Stress Health: Are your adrenals affecting your quality of life?

July 20,  2023

By: Winslow E. Dixon, Clinical Herbalist & Frequency Medicine Practitioner
Editor: Deb Martin, Holistic Health Educator

Stress Health: Are your adrenals affecting your quality of life?

At Lotus Blossom Clinic, we offer many alternative modalities such as acupuncture, chromotherapy, bioresonance, frequency medicine, massage, tuning fork therapy and also offer programs in cognitive enhancement and reversing bone loss. We are passionate about providing our community with symptom relief to create better mind, body and spirit balance. One of the easiest ways to improve health, however is to reduce stress.

Stress is one of the number one causes of mental and physical health symptoms and yet most people have never had the system that controls our body’s stress response evaluated.

Your adrenal glands are the most vital part of your body’s ability to handle physical, emotional and environmental stress. Have you ever considered how these organs may be impacting your health?

What are the Adrenal Glands?

The adrenal glands are walnut shaped organs located on top of each kidney which produce cortisol, catecholamines, DHEA and androgenic steroids.

These tiny organs manage the body’s stress response and circadian rhythm, which is the process that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Circadian rhythm refers to the biological processes that are 24-hour cycles in the body which modulate temperature, hormones, sleep, wakefulness, metabolism, cognitive performance, and countless other physiological functions.

The adrenal glands produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and other essential functions.

Gradient of Adrenal Health

Western medicine tends to have a cognitive dissonance in believing there is no gradient in adrenal function. The standard belief in modern endocrinology is that the adrenals either work perfectly or they do not work at all. The only “gradient” of function acknowledged is in the extreme cases of Cushing’s disease[1], which is too much cortisol, or adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease,[2]) which is little to no production of cortisol.

In holistic and alternative medicine, the term “adrenal fatigue[3]” has become a popular diagnosis for folks in the gradient of adrenal function. Adrenal Fatigue is considered an inappropriate term that is not recognized by western endocrine medicine. People who are told by holistic or functional medicine practitioner that they have adrenal fatigue are often told by western medical doctors that the diagnosis is not real.

Adrenal fatigue is typically diagnosed by alternative/holistic practitioners via urine, bloodspot and saliva cortisol testing. When a person’s results show cortisol is being produced at inappropriate levels at inappropriate times, that indicates an adrenal issue. Unlike in extreme cases of adrenal insufficiency, in these cases, cortisol is being produced, however it is being produced (or not being produced) at levels that impair normal body functions.

In these cases, the correct diagnosis for the condition of “adrenal fatigue” is Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction. HPA axis dysfunction [4]is a diagnosed, researched condition that is recognized both in western endocrine medicine and also in holistic/alternative health.

Circadian Rhythm

The body’s cortisol needs can change from day to day. Your adrenals constantly produce cortisol according to the stressors in your life, whether they be physical, emotional or environmental. Cortisol levels will rise in accordance to stressors such as: extremely hot/cold temperatures, exercise, pain, or emotional situations.

Cortisol plays a major role in the regulation of a functional circadian rhythm, which is essentially your “body clock.” This rhythm allows you to wake up, fall asleep, have energy, digest food and excrete waste in a timely accordance to a schedule that keeps your body going at an optimal pace. It is the cadence by which your body can regulate physical, mental, and behavioral patterns that follow a 24-hour cycle. The body naturally produces cortisol at different intervals throughout the day, the highest being in the morning to generate the natural waking response and the lowest in the evening to induce sleep. When your body does not have the right amount of cortisol at the right times, it can deeply impact your health and cause a myriad of mental and physical symptoms. Evaluating a person’s stress hormone levels can be a vital step in reclaiming quality of life.

Evaluating Stress Hormones

The standard testing protocol in western medicine for cortisol is an 8:00am blood serum cortisol lab. This test evaluates the total serum cortisol levels in a person’s body. While it is useful to easily indicate extreme cases of Cushing’s and Addison’s, it is very limited when trying to evaluate HPA axis dysfunction (adrenal fatigue).

