Adrenal Insufficiency 101: The Negative Effects of Chronic Stress

Posted on 1/31/2014 by Dr. Adrian den Boer
Categories: adrenals, stress

As one of the most aggravated organs of our 21
st century, we cannot talk about the adrenal glands without talking about stress.  Located on top of the kidneys, these tiny organs make and secrete steroid hormones that are essential for body functions and enable the body to maintain homeostasis during stress. Because most of us are so overburdened with environmental, physical, emotional, and relational stress, I’m seeing an abundance of overburdened adrenal glands in patients. In fact, if you’re suffering from insomnia, deep fatigue, low sex drive, weight gain in the gut, hormone dysregulation, heart disease, and any systemic inflammation, adrenal stress is undoubtedly part of the picture.
When stress occurs - whether physical, environmental, emotional, or mental – the adrenals respond by releasing a cascade of hormones to deal with the stress. This response is beneficial for survival, and includes the release of many hormones, like:

1) Glucocorticoids: A group of corticosteroids that are involved in the metabolism of carbs, proteins, and fats, and play an  anti-inflammatory role in acute situations. This includes cortisol, the “stress” hormone, which plays an important role in sugar regulation.

2) Catecholamines: Chemicals that help control nerve activity and alert the body in response to danger, like noradrenaline and adrenaline.

3) Androgens: Hormones that are converted to the major sex hormones testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen. 
When chronic, low level stress is present, these “fight or flight” hormones are secreted constantly, rather than in an acute “fight or flight” situation once in a while. Unfortunately, this takes a toll on the body in the form of systemic inflammation, hormonal imbalances, sugar and energy dysregulation, high blood pressure, and other disease states.
For example, high levels of cortisol contribute to inflammation wherever you’re weakest the most. It also is affects the hormone insulin, which can lead to blood sugar fluctuations and insulin resistance, which is tied to many issues like diabetes and obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and infertility.
A chronic state of stress also affects the normal course of androgenic hormones, often causing classic symptoms of low testosterone, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and other hormone difficulties.
Treating Adrenal Dysregulation
To successfully treat this pandemic problem, it is vital to control your exposure and response to stress (Lloyd, Smith, & Weinger, 2005). We always hear people preaching about stress management, but honestly, can we totally escape 21st century stress?
Using common sense is key. If there’s an area of life with excessive stress, do something about it. It may be coming from a toxic relationship, from the environment, from your job, children, etc. Removing or minimizing the source of your lifestyle stress is a huge step in the right direction.
Adapting your response to stress is also highly beneficial, from stopping negative thoughts, to creating islands of peace throughout the day, to plugging into your spiritual health to guide you through it. Going for a walk, meditative prayer, drinking a cup of tea, and practicing deep breathing are all powerful ways to adapt to stress as well.
At DBC, we go after what is stressing the adrenals first, apply lifestyle changes, and recommend nutraceuticals to enhance recovery. It can take a minimum of 9 – 12 months to fully recover from adrenal exhaustion, and often, the adrenals are so exhausted that they aren’t able to rejuvenate on their own. Depending on the patient’s biochemistry, I often recommend one of the following from Nature’s Remedies:
- Serenagen: For tired but wired adrenals
- Adrenogen: Helps severely exhausted adrenals
- Adreset: Aids in long-term rebuilding of the adrenals; helps enhance athletic performance
- AdreneVive – Helps treat the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid-adrenal axis (HPTA axis)
Folks, stress is inevitable. However, downstream damage from stress is not!
Lloyd, C., Smith, J., Weinger, K. (2005). Stress and Diabetes: A Review of the Links. American Diabetes Association. Vol. 18, No. 2, 121 – 127.
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