Adrenal Fatigue: Root Causes and Symptoms - Paula Owens

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Adrenal Fatigue: Root Causes & Symptoms

Adrenal Fatigue - Paula Owens, MS Holistic Nutritionist and Functional Health PractitionerAdrenal Fatigue (part 1)

Symptoms, Root Causes and Assessing Adrenal Function

Right up there with the obesity epidemic is an invisible epidemic—adrenal fatigue aka adrenal insufficiency, adrenal dysfunction, adrenal burnout and exhausted adrenal glands. Just about everyone of us seems to be experiencing some stage of adrenal dysfunction whether it’s the alarm stage, resistance stage or exhaustion stage.

Many individuals live stress-filled, fast-paced, sympathetic dominant lives full of an excessive amount of stress, busyness with lack of down time, relaxation or restoration, insomnia, infections, food sensitivities, and endless commitments.

Our body does not differentiate between real or imagined stressors or fearful emotions and thoughts. Many individuals fail to take care of their most basic needs such as eating healthy, nutrient-dense organic foods, drinking clean filtered water, and valuing the importance of recovery, relaxation and restful sleep for health, happiness and hormone balance.

Adrenal dysfunction affects close to 80% of the population and causes a multitude of health problems from exhaustion and weight loss resistance to lowered immune function, thyroid dysfunction, digestive ailments, and autoimmune disorders. Adrenal insufficiency can result in mood disorders, depression, hypertension, insomnia, fibromyalgia, PCOS, diabetes, yeast, Candida and fungal infections, hypothyroid, kidney disease, and even cancer.

The majority of individuals suffering with weak adrenal function and abnormal cortisol rhythms don’t realize that adrenal insufficiency is the underlying cause of their symptoms, or that they can heal their adrenals, balance their body chemistry, and restore their health naturally. The majority of those in the medical community ignore adrenal dysfunction unless it’s severe or part of an illness such as Addison’s (an underproduction of cortisol) or Cushing’s (an overproduction of cortisol).

We all faces challenges in life. Whether our struggles are relational, physical, occupational, emotional or financial, we can be certain that no one is exempt. Our attitudes, values, beliefs, thoughts, the quality of the food we eat, our lifestyle choices, environment, what we listen to, are exposed to, and who and what we surround ourselves with has a profound impact that can empower and inspire us to heal and become stronger, wiser, and healthier or the opposite.

The adrenal glands weigh less than a grape. They are two tiny, walnut-sized glands located above each kidney. The adrenals are the control center for many hormones including cortisol, adrenaline, DHEA, progesterone, aldosterone, estrogen and testosterone. The adrenals also produce 50%  of androstenedione and 25% of circulating testosterone.

Cortisol, the fight or flight hormone is produced in response to stressors some of which include pain and inflammation, blood sugar control and psychological overload. It’s required for survival, balancing blood sugar and optimizing immune function.

The normal circadian release of cortisol peaks in the morning hours and gradually declines throughout the day with the lowest levels at night. When the cortisol rhythm is imbalanced, your weight, thyroid function, hormones, energy, sleep, mood, motivation, metabolism, digestion, ability to build muscle, and overall health will suffer, telomeres shorten, and cellular aging accelerates. Cortisol levels are affected by your body’s circadian rhythm and various forms of stress (physical, mental, emotional, chemical, environmental, electromagnetic, psychological, thermal, structural and spiritual stress).

The primary role of the adrenal glands is to control energy levels and keep you alive during stressful events. Studies have shown that for every minute you experience stress, it takes 60 minutes to remove the flood of stress hormones from the bloodstream. Chronic, ongoing stress creates a continuous production of cortisol which in turn overproduces cell-damaging, free radicals causing your body to break down and age faster than you’d like.

Cortisol is a necessary hormone that is responsible for fuel regulation and is released while exercising, eating, awakening and psychosocial stress.

