Treating Adrenal Distress: How to Take Action

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Treating Adrenal Distress: How to Take Action

Dr. Doni Wilson Adrenal

Adrenal distress can be the underlying cause of a whole host of health issues. Dr. Doni explains how to start the healing process once you’ve been tested for it.

In my last post, Uncovering Adrenal Distress: How to Test for It, we discussed the simple tests that we can do to assess your cortisol and adrenaline levels—and how to tell whether or not adrenal distress has affected your four core systems. Today, I’d like to cover how to read the results of your testing, and what you can do about it if you find you have adrenal distress.

Adrenal Distress Tests: What They Can Tell Us

As I said in my last article, by looking at both your cortisol and adrenaline levels we can get a much clearer sense of your adrenal function and determine a much more specific approach to correcting those levels. We test cortisol four times over the course of one day in order to get a full picture of how your levels change throughout the day. This gives us a good indication of whether or not you have adrenal distress. We also test your adrenaline levels as that gives us another part of the information we need to be effective. When we have both the cortisol and adrenaline levels, we have a more complete picture about how your adrenal function has been affected and how to help you recover.

In my research I found over 27 different possible combinations of salivary cortisol and adrenaline (separated into norephinephrine and epinephrine) levels, each with differing treatments. For example, one person may have cortisol levels that are elevated only at bedtime, and norephinephrine levels that are elevated but epinephrine that is low. Meanwhile another person may have two cortisol levels that are low, one that is high, and norephinephrine that is high, but epinephrine that is normal. Each of the possible scenarios would require a different treatment approach.

What this means is:

  1. The treatment for adrenal distress is incredibly individualized;
  2. To determine the best approach for you, we need to measure your levels of cortisol and adrenaline and, as discussed in the previous article, ideally DHEA and neurotransmitters as well.

Possible Treatments

If cortisol levels are elevated at any time of day, we need to start by lowering those levels. That could involve nutrients and herbs* that have been shown to decrease cortisol levels—such as magnoliabanana leaf and phosphatidylserine. It would also involve looking at your daily schedule and identifying ways to lower your exposure to stress. Cortisol is also triggered by leaky gut and carbohydrate metabolism issues, so we would need to consider them as well.

If adrenaline (either norepinephrine or epinephrine) is elevated, then we need to help decrease those levels, again with nutrients and herbs (magnesium and high dose rhodiola, for example) and by introducing stress reduction into your day.

On the other hand, if your cortisol is low at any point in the day, we would look to nutrients and herbs that help the adrenal function to recover. First, however, we would need to make sure your body is ready for increased cortisol levels. We may need to calm your nervous system and resolve mitochondrial dysfunction (I won’t go into what this is here but will address it in a future article) before we can begin raising cortisol to optimal levels.

Are you getting the sense that this is a careful and intricate process? Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to resolve adrenal distress, and in fact, I consider it imperative to your wellness that you do. Still, it is not a path that I recommend venturing down on your own. For the best chances of success, I recommend you:

  • Work with a practitioner who can help you.
  • Have your levels tested so you know the appropriate nutrients and herbs for your case.
  • Keep in mind that many practitioners only test salivary cortisol (without adrenaline), which is a start but doesn’t give the full picture.
  • Consider your whole health and address the cause of the adrenal distress in order to achieve lasting change.

How to Take Action

We talked a little bit about this last week, but here are your next steps:

  1. If you are ready to get this information for yourself, you can set a time to meet with me so that we can review your case and arrange for a cortisol and adrenaline panel to check your adrenal function. We’ll also want to look at your DHEA and neurotransmitter levels to help guide us. Click here to see the appointment options.
  2. If you are interested, but would like to learn more first, I recommend you read my book, The Stress Remedy, which will guide you step-by-step through understanding how stress may be affecting your health, and about the science behind this approach (the book has close to 200 scientific references).
  3. If you’ve had some of these tests done already and have tried various treatments, but you’re still not feeling your best, then we need to sit down, review your exposure to stress, how it is showing itself in your body, and consider what may be continually disrupting your cortisol and adrenaline levels. Is it delayed food sensitivities (such as gluten) and leaky gut? Is it a stressful schedule and disrupted sleep? Imbalanced neurotransmitter levels? Click here to see the appointment options.
  4. To get an initial start on helping to restore the function of your adrenal glands, be sure to refer to my prior posts: What is adrenal burnout? and 10 Easy Ways to Restore Adrenal Health.

I’m so happy for you to learn more about what is at the root of your health issues. Often patients have a sense that their symptoms are all connected, and yet standard tests are not intended to show us those interconnections. While standard tests are important, in the case of unresolving health issues, and simply not feeling well, it’s important to step out of the box and use tests that can give us the information we need to help your body heal.

Next week, I’ll go into more depth about leaky gut (read the article here) and how to know if it is affecting your health. Please subscribe to this blog to get this and future articles sent directly to your inbox. You can also sign up to receive my weekly ‘Wellness Wisdom’ newsletter, and when you do, you will also receive a free ebook A Guide to Adrenal Recovery.

If you have any questions about the information I have covered in this post, please feel free to send me a note below in the comments section.

–Dr. Doni
7th August 2014

*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.

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  1. Dr. Doni, Thank you for your excellent article! Perfectly timed as I have just received my results from my 24 hr. salivary cortisol levels. They measured low: 0.45, 0.31, 0.14, and <0.03. My doctor has suggested phosphatidylserine as a course of treatment. However, after reading your info above, I am confussed… I am understanding you to say that phosphatidylserine is used to help lower cortisol levels?? What am I missing? What would the benefit be of taking phosphatidylserine if my cortisol is already too low?
    Thank you for any insight you might offer, With Much Gratitude!

    • Hi Michele, It does sound like there may be other supplements you may want to consider to support your adrenal health – you might ask your doctor about rhodiola, glycyrrhiza, and nutrients to support adrenal function. There may be reasons your doctor is starting with phosphatidylserine, and it can be generally supportive to healthy adrenal function, but more may be necessary for you to truly feel better.

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