Adrenal Imbalance. By: Karen Carbone. "If only I had the energy I used to..." We've probably all said these

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1 Adrenal Imbalance By: Karen Carbone Introduction "If only I had the energy I used to..." We've probably all said these words at some point. In my practice, I'm seeing an increase in the number of people suffering from constant stress that leads to high cortisol levels, adrenal imbalance and, sometimes, complete exhaustion. Traditional western medicine does not recognize adrenal imbalance as a diagnosis. They see adrenal issues as extremes: either Addison's Disease or Cushing's Disease. In Addison's disease, the cortisol levels are too low and in Cushing's they are too high. However, there is a large span between the two conditions that can cause symptoms Page 1 of 8

2 requiring treatment. If treated, the disease does not have to progress to these extreme conditions. In natural health, we describe this "in-between" area as adrenal imbalance or adrenal dysfunction, although you may have also heard it called "adrenal fatigue," "adrenal exhaustion," or "adrenal burnout." It occurs when the adrenal glands are putting out the wrong levels of stress hormones - either too low or too high - in relation to the amount that's needed. This mismatch often results in troubling symptoms. Causes of Adrenal Fatigue Chronic stress is the major factor in adrenal fatigue. Stress leads to high cortisol, adrenal imbalance and, often, severe symptoms. Many people today feel stressed around the clock. Whether the stress is routine or dramatic, physical or emotional, perceived or real, the adrenals are prompted to respond with a cascade of hormones to keep the body functioning. With stress, your adrenals rally your body into a "fight or flight" survival response by increasing adrenaline and cortisol production. No matter what the cause of the stress, your body sees it as an emergency. Don't underestimate the power of perceived stress. Factors that make demands on the adrenal glands " Lack of sleep " Work stress Page 2 of 8

3 " Personality conflicts and relationship turmoil " Yo-yo dieting " Reliance on stimulants like caffeine and sugar/carbs " Digestive problems " Overly aggressive exercise " Illness, infection or surgery " Unresolved emotional issues " Overwhelming responsibilities at home In its normal function, cortisol helps us meet these challenges by converting fats and proteins into energy, keeping us alert, balancing electrolytes, calibrating heart beat and pressure, and counteracting inflammation. In the short run, that's great - even protective and restorative. However, problems can develop as today's relentlessly busy lifestyle forces your adrenal glands to be on constant "high alert" resulting in sustained high levels of cortisol. Sustained high cortisol levels are dangerous because they: " Slow down healing and normal cell regeneration. " Interfere with parent molecules needed to make other vital hormones " Impair digestion, metabolism and mental function " Interfere with healthy endocrine function Page 3 of 8

4 " Weaken your immune system When your adrenals are required to constantly respond to stress, they eventually have to struggle to produce cortisol, as well as other key hormones such as DHEA and the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Symptoms and health risks of sustained high cortisol levels " Fatigue and weakness " Suppression of the immune system " Muscle and bone loss " Moodiness or depression " Skin problems " Hair loss " Autoimmune disorders " Insulin resistance " Thyroid imbalance " Weight gain " Insomnia " Aches and pains from inflammation " Lower sex drive Damaging Effects of High Cortisol Page 4 of 8

5 Adrenal imbalance occurs more often in women and tends to peak between the ages of 35 and 55. Most women can recognize themselves in one of the following descriptions: " You're always active and feel "wired." Your system is constantly fueled by adrenaline and cortisol to create what feels like a continual state of hyper-energy. Yet you often feel drained. " You can't get up in the morning - but you can't sleep at night. Your natural 24-cycle of energy and relaxation is off-balance. If you're able to fall asleep, you may wake up in the middle of the night fully alert. " You have no energy - period. You feel exhausted all the time. Even getting out of bed often feels like a challenge. You may also experience intense cravings and unexplained weight gain. Diagnosis The diagnosis is generally made through lab tests that evaluate markers of stress, including cortisol and DHEA levels. In my experience, only 20-25% of people with symptoms of fatigue have cortisol levels consistent with healthy adrenal function, while 75-80% suffer impaired function, in varying degrees from mild to more serious. Treatment In my experience, people with mild to moderate adrenal imbalance can have several options that can help them feel significantly better while Page 5 of 8

6 keeping symptoms from becoming more severe. The key is taking the right steps to normalize cortisol levels and restore healthy adrenal function. Nutrition is the place to start. " When we eat our meals is just as important as what we eat when it comes to rebalancing the adrenal glands. The goal is to achieve more stable energy levels throughout the day, which can be accomplished by eating three balanced meals with two snacks. " What we eat makes a difference too. The first step here is to reduce refined carbohydrates - such as sugar, flour, potatoes, and white rice - which cause stressful ups and downs in your blood sugar that can lead to adrenal imbalance. Nutritional supplements can also support your adrenal glands. " A high-quality multivitamin with minerals and essential fatty acids, helps support a healthy metabolism and hormonal balance, which contributes to adrenal health. " Specific herbal supplements, such as astragalus root, rhodiola, ashwagandha, schizandra and ginseng, are effective at reducing the negative side effects of stress. They are known as adaptogenic herbs because they help the body adapt to the stressor. " Other products such as L-theanine, GABA, and passionflower, produce calming effects and encourage sleep. Page 6 of 8

7 Lifestyle Changes We can't always reduce stress, but we can take steps to reduce its effects on our lives. Take time to understand where your stress is coming from, and then think about how you'll make changes that are right for you and your lifestyle. It's helpful to make a list of stressors that interfere with your wellbeing, especially those that are ongoing or self-imposed. Exercise is important but must be handled carefully. If someone is truly exhausted, adding physical stress will not be helpful. Activity that is gentle and calming to the system is preferred, such as yoga, qigong, or tai chi. Most important is to get more rest. Your body needs down time to recover. We are finding many chronic conditions that are caused by lack of sleep. Better rest will assist in restoring adrenal balance. Conclusion Adrenal imbalance may be a factor in many other serious conditions, including fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, arthritis, and more. It is important to rule out the possibility of any serious underlying medical issues causing your symptoms by having a full physical exam. People seeking natural approaches for adrenal imbalance can expect to see improvement in four to six months. With mild to moderate adrenal Page 7 of 8

8 imbalance the turnaround can be faster. Don't wait until your body becomes completely exhausted before addressing this treatable situation. Page 8 of 8

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