The adrenal glands are two walnut-sized glands that sit atop the kidneys and that can make the different between being bouncy and energetic or run down and burned out. This is because they release stress hormones and the hormone cortisol, which, among other things, gives us energy.
Unfortunately, the adrenal glands are under siege by our stressed-out modern lives. In addition to stress, blood sugar swings, gut infections, food intolerances, chronic viruses, environmental toxins, and autoimmune conditions tax the adrenal glands. The body interprets all of these as threats, causing the adrenal glands to pump out stress hormones to raise blood sugar to meet the demands of the stress. What should be an occasional mechanism is a daily thing for most.
Symptoms of adrenal stress include fatigue, weak immunity, allergies, low blood sugar, being groggy in the mornings, crashing in the afternoon, sleep problems, and more.
Adrenal imbalances are one the most common health problems we see in functional medicine thanks to high-stress lifestyles, high-carb diets, and a toxic environment.
Adrenal problems always secondary to something else
Adrenal health is always secondary to something else. Blood sugar imbalances are a very common cause of adrenal problems. The adrenal hormone cortisol raises blood sugar when it drops too low, which, when it happens repeatedly, exhausts the adrenal glands, as well as the brain’s control center over these functions. Constant cortisol production weakens the lining of the intestines tract, making it more susceptible to bad bacteria, inflammation, and leaky gut.
Other factors that can contribute to adrenal problems include autoimmune disease, food intolerances, chronic infection, chemical sensitivities, and hormonal imbalances.
Lab tests to assess adrenal health
We can measure adrenal function with a salivary panel. The most important thing to know about the panel is that one test is not worth much. It is the follow-up test that shows whether a protocol is improving your health. If it’s not, we dig deeper.
You take the test kit home and collect samples of your saliva in the morning, at noon, in the afternoon, and at bedtime to measure cortisol at each time. It should be highest in the morning so you feel alert and lowest at night so you feel tired for bed. This is called your circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle. Chronic stress eventually disrupts the circadian rhythm. An abnormal circadian rhythm can cause high cortisol at night and insomnia, or low cortisol in the morning, which makes it hard to wake up.
Adrenal problems can cause hormone problems
When adrenal stress is high, the body steals a hormone called pregnenolone from cholesterol to make more cortisol — a phenomenon known as pregnenolone steal. Normally, the body uses pregnenolone to make sex hormones such as progesterone and testosterone. As a result, pregnenolone steal causes hormonal imbalances such as PMS, infertility, male menopause, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Avoid adrenal Stimulators
If you are serious about restoring your adrenal health, avoid the things that tax it, such as sugar, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, foods to which are you sensitive, lack of sleep, over exercising, over working, bad relationships, and other stressors.
Stabilize blood sugar to support adrenals
Stabilizing blood sugar is paramount to supporting the adrenals. This is especially true for those with low blood sugar who get irritable, shaky, or lightheaded if they go too long without eating. Eat a protein breakfast and then eat small meals frequently to keep your blood sugar from crashing. Avoid relying on caffeine or sugar for energy, and do not skip meals.
Schedule relaxing things
Find ways to relieve stress and remain calm. Learn some relaxation techniques, take yoga, walk daily, take time off, socialize, and other things that support your well being in a positive and healthy way. Just knowing you have something fun and relaxing planned is half the battle to lowering stress.
Ask my office for help in supporting your adrenal health.