WRITTEN BY DR. DESIREE EDLUND D.C.
For “Chiropractic Wellness and Fitness Magazine”
This month Dr. Benjamin, D.C. would like to focus on one of the most missed conditions in medicine today. Many of you may suffer from fatigue, poor sleep, unexplained weight gain, memory loss, anxiety and depression. Traditional medicine treats these symptoms by medicating with sleeping pills, antidepressants and thyroid medications. Unfortunately, this treatment approach may lead to more health problems due to the side effects of these medications. The focus on drugs also tends to suppress early-stage symptoms rather than treat their underlying causes. Before you resort to covering up your symptoms with these drugs, I urge you to check the function of one of the most neglected glands in your body…
That is, the adrenal glands.
Every challenge to the mind and body creates a demand on the adrenal glands. Today, these challenges are endless: the threat of losing your job, lack of sleep, a demanding boss, financial pressures, yo-yo dieting, relationship problems, death or illness of a loved one, skipping meals, reliance on stimulants like caffeine and sugar, digestive issues, over-exercise, illness or infection. The result…adrenals that are over producing and are constantly on high alert. The over worked adrenal glands eventually wear out…resulting in a commonly missed condition…ADRENAL FATIGUE.
Who gets Adrenal Fatigue?
Anyone can suffer from adrenal fatigue. An illness, a life crisis, or a continuing difficult situation can drain your adrenal resources even if you are the healthiest person. Factors that can make you more prone to adrenal fatigue include poor lifestyles (bad diet, substance abuse, too little sleep, or chronic stress), a recurrent illness or repeated infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
An estimated 80% of North Americans suffer from adrenal fatigue at some point in their lives. Sometimes the adrenal strain is temporary and only lasts a few days. At other times it can be debilitating and last for years (or a lifetime if the adrenals are not properly restored). Adrenal fatigue usually begins with impaired adrenal function, leading to significant adrenal stress and finally complete adrenal exhaustion.
What Are The Adrenal Glands?
The adrenal glands are one of the most important organs in your body. These small walnut-sized glands located on top of each kidney are important control centers for many of the body’s hormones and guide the body’s reaction to stress. The inner portion of the adrenals, called the medulla, secretes epinephrine and norepinephrine – the famous “fight or flight” stress response hormones. The outer portion of these glands produce nearly 30 steroid hormones, of which cortisol, aldosterone, estrogen, testosterone and prescursor DHEA are the principal ones.
When healthy, your adrenals can instantly respond to stress by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, releasing your energy stores for immediate use, slowing your digestion and other secondary functions, and sharpening your senses.
The healthy stress responses of the adrenal glands are to take priority over all other metabolic functions. However, they weren’t designed to last for extended periods of time. Unlike our ancestors, we live with constant stress. Instead of occasional, acute demands followed by rest, we’re constantly over-worked, under-nourished and exposed to countless toxins.
What Are The Symptoms Of Adrenal Fatigue?
You may be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue if you regularly experience one or more of the following symptoms:
You have salt cravings
You lack energy and you’re tired for no reason
You feel run down or overwhelmed
You need coffee or other stimulants to give you a boost of energy
You fall asleep, but wake up several hours later and can’t go back to sleep
You’re exhausted when you wake up
You are exhausted throughout the day, but wake up after dinner
You have no libido
You’ve experienced weight gain
You feel anxious and angry with little stressors
You suffer from recurring infections
It takes you a long time to recover from sickness
You’re memory is not as good
You suffer from chronic respiratory problems such as asthma and allergies
You have low blood pressure
You feel like you have cotton in your head
You’re not interested in the things that used to make you happy
You have hot flashes, night sweats, or PMS
You suffer from depression
What About Cortisol?
