Today’s topic is the adrenal glands and why it is so important to prioritize understanding your body’s particular stress response pattern.
We will discuss what the adrenal glands are, where they are, what functions they serve, why they become depleted, why it’s so important to help these glands to perform their best, how we can test them and what we can do to help them recover!
How Do the Adrenal Glands Work?
We each have two adrenal glands in our bodies, and they are located on top of each of our kidneys. These adrenal glands are responsible for the production of adrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine), cortisol, and other hormones that determine heart rate, blood pressure, and other important bodily functions.
I like to think about the adrenal glands as our internal bodyguards. They help protect us from danger by activating our body into the necessary state for fight or flight when we sense there may be a threat.
Throughout time, as humans, our adrenal glands system would activate when exposed to a threat and then afterwards deactivate appropriately when the threat had dissipated. But in our modern world, the threats to our lives have become much more distant and abstract, leaving our body in a less certain state of fear for our safety. Did you know that your adrenal levels can become triggered just by watching an intense scene on TV?
Our bodyguards are now in an almost ubiquitous state of activation, meaning they are often chronically triggered and ultimately depleted, and they are not able to protect us as they’re really meant to.
You sense a threat and the amygdala in the brain picks up a fear response that sends signals through what’s called the HPA axis (the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis). The brain is perceiving there’s a danger going on and it’s going to then send a hormone to your adrenal glands through the bloodstream to say we need extra cortisol and adrenaline to help protect us from whatever is going on right now.
That extra cortisol and adrenaline then tells all the other cells in your body we’ve got something dangerous going on and we need we need to turn off certain functions: we’re not going to need to digest food right now or we’re not going to do reproductive function. We’re going to be making sure that there’s blood flow and blood sugar so you can get out of danger. The heart races, and blood pressure increases, to get us out of danger.
Why Is Chronic Depletion of Adrenal Glands a Problem?
As our adrenal system becomes activated, it tells the rest of our body to cease normal functioning and upkeep. It tells our body to stop digesting food and absorbing nutrients, and instead to only focus on the threat in front of us. If we are unable to leave this heightened state, our bodies do not return to their normal functioning.
When we ARE able to return to a normal (healthy) level of cortisol and adrenaline, that’s when a signal goes out through all of our cells, including our digestive system, and says: it’s time to digest again, let’s make digestive enzymes, let’s make healthy new intestinal cells, let’s support our gut bacteria, let’s absorb our nutrients.
In our nervous system, serotonin and GABA are calming neurotransmitters that help counterbalance the adrenaline, so if we have stimulating adrenaline happening, we also need a counterbalance of serotonin and GABA. I think of it like the gas and brake pedals in a car. You need the gas pedal to get your brain responding but you also need the brake pedal to be able to calm things down.
When we are depleted from over-use of our adrenal glands, we can become more and more reliant on things like caffeine because caffeine stimulates us to make adrenaline and then alcohol to sedate us in the evening. Caffeine and alcohol are fine in moderation, but they are cause for concern when we need them to maintain our lifestyles.
Optimal Functioning Adrenal Glands Is Key to Optimal Health
Research shows that when we have optimal adrenal function we live longer.
Unfortunately, this is something that is very rarely addressed in the traditional doctor’s office. Even when you go to an endocrinologist, who specializes in glands that make hormones. Only in extreme cases like adrenal insufficiency, Addison’s disease, or Cushing syndrome would adrenals raise to their attention. But most of us are suffering silently in not extreme cases, but still suboptimal and correlated to most all health conditions.
Studies show that over 80% of adults have dysregulated adrenal glands function — so most of us have adrenal glands function that is NOT optimal on a daily basis!
When our adrenal glands are over or under functioning, it’s predisposing us to all different health issues.
How to Fix Adrenal Function Without Medicine
The good news is there is a lot we can do to help our adrenal glands return to optimal functioning, and therefore optimal health, and it often doesn’t involve taking a prescription medication or an invasive surgery, even though traditional medicine would like you to believe that it does.
Instead, it involves learning how to give the right support to your adrenal glands for them to function.
