Adrenal Burnout Support
In today’s society, most of us are moving at an increasingly rapid pace, causing a surge in stress levels. Stress can trigger disease and the role the adrenal glands play in this process. More and more trained anti-aging doctors are beginning to understand and diagnose this complex syndrome correctly, but the term still most widely used is adrenal fatigue.
DYSFUNCTION OF THE HPA AXIS
The stress response system is far more complicated than we realise. It’s made up of three structures in the body, mainly the hypothalamus in the brain, the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands, known as the “HPA axis”, which kick into high gear when we’re stressed. In response to stress, the adrenal glands, situated on top of each kidney, produce adrenalin and cortisol, as well as over 50 different hormones essential in orchestrating the “fight or flight” response. Our bodies then respond by stepping up our heart rate, releasing energy stores for immediate use, slowing digestion and sharpening our senses.
We cannot live without cortisol, often identified as the primary stress hormone, as it regulates blood sugar, blood pressure, the actions of other hormones and the immune system. When the hypothalamus detects changes in cortisol levels, it signals the pituitary gland to secrete the adrenal corticotrophic hormone (ACTH). When ACTH binds to the walls of the adrenal cells, a chain reaction occurs causing more cortisol to be released into the blood. It then travels to all parts of the body and back to the hypothalamus. There, it’s measured again and so the cycle goes round.
Too much stress over a long period can result in the over-production of cortisol which continues to pump, virtually without pause. We can function like this, at least for a while, but eventually chronic stress exposure leads to a gradual decline in normal bodily functions. Excessive cortisol output may actually blunt response. In other words, instead of shutting down cortisol production when the levels are high, the brain interprets impending danger and triggers more cortisol to be produced. Two other hormones, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) and pregnenolone, keep cortisol in check. However, over time and with too much stress, the levels of DHEA and pregnenolone drop, opening the floodgates to unregulated cortisol production. This then leads to problems with all of the body’s other hormones.
Although the human body is amazing in how it responds to chronic stress, it eventually reaches breaking point and succumbs. At this point signs and symptoms of cellular dysfunction and disease begin to develop. Sufferers then become susceptible to everything from major depression to diabetes to heart disease.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ADRENAL FATIGUE AND CHRONIC FATIGUE
I’ve reviewed thousands of medical articles and the concept of adrenal fatigue isn’t supported by any scientific literature. Although cortisol is a key hormone, it’s not the only hormone affected by the dysfunction of the HPA axis. Indeed, a low cortisol level is more accurately termed hypocortisolism, not adrenal fatigue. In fact, failure of the adrenal gland to produce cortisol after being subjected to chronic stress hasn’t been proven. Rather, numerous other mechanisms cause low cortisol levels. The majority of the scientific literature identifies faulty regulation at the levels of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which prevent the adrenal gland from receiving the message to produce cortisol normally.
Chronic fatigue also has many causes, one of which can be hypocortisolism. Since cortisol provides energy, low levels of it can cause a person to be chronically fatigued. The picture becomes even more complex when we realise there are numerous reasons for this, whether nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, heavy metal toxicities, infections and so on. Despite today’s brilliant technology, we still don’t have the capacity to adequately understand and diagnose all things.
WHAT ARE THE KEY POINTS THAT PEOPLE SHOULD BE AWARE OF BEFORE TACKLING THIS PROBLEM
The major point is that low cortisol levels always have an underlying cause:
• Diet, sleep patterns, age, seasons, genetics and numerous other factors affect the body’s HPA axis and its subsequent response to chronic stress
• Both internal (chronic diseases, medications, nutrition, etc.) and external factors (sleep, pollution, sedentary lifestyle, etc.) influence the functionality of the HPA axis and, hence, cortisol production
• Supplements aren’t the only answer to this problem. An underlying cause must always be sought.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Patients are driving the process of discovery because are “tired of being tired” and frustrated with traditional medicine’s lack of answers. Researchers are continuing to discover ways in which low and high cortisol levels adversely affect patients. In fact, specifically within the field of psychiatry, certain medicines capable of lowering cortisol are currently being investigated to treat major depression, a condition believed to be caused by abnormally high cortisol levels rather than low serotonin levels. However, bringing the concepts “from the bench to the bedside” is of paramount importance if patients are to benefit.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE THEY MAY HAVE “ADRENAL FATIGUE”
Ironically, everyone would benefit by no longer using the term and believing that fatigue stems only from low cortisol. There’s always a “why” behind the “what”. There’s never a “one-size-fits-all” solution. The causes, consequences and approaches are as individual as the patient. Patients also need to take a proactive role in looking after their health. Understanding themselves and the influence their lifestyle and environments have on their body and their stress response system is of profound importance. They need to understand a multidimensional approach involves testing and treatment, as well as lifestyle changes.
Recovery is possible but is a process akin to running a marathon. It needs to be taken one step at a time. Frustration and disappointments may occur but should never hinder the process. The recovery process may be a rollercoaster ride with advances and setbacks. Patience, persistence, and understanding are the keys.
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