Everyone experiences stress. Stress is a normal part of everyday life and to a degree it’s even beneficial to our physiology and well-being, but chronic long term stress that goes untreated can be very unhealthy. The quantity and quality of stress we encounter, our ability to cope with it, and our genetic makeup all contribute to our overall health.
In a stressful event the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland secretes a hormone called ACTH. ACTH tells the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, to secrete a powerful glucocorticoid called cortisol. Cortisol has wide ranging effects on the body. It regulates carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism, stimulates gluconeogenesis (the formation of carbohydrates from proteins in the liver), and modulates the inflammatory response, and thereby immune function, due to fever, injury, and allergies. Cortisol stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas and simultaneously decreases the cells’ ability to utilize glucose throughout the body. Excess insulin promotes fat deposition, especially in the belly, and can lead to diabetes melllitus. Cortisol helps the human body adapt to stress by rapidly mobilizing stored amino acids and fats to be used for energy and building other compounds.
In normal transitory stressful events these effects are very beneficial but in long term chronic stress the very same functions of cortisol can be damaging, laying a groundwork for many conditions and diseases, such as depression, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, diabetes, asthma, anxiety, allergies, obesity, impaired adrenal and hypothalamic function, hypothyroidism, loss of mental function, hypertension, increased levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, gastrointestinal disorders, poor wound healing, muscle loss and wasting, thin skin, sleep fragmentation and severe muscle weakness. Cortisol has significant interactions with certain neurotransmitters in the brain and these circuits are associated with depressive symptoms. For reasons that remain unknown the body’s cortisol regulation system can spin out of control as we age. Cortisol levels increase 5 fold even in healthy individuals when they are confronted with stressful events. Chronic stress can lead to adrenal burnout.
There are twenty signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue. If you experience five or more you may have adrenal fatigue.
1. Difficulty getting up in the morning.
2. Continuing fatigue not relieved by sleep.
3. Craving for salt or salty foods and sugar.
5. Increased effort to do ordinary tasks.
6. Decreased libido.
7. Decreased ability to handle stress.
8. Increased time to recover from illness, injury or trauma.
9. Light-headed when standing up quickly.
10. Mild depression.
11. Less enjoyment or happiness with life.
12. Increased PMS.
13. Symptoms increase if meals skipped or inadequate.
14. Thoughts less focused.
15. Memory less accurate.
16. Decreased tolerance.
17. Decreased productivity.
18. Muscle weakness.
19. Irregular heartbeat.
20. Increased thirst.
1. A.M .Fatigue - Can't wake until 10!
2. Afternoon low between 3 and 4 PM.
3. Feel better after evening meal.
Cortisol is normally secreted in a circadian pattern, rising to a high of 20 ug/dl in the early morning and hitting its low range of 5 ug/dl in the late evening. When we take salivary samples at 6AM, Noon, 4PM, and Midnight we look to see if cortisol is in a normal range. You must know your cortisol all four times and treat it at the time it’s abnormal. As cortisol levels distort high or low this can have a negative effect on insulin and DHEA. Testing is recommended at least once a year. Find out if your cortisol is too high and how to normalize it safely and effectively.
If you are suffering from chronic stress and your cortisol levels are too high you must find ways to start either coping with your stressful situation or changing that situation. If you are not sleeping properly for 7-8 hours per night, you must establish a regular sleeping pattern. This will help to normalize cortisol secretions at the proper times. Effective treatments for high stress and cortisol can include biofeedback, deep breathing, Pilates, meditation and prayer, and exercise. Nutritionally we can use B vitamins, ashwaganda, licorice root, vitamin C, phosphatidylserine, adrenal concentrates, and pantothenic acid. These nutrients do a very fine job of normalizing the stress response in a safe and effective manner. Amino acids may also be utilized to help with the secretion of natural growth hormone, which increases muscle mass, regulates blood sugar, and promotes the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Dietary recommendations are specific to each person but in general we want to increase lean proteins and fresh vegetables and eliminate processed foods such as white flour, rice, and sugar. It’s important to eat specific foods according the results of your test. 64-80 oz of water per day is necessary.
© Reuven M. Rosenberg, D.C.
Disclaimer: Statements made pertaining to the properties and/or functions of nutritional products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and these materials and products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Never discontinue medical prescriptions without the consent of your physician.