risk of infections, thin skin, easy bruising, muscle weakness, WEIGHT GAIN ESPECIALLY AROUND THE MIDSECTION, sleep disturbances and thyroid problems. Stress takes many forms, including chronic illness, and abnormal cortisol levels are associated with menopause, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression, impotence, insulin resistance, panic disorders, PMS, sleep disorders, osteoporosis, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
When cortisol levels have been chronically elevated for a while, the metabolic chaos that ensues becomes too much for the body to handle, The hypothalamus in the brain, which ultimately controls cortisol release from the adrenal glands decides to go into “survival mode” and shuts down the signals that cause cortisol to be produced and released. Adrenal burnout ensues and cortisol and DHEA levels decline despite the continued presence of stress. With adrenal burnout, fatigue sets in, blood pressure drops, there is sensitivity to light, insomnia, digestive problems, emotional imbalances, lack of motivation, lack of stamina, hypoglycemia, lack of sexual interest, decreased immunity, alcoholism and drug addiction, allergies and a feeling of being overwhelmed!
The important point here is that hormones are an interconnected web. If cortisol is increased, it decreases synthesis of progesterone and its activity. Cortisol competes with progesterone for common cell receptors. When cortisol is elevated, thyroid hormone is less active. Decreased estrogen in a woman is a stressor to her body and causes a decline in the function of some neurotransmitters. This affects cortisol levels. I remind you that this is a complicated system and your metabolic health needs to be entrusted to a physician who understands this “interconnectedness”.
The treatment of adrenal fatigue includes replacement of DHEA, the use of adaptogenic adrenal herbs, adrenal extracts and the herb licorice, which reduces the demand on the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. Adaptogenic herbs such as Relora, Ashwaghanda, Rhodiola and Theanine really help regulate hyper or hypo function of the adrenal gland. Nutrients that are important in the treatment of adrenal fatigue include Vitamin C, B Vitamins, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium, Copper, Sodium and Manganese. Add to these nutrients, omega three fish oils and stress reduction techniques. As you can see, treatment of adrenal fatigue consists mainly in supporting the adrenal glands with basic nutrients and supplements which the body is lacking. Again, hormones, metabolism and nutrition are inextricably linked and inseparable. To achieve optimal health, we need to address this complex web in its entirety.