Normal Adrenal Physiology
The adrenal glands are 2 triangular glands attached to the tops of the kidneys. The adrenalgland is made up of the outer adrenal cortex which produces the steroid hormones cortisol,aldosterone, progesterone and DHEA; and an inner adrenal medulla which produces catecholamines, and the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine.
A small amount of sex hormones are sectreted by the adrenal cortex, but they do not havea major effect on reproduction. They are, however, an important reserve for menopausalwomen. The health of the adrenals and their ability to secrete reproductive hormonescan have a major impact on how severe menopause symptoms are for many women.
If the adrenals are exhausted, then the common symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats,moodiness, etc. can be considerably worse. These glands are responsible for making sexhormones when the ovaries no longer respond to the hormone FSH during menopause.
The Adrenals Affect Sodium and Potassium Balance
The adrenal glands also effect sodium and potassium balance by secreting mineralcorticoids. The principal mineralcorticoid is aldosterone, a hormone that increasessodium reabsorption and potassium excretion. These hormones act on the kidney toinfluence these processess.
The Adrenals Produce Stress Hormones
The stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine are produced in the adrenal medulla.Epenephrine is released when a threatening situation is perceived. It increases heartrate, the rate of breathing, constricts blood vessels, and relaxes bronchioles. It alsostimulates the release of free fatty acids from fat and the release of sugars fromglycogen.Norepinephrine has the same effects as epinephrine, only it is weaker.
The Adrenals Influence How the Body Uses Carbohydrates, Fat and Protein Glucocorticoids
Released by the adrenals influence carbohydrate, fat and proteinmetabolism in the body. Cortisol is the primary glucocorticiod and it is secreted bythe adrenal cortex.It increases blood sugar levels by increasing blood sugar productionin the liver, it also has an anti-insulin effect and increases sugars in the blood byimpairing tissues abilities to absorb and utilize sugars.
Cortisol Works Like a Clock
Cortisol is secreted in a specific pattern during a 24 hour period. Salivary tests thatmeasure cortisol levels are done in the morning, noon, afternoon, and bedtime becauseyou need to check your levels to see how they correspond to a normal pattern.
Anythingthat deviates from this pattern indicates adrenal stress syndrome.A normal circadian (biological cycle) rhythmn of cortisol is high levels in the morningthat gradually diminish until it reaches its lowest levels at around midnight.
The reasonthis occurs is because sleep is a fasting state for the body, it does not have availableglucose from food to help with repairs and to supply cells. The adrenals releasecortisol to meet the blood sugar demands.
Once a person wakes and eats, there is less of a demand on glucose and cortisol levelsgo down. This is why breakfast is such a critically important meal and also why a breakfastof simple sugars is bad for you. You satisfy the need for sugar, but then you crash and itthrows everything out of whack.
Abnormal cortisol patterns can cause people to have sleep disorders like an inability tostay or fall asleep, non-restful sleep, symptoms of fatigue in the morning, etc. Peoplewho have adrenals that are working too hard often have cortisol spikes in the late evening, while those with adrenal exhaustion will have depressed cortisol in the morningand they have no energy to get out of bed.
The Adrenals Adapt to Stress
The adrenal glands adapt to stress by going through 3 stages: an alarm reaction, theresistance stage and the exhaustion stage. These are progressive and often get worse overtime if nothing is done to change the stressors in your life.
The alarm reaction is the body’s initial reaction to stress. Cortisol levels increase,epinephrine and norepinephrine levels increase. This is the normal fight or flight reaction.
The resistance stage occurs if stress is proplonged over a period of time. The adrenalsgo through a “pregnenolone steal” phase. In this phase pregnonolone, a precursor ofcortisol, is stolen from other places to keep supplying the body with cortisol. One place that pregnonolone is also used is in DHEA, from which it is converted into sex hormones. So the body will make cortisol instead of estrogen or testosterone.
Somepeople live their entire lives in this stage.
The final stage of adaptation to stress is called the exhaustion stage. This stage representsthe stage where the adrenals are no longer able to adapt to stress and are, you guessed it,exhausted. Obviously, this is the most serious stage and one that can result in serioushealth complications.
Symptoms of Adrenal Stress Syndrome
* Headaches with physical or emotional stress
* Weak Immune system
* Slow starter in the morning
* Gastric Ulcer
* Afternoon headache
* Fullness or bloated feeling
* Crave sweets, caffeine, cigarettes
* Blurred vision, unstable behavior
* Get shaky or lightheaded
* Irritable before meals
* Eating relieves fatigue
* Cannot stay asleep
* Cannot fall asleep
Here is a simple test you can do at home to test your adrenal function:
You will need:
*7 pieces of pH strip paper
*A mouth full of saliva
1. Fill your mouth with saliva, make a pool of it on your tongue.
2. Put the pH paper in the pool, read the pH, record the number.
3. Drink a small amount of lemon juice.
4. Repeat #1 and #2
5. Every 1 minute retest your saliva pH by repeating #1 and #2
6. Make a graph of your findings. The graph should look like this:
If your graph does not look like this graph then you may have adrenal stress syndrome.
At Green Health Acupuncture we offer numerous therapies and supplements to treat fatigued or exhausted adrenals. In addition, we offer a much more in depth cortisol test where we have have you gathersaliva throughout the day to test your cortisol levels.
Coming soon: Click here to learn more about saliva testing for cortisol levels.
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