The reason for this is because cortisol is a reactive, fluctuating hormone that is directly impacted by stress. It can change from moment to moment depending on physical or emotional stressors. Getting one blood result will only show a “snapshot” of your adrenal function in that exact moment. If you have adrenal insufficiency and do not make enough cortisol, that will be easily diagnosed by just one test result which shows a low level. However, if your adrenals work but produce erratic cortisol levels, you will need more than just one lab result to show your true adrenal function.

This is why our holistic practitioner, Winslow Dixon, will also perform urine and saliva cortisol testing. Urine and saliva cortisol tests are used to evaluate free cortisol levels. Morning saliva cortisol panels are done to measure the diurnal cortisol curve. Blood spot cortisol testing is used to evaluate total and bound cortisol.

It is also vital to get an accurate picture of lab results completed during a baseline setting. Results are the most accurate when someone takes the tests during their normal routine so practitioners can evaluate how their adrenals handle their average day to day stressors. At-home adrenal stress testing is a preferred method because it involves multiple testing times throughout a 24-hour period to get a full evaluation of a person’s adrenal hormone production.

(Video below explains how holistic adrenal testing works.)

 

Lifestyle 

Another key practice in the management of adrenal health is lifestyle. In addition to the lab tests, holistic practitioners also perform a detailed lifestyle assessment. It is important to understand not only HOW the adrenals are reacting but also figuring out WHAT they are reacting to and WHEN. This is an all too often missing piece in modern endocrine care. Comparing the lab results to the lifestyle assessment allows the practitioner to have a deeper insight into why a person may be struggling with quality of life, energy levels, anxiety, depression, weight management, or fatigue.

In today’s modern world, we are stressed more than we ever have been before in the history of humanity. Our bodies are bombarded with environmental stressors such as EMF radiation and chemicals such as PFAs and parabens. Our minds are inundated with constant messages from the media across TV screens, computers and our phones. Our hearts are burdened with the state of our fellow man as the world faces wars, wildfires and new viruses. It is no wonder that our adrenals are struggling to keep up with all we demand of them.  But there is hope! Our bodies were designed to react to the environment we determine. Your adrenals react to the reality they THINK they are in, not the reality you may actually be in. Learning how to control your stress response is arguably the most vital “secret” to improving your health. Cortisol is a reactive hormone, which means it responds to stimulus. The tricky thing about cortisol is, its production is controlled by your stress response but your stress response is also cortisol production. The goal of adrenal health is to promote the production of the right amount of steroid hormones to induce healthy cortisol activities such as a proper sleep/wake cycle. You want to avoid putting your body into a fight or flight state, which will immediately cause an heightened adrenal response.

Adrenal healing requires an extremely different approach than most health protocols. The harder you push your body to heal, the more stress you will put it through, therefore inhibiting your healing. Most people who suffer with adrenal dysfunction are very driven, “Type A” personalities who are very accomplished and push themselves.  Cortisol is a very powerful hormone that can make you think you are stronger than you are. It can mask exhaustion, pain and even grief. Studies have shown that people who have been through trauma and suffer from PTSD statistically have higher cortisol levels. One study[5] showed 60% of the participants diagnosed with PTSD had higher-than-normal baseline cortisol levels. When another stressor was introduced, their cortisol was produced at a rate 122% higher than the average person.

When the adrenals are constantly pushed to produce cortisol, it can create major imbalances in the body. If they stay chronically depleted, there is a risk of developing adrenal insufficiency, which is a condition where the adrenals can no longer produce enough cortisol to sustain life.

Herbal Support

A noteworthy tool in the fight for adrenal health is the therapeutic use of herbal medicine. Many herbs can be beneficial in the management of adrenal regulation. It is important to note however that no natural remedies can replace cortisol in the cases of adrenal insufficiency, which requires steroid medication to sustain life.

However, there are herbal remedies such as adaptogens that help manage the body’s stress response in cases of HPA axis dysfunction (adrenal fatigue).