The hormone cortisol is produced by the adrenals in response to physical, psychological and environmental stress. Cortisol is necessary for the action of almost every function of your body! This crucial hormone regulates other hormones, glucose metabolism and the immune system. It affects the heart, blood pressure, water excretion, the eyes, the GI tract and reproductive function. Cortisol also regulates your body’s use of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
The importance of cortisol has been relatively unheralded. However, the fact is, your body needs cortisol in specific amounts for normal function. But if there is sustained high levels of cortisol (as in chronic stress), it causes catabolism in nearly every tissue of the body! And if your body is not producing enough cortisol, it will disrupt many metabolic processes and lead to adrenal fatigue. The key point to remember is too much or too little cortisol will lead to many symptoms and chronic health problems.
Testing For Adrenal Fatigue
In the early stages of adrenal dysfunction, cortisol levels are too high during the day and continue rising in the evening. This is called “hyperadrenia.” In mid stage malfunction, cortisol may rise and fall unevenly as the body struggles to balance itself despite the disruptions of caffeine, carbohydrates and chronic stress, but levels are not normal and are typically too high at night. In advanced stages of adrenal fatigue, when the adrenals are exhausted from overwork, cortisol will never reach normal levels (“hypoadrenia”).
Conventional medicine will detect only the extremes of these conditions, when damage to the adrenals has already occurred (Cushing’s disease and Addison’s disease). Within those extremes, you may feel miserable and still be told your cortisol levels are normal. But by responding to early-stage symptoms of adrenal fatigue, you can reverse the developing dysfunction and restore the function of your adrenal glands.
How Do You Restore Healthy Adrenal Function?
The first step is to have a full physical exam to rule out disease or other factors. In my experience, people with mild to moderate cases of adrenal fatigue can see significant improvement through following these simple steps:
1. Dietary changes to improve your nutrition and reduce carbohydrates and stimulants
Firstly, I encourage you to focus on balance. Nourishing your body with balanced meals and snacks can do wonders for your energy and feed your adrenal health at the same time. I always tell my patients to eat their best 80% of the time. The other 20% is up to them. Never allow yourself to get too hungry. Low blood sugar by itself puts stress on your body and can tax your adrenals.
Eating meals and snacks that are made of fresh whole foods, preferably organic or locally grown, without chemicals, preservatives or added hormones are the best to strive for. Including some protein in all your meals (especially in the morning) will have a stabilizing effect on your blood sugar, which in turn can help you overcome caffeine and sugar cravings. Following the alkalizing pH diet of 70-80% fruits and vegetables and 20-30% protein and fat is a great start to restoring your adrenal glands.
2. Stress reduction
This includes moderate exercise and taking more time for you. It’s helpful to make a list of your stressors, especially those that are constant. Yoga and meditation are very effective for stress reduction. Instead of reaching for that coffee mid afternoon, take 15-20 minutes to relax with herbal teas that contain chamomile, passionflower and Siberian ginseng. Herbal teas support your adrenals while caffeine drains them.
3. Get your spine checked regularly
The thoracic spinal nerves especially at the T10 level control and support the function of the adrenal glands. If there are subluxations (spinal misalignments) at these levels, you will have interference of these nerve pathways, resulting in suboptimal adrenal function. Adjustments to correct your subluxations will lead to better adrenal health.
4. Medical-grade nutritional supplements
Nutraceuticals ensure your body has the rich nutrients it needs to make and balance its hormones and support your adrenal glands.
5. Get more rest!!!!
Your body needs time to heal. You should be sleeping 7-8 hours every night!
In conclusion, if you have steady energy and balanced emotions, sleep seven to eight hours a night, wake up feeling rested and energized, recover well from stress, and maintain a healthy weight without dieting, then your adrenal health is probably good.
On the other hand, if your energy lags during the day, you feel emotionally unbalanced, you sleep poorly or less than seven hours a night, you frequently use caffeine or carbohydrates as “pick-me-ups” and you can’t lose weight even while dieting and exercising, — then I highly recommend you get your adrenals tested. Most likely you have some level of adrenal dysfunction. The good news is your adrenal gland function can be restored if detected early enough. It is important to remember, medicating to suppress your symptoms is not going to restore your adrenals or solve the problem. Chiropractic care can help you!!
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