My book Master Your Stress Reset Your Health is really all about your adrenal glands and understanding your body’s unique stress signature.
Through helping thousands of patients, I have seen evidence that adrenal gland function is usually the root cause of so many other health problems, and once corrected, tend to have a huge positive ripple effect on your health and your life.
Please dive into the research if you are interested! My book has hundreds of references, and many sources are available online.
As a naturopathic doctor, my goal is to help people feel better – not to give you a prescription that will keep you coming back into my office every week. This passion was ignited by not getting enough answers in my own life and wanting to share the wisdom and freedom I’ve found, to save you time, money, and headaches.
I often have patients with very complex cases where they’ve been in severe fatigue or pain or distress for years and have never had their cortisol and adrenaline tested. I’ve had countless cases of patients not receiving answers or making progress on their medical diagnosis, and then when we address their adrenal functioning, it is the domino that changes everything for the better.
Your Stress Pattern and Therefore Adrenal Function is as Unique as Your Fingerprint
It’s not the same for all of us, and therefore our treatment plans are not one size fits all.
Your stress pattern is based on your genetics, past stress exposure, and it’s even based on your parents and your grandparents stress exposure. These all influence how your body responds to stress today. So, to really understand what your cortisol and adrenaline are up to at this point in time, we need to measure them.
Standard bloodwork will not catch the inner workings of the adrenal glands. Additionally, your levels will – and should – change throughout the day. This is your natural cortisol curve, the highest point in the morning and gradually decreasing throughout the day. And so, we need to take measurements throughout the day to provide an overall picture of how your cortisol levels are fluctuating and when.
But we also need to measure adrenaline levels. What I want you to know are your actual norepinephrine and epinephrine levels and there’s only a few labs that measure these accurately, and that’s what I offer through my office.
Although everyone’s situation is unique, through the many patients I’ve seen and studied, everyone falls generally into one of five common stress types:
- The Stress Magnet: elevated cortisol with elevated adrenaline in the morning or all day
- The Night Owl: elevated cortisol in the evening with elevated adrenaline
- Sluggish and Stressed: elevated cortisol with low adrenaline
- Blah and Blue: low cortisol in the morning or at midday, with low adrenaline
- Tired and Wired: low cortisol morning or midday with elevated adrenaline
In my book, and online, I have a self-assessment quiz to help you figure out what your stress type might be, and I’ve included the links below.
Each stress type will have a different path to recovery. All treatments will fall within the umbrella of my treatment program called SelfC.A.R.E. where C stands for clean eating, A for adequate sleep, R for recovery, and E for exercise. I have tailor made programs for each stress type so your body will get exactly what it needs and nothing it doesn’t.
How to Help Your Adrenal Function
You can start by testing your cortisol and adrenaline levels throughout the day, by knowing your stress type pattern, and watch every other facet of your health fall into place. You can get a home test for this here.
If you want to learn more about my approach on how you can start taking better care of yourself and apply my SelfC.A.R.E. protocol so that you can get back to feeling your best, you may want to start by reading my book Master Your Stress Reset Your Health.
In my book, I also share the quiz I developed to help you identify how stress has affected you specifically by knowing your Stress Type. You can also take this Stress Type Quiz online.
TAKE THE FREE STRESS QUIZ TO FIND OUT YOUR STRESS TYPE:
If you’re ready to master your stress and become a stress warrior you can sign up for my Stress Warrior Program here.
If you’d like a more accurate and thorough picture of exactly what’s going on in your body, please make an appointment with my office. We would be more than happy to sit down and help you get to the core of whatever health issues you’re facing, so we can figure them out together. You can set up a one-on-one appointment with me here.
This doesn’t have to be a mystery, and this doesn’t have to take forever, it just needs to be individualized to you.
We’re here to help you!
Connect with Dr. Doni:
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More Resources from Dr. Doni:
- Stress Type Quiz: Assess your adrenal function
- Dr. Doni’s Book: Master Your Stress, Reset Your Health
- Dr. Doni’s Facebook Group: Stress Warrior Stress Resiliency
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