Just about a year ago I was in the middle of my NTP program. I had just finished midterms and a long intense weekend of learning with my classmates. I wasn’t sleeping well. When I am stressed, usually the first thing affected is my sleep. I was getting maybe 4 hours a night for 3 or 4 days. It took a toll on me. Still does anytime I don’t get good sleep or sleep long enough. After our classroom weekend was over I slept well but was in need of some major recovery. A classmate stayed at my house the night after our last class was over and then I drove her to the airport the next day. When I got home from that I slept. I laid on my couch for a week as much as I could and I faded in and out of sleep for a couple of days. I watched all the available episodes of Long Island Medium on Netflix and laid on the couch. I went to my local food co op for lunch and went home and slept. I remember thinking how serious this was. I got a little nervous about the whole situation but I knew what I had to do and that was let my body heal. Thankfully I had the ability to do that. I asked friends to help me out by keeping my kids busy so I could take care of myself. I have never felt exhaustion like that before in my life. Even when my thyroid was tanked. The thyroid kind of tired was different. I felt slower or slowed down. This was exhaustion. Where you sleep for 8 hours or more and then get up and lay on the couch and fall asleep again.
So what are adrenal glands anyway?
They are little walnut sized glands that sit on top of your kidneys and they play a major role in the functioning of your body. Your adrenal glands produce a bunch of hormones too like your sex hormones and cortisol and DHEA. Cortisol is activated for many reasons but it plays a significant role in autoimmune diseases. Cortisol as a steroid is one of the big guns in the inflammatory and immune processes in the body. It protects us in some ways but can also cause harm in the body when there is too much or too little of it.
A lot of years ago, corticosteroid drugs were the main treatment in autoimmune disease because they were so effective. Treatment was left at that. No natural management of cortisol was ever considered in conventional medicine.
Cortisol is the original anti inflammatory steroid hormone made in the body. We make it and use it everyday. It helps regulate immune function in the body.
Cortisol is released to help get rid of inflammation in the body and to deal with the overall inflammatory process.
A healthy balance of cortisol helps to keep an overactive immune system in check. It also stimulates the under active immune system most especially when you are fighting off an infection. That infection can be an obvious one you are dealing with or a hidden infection inside the body that you don’t necessarily feel the immediate effects of but can be causing problems internally.
There are three major sources of stress we are dealing with that will cause your cortisol levels to rise.
- Emotional stress: a divorce, a death or loss (especially if you don’t deal with it), or something like financial stress or problems. You get the idea. Stuff going on in your life.
- Dietary stressors: Gluten being the major culprit for many people. If you are dealing with autoimmune problems, get the gluten out of your diet. It is imperative. Gluten is a potential hidden source of inflammation so it is really important to get it out of the diet. On that one you have to be diligent. You can’t just kind of take it out of your diet. You also need to get a handle on your blood sugar and maintain steady blood sugar. This probably means cutting out refined carbohydrates and sugar in general to give your adrenals time to heal.
- Inflammatory stress/pain: Things like toxic overload, chemicals in your diet, pollution, infections, physical pain or hidden inflammatory conditions like leaky gut or liver damage. Food allergies or sensitivities, pathogens or heavy metals are inflammatory as wellI
All three of these issues drive cortisol and the more of them you have the more damage you will do to your adrenal glands.
Often the root cause of adrenal problems is inflammation and you have to be a detective with your practitioner to figure out what is causing the inflammation or what you can do to reduce it.
When it comes to autoimmune disease and the adrenals an immune antibody in the mucosal lining of the gut called Secretory Immunoglobulin A (SIgA) plays a pretty big role. Those antibodies are regulated by cortisol. The more stress you are under (from any of the three listed above) the weaker that lining in the gut will be and the immune response will be weakened. So this is why sometimes when you get stressed you can get a cold. If the stress is chronic it can lead to autoimmune disease. Basically the SIgA become weakened and contribute to leaky gut or intestinal permeability.
There are three important aspects to keeping autoimmunity in check.
- Hormones: cortisol, thyroid, the sex hormones are all affected by autoimmune disease. Also, the hormones that regulate your blood sugar are important to take care of. If you can work with a qualified practitioner that can test your hormones for you that is great. If not, I will have some general things you can do listed below.
- Your Gastrointestinal Tract: go on an anti-inflammatory diet, test for and take care of pathogens. Take probiotics and eat fermented foods. Heal the gut.
- Detoxification: get rid of the chemicals you put in your hair and on your skin, use safer cleaning products in your home, look at heavy metals and supporting your liver.
All of these things will help to get your Secretory IgA levels up so you can clear out any infections that may be causing a problem.
The major players in Adrenal health for everyone are:
- Healing the gut
- Changing the diet
- Reducing stress
- Having a loving, supportive environment/relationship
How do you know if you have adrenal fatigue?
- You have stored fat. When cortisol is out of balance your body will store fat especially in and around the area of your abdomen.
- You have fatigue. You are just plain tired (which can lead to thyroid problems).
- You have general depression/anxiety. The kind where you are just physically exhausted and don’t feel like going out and doing anything.
- Your hormones are a mess. Infertility, hot flashes, night sweats or mood swings.
- Digestion is not working well.
A side note about the thyroid and adrenal problems. They go hand in hand. Inflammation affects thyroid hormones and adrenal hormones at the same time. During any kind of stress, when cortisol goes up the ability of your body to convert T4 to active T3 is immediately affected. When you have adrenal fatigue the level of active thyroid hormone in your body decreases. When cortisol levels go up, thyroid function goes down. When autoimmune thyroid is the case, you have to think about the gut as well. If the gut isn’t healed, then the rest doesn’t matter as much.
If you think you have thyroid problems but have not been tested or you have been tested (usually TSH only) but your doctor tells you everything is within the normal lab ranges, then maybe take a look at your adrenal glands and how well they are doing. The Nutritional Assessment Questionnaire I run on my clients gives a pretty good indication as to where you are with adrenal fatigue and is a great place to start, especially if you don’t want to do a cortisol saliva test or can’t find a practitioner or doctor to do one on you.
What can you do on your own to combat Adrenal Fatigue?
- Deal with the emotional stress in your life. Do one thing to improve your emotional well being. Are you not fully dealing with a loss in your life? Are you in a bad relationship or no relationship at all? This is a big deal and plays a huge role in your adrenal health but also in your overall well being.
- Make some dietary changes as talked about above. Eliminate gluten (at least for a while if you are not autoimmune). If you really want to make an impact on the situation you can go grain free and eliminate soy. Manage your blood sugar. Cut out the refined carbohydrates and sugar so your body has less stress.
- Deal with the inflammation in your body. Support your liver with things like turmeric or silymarin. Take a high quality fish oil and probiotic. Digestive enzymes can be helpful too.
General supplements you can take that are helpful for the adrenal glands are:
- Pantothenic acid
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B6
If you don’t think you can or don’t want to do it on your own, fill out the contact form here and we can work on it together.