Adrenal Fatigue & the Importance of Cortisol
Your adrenal glands produce many hormones, and cortisol is one of them. Cortisol modulates your immune system, protects your body during times of emotional or physical stress, and sustains your blood sugar and blood pressure. You would die very quickly without cortisol. Cortisol production varies depending on the body’s demand for it. When you catch a cold, cortisol production will increase in order to stimulate your immune system to fight that infection. Similarly, when you are under severe emotional stress, your body will demand more cortisol to cope with that stress. Cortisol is also an anti-inflammatory hormone, your natural Advil, if you will.
Adrenal fatigue usually occurs when a person is constantly demanding high amounts of cortisol from their adrenal glands because of chronic stress, chronic pain, allergies, and other illness. Your adrenal glands aren’t made to produce at high capacity for long periods of time, so when you are demanding and demanding and demanding cortisol, your adrenal glands will eventually run out, burn out, fatigue. When they fatigue, they might produce half as much as your body is demanding, which leads to a vicious cycle because they can’t give you what you need to fight whatever it is you are fighting (e.g., allergies, pain, infection), so the problems get worse, and then you need even more cortisol. When you are adrenally fatigued, it now takes 2 wks to get over a cold instead of 2 days, for example, and you might also have low blood sugar episodes (symptoms include headaches, shakiness, lethargy, dizziness), and even low blood pressure symptoms such as lightheadedness upon standing. Moreover, aches and pains may develop out of nowhere. Allergies and asthma may worsen.
Cortisol gets a bad wrap in the media and in the ‘traditional’ medical community. In the media, you may have heard that stress increases cortisol levels, and that cortisol increases belly fat. Based on this, supplements have been created to block the production of cortisol. I find this absolutely ridiculous. While it IS true that stress increases cortisol levels, it is because your body is demanding it, and not because your body wants to make you fat. If you were producing too much cortisol when your body was NOT demanding it, you WOULD develop all of the problems associated with steroids, such as weight gain, fluid retention, diabetes, high blood pressure, acne, bone loss, immune suppression. Let’s face it, too much of any hormones is just as bad as too little of it. High doses of steroids are given to suppress the immune system when treating, for example, an asthma attack, or other autoimmune disease. However, low, supplemental doses of cortisol actually enhance your immune function.
It would be very difficult to completely recover normal adrenal function without addressing all of these at once. Most doctors treat one thing at a time, usually by masking your symptoms with prescription drugs. In addition, most people don’t realize how much of an impact their dietary choices have on their bodies. It’s not all about the weight gain. Certain foods affect hormone levels. Moreover, today’s diets are nutrient-deficient, and all it takes is one single vitamin deficiency to cause immune dysfunction.
Be good to your immune system, and it will be good to you!