The Importance of Cortisol When Addressing Adrenal Fatigue
When thinking about adrenal fatigue, let’s start at the beginning with your adrenal glands. The adrenal glands produce many hormones, including cortisol. 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 to stimulate your immune system and fight that infection. Similarly, when you are under severe emotional stress, your body will demand more cortisol to cope with the effects of 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 due to 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 your body is constantly demanding cortisol, your adrenal glands will eventually burn out. Other factors that compound the issue include sleep deprivation, untreated sleep apnea, food allergies and sensitivities, nutritional deficiencies and toxic overload (such as with artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, preservatives, pesticides and pharmaceutical drugs). When adrenal fatigue sets in, the adrenal glands might produce, let’s say, 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 you’re fighting, so the problems get worse, and then you need even more cortisol. When you have adrenal fatigue, it takes longer to recover from illnesses and you might also have low blood sugar episodes (symptoms include headaches, shakiness, lethargy, sweating, dizziness, behavior changes), and even low blood pressure symptoms such as light- headedness upon standing. Moreover, aches and pains may develop out of nowhere. Allergies and asthma may worsen.
Cortisol in the Media
Cortisol gets a bad wrap in the media and in the “traditional” medical community. You may have heard that stress increases cortisol levels and that cortisol increases belly fat. Based on this theory, supplements have been created to block the production of cortisol. (A side note-the companies advertising these supplements have been sued for unsubstantiated claims). While it IS true that stress increases cortisol levels, it is because your body is demanding it. 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 and immune suppression. Too much of any hormone is just as bad for the body as a deficiency in any hormone.
Challenge of Adrenal Fatigue Not Showing Up on Blood Tests
Adrenal fatigue is not easily diagnosed because it usually will not show up on a blood test until it reaches the extreme form known as Addison’s disease. Adrenal fatigue is more of a relative deficiency of cortisol. I diagnose adrenal fatigue based on a person’s symptoms, as well as based on his or her history (e.g., current medical problems, stressors). Because of the method for establishing normal reference ranges for lab tests, I know that the majority of my patients’ cortisol levels will be within normal range.
Treatment of Adrenal Fatigue
Treating adrenal fatigue involves supporting your adrenal glands with certain nutrients and also sometimes with low (i.e. physiologic) doses of adrenal hormones cortisol and DHEA, as well as removing the factors contributing to their demise. This involves dietary changes, vitamins, removing yeast from your body, learning to manage stress, balancing hormones, exercise, treating chronic pain and getting adequate sleep. It would be very difficult to completely recover normal adrenal function without addressing all of these at once. Most traditional doctors in the managed care model of medicine treat one symptom/health problem at a time, usually by masking your symptoms with prescription drugs.
Click here to test yourself for adrenal fatigue, and if you feel that this common, and hugely underdiagnosed health problem is something you might be suffering with, call 281-298-6742 and speak to a wellness consultant today or we can contact you by clicking here. We also encourage you to watch a short video with Dr. McManus about adrenal fatigue, too.