Result of Cortisol Imbalances

  • blood sugar instability: high (hyperglycemia) or low (hypoglycemia)
  • thyroid hormones are affected often resulting in hypothyroid, hyperthyroid and thyroid autoimmunity (Hashimoto’s)
  • Insomnia and poor sleep
  • belly fat increases and muscle mass decreases
  • Digestion problems, constipation, diarrhea
  • the thymus gland shrinks, the immune system weakens, and risk for autoimmune disorders increase
  • appetite increases, and cravings for sugar, carbs and salty foods intensify
  • blood pressure increases or decreases, and cholesterol rises
  • production of sex hormones are altered
  • risk of PCOS symptoms increase; the adrenal glands are responsible for at least 20-30% of the increased androgens seen in PCOS
  • telomeres shorten and the aging process accelerates
  • metabolism declines
  • brain chemistry is altered
  • all other hormones are affected
  • bone density decreases
  • oxidative stress and inflammation increases
  • mitochondria becomes damaged
  • tendency to experience brain fog, memory loss, anxiety, irritability and fatigue

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

  • Asthma, bronchitis, frequent colds or frequently sick
  • Autoimmune disorders, including Hashimoto’s
  • Bloating, swelling and water retention
  • Blood sugar imbalances: hypoglycemia or high blood sugar
  • Increased belly fat despite a healthy diet and exercise
  • Chronic GI issues, heartburn, indigestion and digestive difficulties
  • Sugar, carb, alcohol or salt cravings
  • Excessive urination. Waking up in the middle of the night to use the restroom (even when you don’t drink a lot of water during the day and evening)
  • You’re exhausted around 3-4pm, feel as though you need to lay down, but instead reach for sugar, coffee or some other stimulant
  • Low libido
  • Candida overgrowth, yeast, and fungal infections
  • Dizziness when standing up suddenly
  • Chronic low-level inflammation
  • Elevated LDL cholesterol (excess cholesterol is manufactured in times of psychological stress). Cholesterol can increase 100 points with just one stressful event (real or perceived).
  • Hair loss, wrinkles, thinning skin
  • Having to have a cup or two or three of strong tea or coffee in the morning to get going
  • Hypothyroid, Hashimoto’s and other thyroid imbalances
  • Feeling overwhelmed. Low capacity or threshold to tolerate or handle stress
  • Irritable, mental fogginess, mood swings, anxiety
  • Increased testosterone. While often associated with PCOS symptoms, increased androgens may be the body’s way of protecting the brain from the harmful effects of chronic stress.
  • Insomnia, unable to fall asleep or stay asleep. Difficulty getting up in the morning.
  • Intolerance to exercise; feeling exhausted after exercise
  • Low blood pressure or high blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Poor memory, acuity and concentration
  • Tenderness at the medial knee
  • Severely cracked, painful heels (can also be an indication of essential fatty acid deficiency, nutrient deficiencies, Candida overgrowth)
  • Tend to be a night person
  • Tendency of a need to wear sunglasses; sensitive to light
  • Sensitivity and tenderness at low back under the 12th rib area

The adrenals are your backup pharmacy

When the adrenals are depleted and chronically overworked, production of all other hormones will be compromised. Cholesterol is a precursor to all hormones. Those with adrenal dysfunction may see an increased LDL cholesterol, low DHEA and thyroid dysfunction (hypothyroid). Low DHEA contributes to fatigue, bone loss, muscle atrophy, accelerated aging, decreased libido, depression, brain fog, achy joints, and impaired immune function. The adrenals also produce 50% of androstenedione and 25% of circulating testosterone.

Over time, when cortisol stays elevated, DHEA goes down and telomeres shorten and the aging process accelerates. Individuals with the highest levels of perceived stress tend to have the shortest telomeres, indicating that they have a cell age 10 years ahead of their biological age. Excessive levels of cortisol prevent the immune system from functioning properly leading to diseases of aging – the three killer insults: inflammation, oxidation and autoimmunity.

According to the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, the more stress in a woman’s life, the greater her weight. Another study in Molecular Psychiatry found that women are more sensitive to the stress hormone cortisol and are less able to adapt when levels are high. When cortisol is released in high amounts, production of sex hormones come to a halt and instead more stress hormones are produced.