The most predominantly used herbal protocol for regulating the adrenals is the use of adaptogens. Adaptogens are specific ingredients in certain plants and mushrooms that support the body’s stress response and help promote appropriate hormone homeostasis. One of the main benefits of using adaptogens is that they are natural and safe when taken in appropriate doses prescribed by a clinical herbalist. These herbal remedies gently support your body’s ability to produce an appropriate stress response.

One of the most commonly prescribed adaptogens is Ashwaganda which is a plant native to Africa, the Middle East and India. A recent study on Ashwagandha published by the Botanical Dietary Supplements Research Center, Oregon Health and Science University produced the following results:

“[Ashwaganda] root and leaf extracts exhibited noteworthy anti-stress and anti-anxiety activity in animal and human studies. [Ashwaganda] also improved symptoms of depression and insomnia….. [Ashwaganda] may alleviate these conditions predominantly through modulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and sympathetic-adrenal-medullary axes.”

Herbal remedies can be greatly beneficial in managing adrenal health, but they must be taken carefully under the direction of a clinical herbalist or holistic health practitioner with supervision by a licensed medical doctor or nurse practitioner. It is vital to review all medications you are on to ensure none of them will interact with an herbal protocol. We highly recommend first consulting with both a clinical herbalist and a licensed medical doctor before you start any herbal or western medicine protocol. You can find more information on Ashwaganda here: https://www.supplementsavant.com/what-is-ashwagandha/.

Cortisol Care

Cortisol care is a fight you must take in stride with patience. In order to heal, you do not need to push harder. You just need to listen to your body and give it what it needs.

Adrenal dysfunction patients are typically great at pushing through pain, exhaustion, and grief. These people are able to get things done, are accomplished and never say never, but they can be terrible at providing their bodies with basic necessities such as: Getting adequate sleep at night, staying hydrated, nourishing their body by eating when they are hungry, resting when they are tired, saying “no” to situations, tasks or favors for others and even breathing properly. These little things truly make the difference in quality of life. Your adrenals will react to the information provided to them; you just need to give them good information!

Stress Health Seminar

Ready to learn more about this topic?  We invite you to attend the free community event…

Stress Health Seminar
Sunday, September 3, 2023 at 6:00pm
Please RSVP by September 2, 2023, by texting or calling 941-841-9903 or sending an email to hopehealinghappy@gmail.com

The event will provide education on how to recognize and manage adrenal stressors and teach techniques to support your body’s ability to produce healthy stress hormone response. The seminar will be taught by Winslow E. Dixon, founder of the American Adrenal Association (Adrenal Alternatives Foundation) and the author of the best-selling book, Adrenal Insufficiency 101. Winslow has worked in cortisol care for the last decade helping people internationally with various types of cortisol deficiency and adrenal diseases. She also volunteered in the Rare Disease Congressional Caucus in the United States Congress to advocate for legislation that legalized the revolutionary treatment of the cortisol pump in America.

If you are in need of adrenal health management, you can also schedule a remote or in-person adrenal health assessment at Lotus Blossom Clinic!

You can also watch the video below where Winslow explains adrenal disease, adrenal fatigue and HPA axis dysfunction.

We hope this article helped educate you on the importance of adrenal health, and we appreciate the opportunity to serve the SWFL community.

In Service of Better Adrenal Health,

Dr. David Martin, Deb Martin and Winslow Dixon

 

Sources:

[1] Cushing Syndrome- Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5497-cushing-syndrome

[2] Addison’s Disease- Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/addisons-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350293#:~:text=Overview,little%20of%20another%20hormone%2C%20aldosterone.

[3] Dr. James L. Wilson- Adrenal Fatigue https://adrenalfatigue.org/

[4] A new model for the HPA axis explains dysregulation of stress hormones on the timescale of weeks https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7364861/

[5] What is the Impact of Prolonged Trauma and Stress on The Body? https://www.nice.healthcare/the-nicessities/impact-of-trauma-and-stress#:~:text=Elevated%20cortisol%20also%20affects%20the,when%20another%20stressor%20was%20introduced.