Chronic Stress and Its Effects on Adrenal Glands

Chronic stress has become an epidemic and is the most common complaint reported by primary care physicians. The stress response is a complex system that involves the brain, nervous system, and the adrenal glands, called the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis. When the brain perceives a stress, it signals the adrenals to make cortisol and the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline). Optimal cortisol levels are highest in the morning to help us wake up start the day and lowest in the evening to promote sleep. Long term stress leads to chronic activation of the HPA axis, which disrupts the cortisol rhythm as well as DHEA, melatonin, and epinephrine.

Nearly every organ including the gut, brain, thyroid, male and female reproductive system can be impacted, leading to a multitude of symptoms that can be quite devastating.

Symptoms of Chronic Stress

People often feel wired, but tired, experience palpitations, anxiety, difficulties sleeping, dizziness with standing, low blood pressure, body aches, muscle pain, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, low libido, thyroid imbalances, poor exercise tolerance and recovery, brain fog, and cravings for salt and sugar.

Damage Caused by Chronic Stress

Cortisol increases blood sugar and over time can lead to insulin resistance or prediabetes. The immune system becomes suppressed, allowing for chronic inflammation and increased susceptibility to viral infections.

Causes of Chronic Stress

Chronic stress can be due to a multitude of things, including lack of sleep, a diet high in processed and junk foods, stimulants like caffeine and sugar, a rigorous work schedule, emotional trauma from unhealthy relationships or death of a loved one, over training, and lack of fun and excitement.

Recommendations

Urine testing provides a convenient, yet comprehensive assessment of adrenal hormones and their metabolites. Additional testing considerations include blood sugar, thyroid, sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone), inflammatory markers, and nutritional status. Treatment strategies include decreasing inflammatory foods, eating regular meals, promoting relaxation with yoga, hot baths, massage, and / or deep breathing, exercising, walking, and getting daily fresh air and natural light exposure. Adaptogenic herbs such Ginseng, Rhodiola, and Cordyceps; nutrients such as Vitamin C, zinc, B5, magnesium, and omega-3 fats; as well as Ashwaganda, Magnolia, Theanine, and phosphatidyl serine to promote restful sleep are also helpful.

Conditions

  • Adrenal Dysfunction
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic Stress

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