The Adrenal Glands – Small but Mighty
Sitting atop the kidneys like tiny pyramids, the adrenal glands release adrenalin (in an emergency), DHEA, and cortisol, the master stress hormone. Hundreds of times a day, these mighty little glands fine-tune our response to the stress and strains of everyday living.
Stress can be thought of as the spice of life, the spark that ignites and primes us for each day. The difference between stress we can handle, and stress that gets out of hand – stress vs. distress – marks the difference between adrenal balance or imbalance. The latter occurs when mental, physical or emotional stressors call the adrenal glands to action too often, eventually leading to adrenal fatigue.
Master Stress Hormone
Cortisol is the primary hormone secreted by the adrenals in reaction to stress. Along with DHEA, the other essential adrenal hormone, it is involved in regulation of glucose, insulin, fatty acids, inflammation, bone and muscle building, mood and memory, energy, stamina, and immunities against disease.
Adrenals in balance produce adequate amounts of DHEA and cortisol to power us through the day, taking stress in stride. Adrenals out of balance are overworked and unable to produce enough essential hormone to keep us running on all cylinders. When that happens we start to lose steam, sleep fitfully, get sick, and pack on pounds through the middle.
Cortisol’s main impact on the immune system is double-edged. Acute stress pumps up body defenses, sending white blood cells to their battle stations. Chronic stress weakens immune reserves leaving us vulnerable to illness, inflammation, and any virus that comes along.
Long term Stress Effects
When stress is prolonged adrenal hormones seesaw, triggering blood sugar and insulin imbalances, food cravings, weight gain and sleep disturbances. Adrenals under pressure create imbalances of other hormones: stealing progesterone away from its reproductive duties to make extra cortisol, or by inhibiting thyroid function and metabolism. According to Dr. James Wilson, author of the go-to book, Adrenal Fatigue, “about 80% of adrenal fatigue sufferers also have symptoms of low thyroid.”
If stress levels stay high the adrenals remain in “survival mode” to keep us going, by increasing alertness (i.e., sleeplessness), appetite (i.e., overeating) and fat reserves (i.e., stored as belly fat), while immunities steadily weaken.
When our lives are balanced by optimal nutrition, exercise, and enough sleep, the adrenals perform for us 24/7. When we are out of balance and burning the candle at both ends, adrenal functions burn out – and so do we.
In the 21st century, keeping up with life in the fast lane makes us all candidates for adrenal fatigue. To find out if you have symptoms of adrenal imbalance, use the checklist and ask yourself:
-Is it unusual for me to sleep more than 6 hours a night?
-Am I usually tired when I wake up in the morning, but too ‘wired’ at night to fall asleep?
-Can I live without coffee?
-Do I wind down with alcohol or recreational drugs?
-When is the last time I took a vacation?
-Am I getting regular exercise?
-Do I make healthy meals or eat on the run?
Sound familiar? Symptoms are the red flags of adrenal imbalance. If you have two or more persistent or troublesome symptoms above, you could be suffering from adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal Stress Profile Advantages
Saliva testing of DHEA and diurnal cortisol levels measured at four points during the day is the accepted industry standard for assessing full adrenal function. Test results tell us the extent to which stress hormones are out of balance and serve as a guide to effective stress management.