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Adrenal Insufficiency


Introduction

The adrenal glands have begun to garner more recent attention in the medical world due to their direct connection with disease and stress. No other gland is more affected by stress, emotional strain or anger than the adrenals. In fact, the term "adrenal insufficiency" refers to the stress that has been imposed upon the entire body and the result manifesting as the adrenals inability to operate at optimal capacity. Your adrenals sit on top of your kidneys and are responsible for a myriad of bodily functions including the production of hormones such as cortisone, DHEA, aldosterone, progesterone, estrogen and testosterone. The adrenal glands are also responsible for supporting a healthy metabolism and regulating blood sugar balance. When you experience any form of physical or emotional pressure, the adrenal medulla secretes adrenaline and norepinephrine to accelerate metabolism, heart rate, respiration and perspiration. It's a response vital to our survival, which ultimately strengthens the body and progressively increases our resiliency to stress. However, when the adrenals release too few or too many hormones, exhaustion or overstimulation may result. Corticosteroid drugs, temperature changes, excessive exercise, too much caffeine or sugar, chronic stress and infections all exhaust the adrenal glands. Chronic, unexplained fatigue, depression, insomnia, low blood sugar attacks and increased allergies are often the result of exhausted adrenals.

Adrenal insufficiency may also affect female hormone imbalance (PMS, menopause) as well as digestive function (IBS, GERD). When the adrenals are overworked, they will sequester and/or exhaust their production of progesterone, estrogen and/or enzymes necessary for hormonal balance and digestive function respectively. In addition, the impact of adrenal stress on metabolism is running rampant among those who are trying to lose weight. Dieters, who find themselves struggling to lose weight despite diet and exercise, may be suffering from adrenal insufficiency and its effect on metabolic function. When properly addressed through the use of preventative and therapeutic nutrition and lifestyle management, the adrenals function harmoniously and allow individuals to achieve an optimal state of physical and mental balance.

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Signs of Adrenal Exhaustion

1. Poor memory and fatigue
2. Insomnia
3. Inability to cope with stress
4. Problems losing weight despite diet and exercise
5. Heart palpitations and panic attacks.
6. Chronic low back pain.
7. Hypoglycemia and cravings for salt or sweets.
8. Severe reactions to odors or certain foods.
9. A high incidence of yeast and fungal infections.

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Common Symptoms

Depression; anxiety; insomnia; difficulty losing weight; hair loss; low body temperature; cold extremities; brain fog; sugar cravings; salt cravings; lack of energy and alertness; a tired but wired feeling alternating with extreme fatigue; poor memory, low blood pressure and poor circulation; moodiness and irritability; sugar dysfunctions (hypoglycemia and diabetes); poor immunity; food or environmental allergies; PMS; IBS; GERD

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Important Note for Menopausal Women

Adrenal health is critical, particularly for women during and after menopause as these glands have to work harder to maintain hormonal balance. This is one of the reasons why women notice their body composition changing and begin to see a shift with more weight gain in the abdomen. Since the adrenal glands are also the blood sugar regulating glands, it is also common for menopausal women to experience more sugar and carbohydrate cravings. Unfortunately, our bodies become more challenged at effectively processing carbohydrates as we age, so it is extremely important to provide adrenal support and address optimal blood sugar control during menopause. Specific vitamins, minerals and herbs may be used to support the adrenal gland health and to regulate hormones before, during and after menopause.

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Natural Treatment

When providing natural treatment for the adrenal glands, one must determine the underlying factors that may be causing adrenal stress (online or in person). Traditionally, if a practitioner suspects an adrenal concern, they will run through a series of tests, but if the results do not fit into their standard method of criteria, they will likely not proceed with any form of treatment. Unfortunately, insufficiencies do not always appear as clinical diagnostic abnormalities and as a result, the conclusion is often that the patient's labs are "normal." Unfortunately, one of the downfalls of Western Medicine is that if there is no major abnormality on paper, then no problem exists. Despite the fact that the patient complains of symptoms, the vicious cycle of being told "your labs are normal" or managing symptoms with medication often ensues.

The traditional method of testing adrenal function involves analyzing cortisol production. However, one blood sample will only reflect where cortisol output is at a particular time of the day, which may be normal depending upon the person's natural cortisol output. However, if the cortisol levels were measured over the course of the entire day, then hormone trends could better be evaluated, thus the actual state of the adrenal gland function may be determined.

The most non-invasive test for exploring adrenal gland function is the ASI test. The ASI test will not only explore the varying levels of daily cortisol, but it will also reflect values for other hormones affected by the adrenals such as DHEA, insulin and progesterone. In addition, due to the catabolic (breaking down) effect of cortisol, the ASI test also evaluates Salivary Secretory IGA levels (SIGA). SIGA is an antibody which represents the level of immunological protection a person has around their intestinal tract. It is very common to have a low SIGA as a result of adrenal stress which may result in frequency of sickness, acid reflux (GERD), IBS, food allergies, leaky gut syndrome, gas and bloating.

Healing the adrenals involves providing appropriate adrenal support depending upon whether the cortisol output is excessively high or low. Dietary management (online or in person) and therapeutic vitamin/mineral supplementation are essential in healing the adrenals. Blood sugar support if often suggested in adrenal insufficiency since sugar and carbohydrates are often craved due to poor glucose metabolism.

In cases where gastrointestinal symptoms are also present, a GI Panel may often be recommended. Because the adrenals may cause digestive insufficiency and this may in turn cause more stress on the body, nutrients through diet and supplementation are essential for restoration.

Since adrenal insufficiency often causes or results from insomnia, sleep function is typically analyzed. If the reason for poor sleep is associated with stress, racing thoughts, obsessive thinking, etc then sleep will only be improved by addressing the adrenal gland---not by taking a prescription sleep aid. Again, nutrition as well as vitamin/amino acid and herbal therapy are often very successful helping the body to reset its natural sleep cycle.

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References

Wilson, James. Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st-Century Stress Syndrome. 1st Ed. California: Smart Publications first edition, 2000.

Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone Eleventh Edition. Traditional Wisdom, Inc; 2000.

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