Adrenal hormones act as important reserves after menopause and andropause. If the adrenals are exhausted or adrenal insufficiency was not addressed properly at age 30, menopause and andropause symptoms will intensify. Therefore, it is especially important that women prioritize healthy functioning adrenals before entering into menopause since the adrenal glands produce 40% of sex hormones before menopause and 90% after menopause. The stronger your adrenals are before menopause, the easier and smoother your transition will be as you enter into meno/andropause.

Prioritizing healthy functioning adrenals is crucial for optimal health. Each person has a unique biochemistry, capacity, threshold and susceptibility to adrenal dysfunction.

Many children today are born with weak adrenals due to their parents’ nutritional deficiencies and high-stress lifestyles. This is not a genetic problem. Instead, it is due to the nutritional imbalances of the mother, in particular. These are passed through the placenta to the unborn child. A child or fetus in the womb that experiences trauma whether physical, electromagnetic, emotional, environmental or psychological will have a lower stress threshold in adult life. Also, it’s important to factor in that the nervous system, endocrine system and immune system are all interconnected and that hormones work in synergy – they do not work independently. What affects one hormone, impacts all of them.

Root Causes of Adrenal Fatigue

Any imbalance that overtaxes and depletes your physiology in an attempt to maintain homeostasis results in altered stress hormones. This includes:

  • Eating inflammatory foods that your body is sensitive to and cannot tolerate
  • Lack of rest; seldom taking time to restore and relax; constant on-the-go, non-stop busyness
  • Consistently staying up late at night (past 10:30 pm) and disrupted circadian rhythms
  • Getting less than 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Just one night of poor sleep can increase cortisol by 45%
  • Long-term steroid drug use for arthritis, asthma, allergies or MS which cause the adrenals to shrink in size.
  • Over-exercising, under-recovery and excessive cardio/aerobic exercise, marathon exercise
  • Persistent injuries that cause inflammation. Chronic pain. Illness.
  • Long-term use of OTC and prescription drugs. Antibiotic overuse, NSAIDs, asthma medication and inhalers, oral contraceptives, synthetic steroids
  • Prolonged stress, including emotional, mental, environmental, electromagnetic, and spiritual stress.
  • Genetic defects can be a cause of physical and emotional stress that can weaken the adrenals
  • Relationships. Divorce. Death of a loved one. Finances. Economy. Occupation. Retirement.
  • EMF exposure, WiFi and 24/7 exposure to wireless devices; cell phone addiction; bright artificial lights after sundown, and blue light at night
  • Skipping meals, insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalances
  • Addiction to stimulants, sugar, alcohol or drugs
  • Heavy metal toxicity. Chronic exposure to toxic chemicals, pesticides, glyphosate, GMOs
  • Noise pollution. Air pollution.
  • Extreme temperatures (hot or cold)
  • Digestive dysfunction, dysbiosis and leaky gut
  • Infections (viral, bacterial, yeast, Candida overgrowth, parasites, H.pylori, SIBO, mold, Lyme, oral/dental infections)
  • Liver and gallbladder dysfunctionAdrenal Fatigue: Factors that Affect the Adrenals - Paula Owens, MS

Test to Assess Adrenal Function

  • Rogoff’s Sign: tenderness when the back is tapped just beneath the ribs (kidney area), adjacent to the spine
  • Pupil Constriction
  • Ragland’s Blood Pressure Test
  • Blood tests (start with the basics) that include a thorough thyroid panel, CBC with differential, Comprehensive Metabolic Profile, Hormone profile, vitamin D, iron, ferritin, and inflammatory markers, C-Reactive Protein and Homocysteine
  • The DUTCH Complete, a simple at-home urine test is the most advanced test available for assessing hormones, estrogen metabolites, and adrenal function

Adrenal Fatigue (part 2) Natural Remedies to Heal, Restore and Recover from Adrenal Fatigue

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