Stress is practically unavoidable in our high paced culture. It triggers a hormonal cascade that places excess demands on the body’s nutrient and vitamin stores over and above of what is required for normal function. The main organ and hormonal system that is imbalanced during chronic stress are the adrenal gland. The adrenals produce key hormones including cortisol, DHEAs, and mineralocorticoids, which regulate many functions in our body. A simple of way of understanding the functions of all these hormones is that they help our body survive in stressful situations. They reduce excessive inflammation, provide fuel supply for our cells, support energy production, and regulate blood pressure.
It’s important to understand that adrenal hormones are essential for our survival but the trouble is that chronic stress causes them to be over produced without any chance to rest and recovery. Most people are able to deal with stress for a while (and this varies depending on genetics, nutrient availability/deficiencies and other factors) because we can actually increase the production of our stress hormones to meet our needs. Clinically, this is sometimes referred to as the “resistance phase;” when the body tried to resist and adapt to the effect of stress. At this point hormone levels are actually higher then normal. Symptoms in this phase can include fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, weight gain and frequent infections. However, if the stress continues, without any chance to recover, the adrenal system can no longer meet the demands placed on the body. This is referred to as the exhaustion stage (or more commonly adrenal fatigue) and is characterized by low adrenal hormones such as cortisol.
A researcher named Thomas Addison observed adrenal gland atrophy in patients presenting with symptoms he had already categorized as a result of deficiency of adrenal secretions. Addison’s disease occurs when the adrenal glands are not producing enough of the steroid hormones. Fortunately for most people they rarely progress to full-blown Addison’s disease but they do suffer from adrenal hypofunction (AKA adrenal fatigue), which is characterized by a reduction in function and secretion of adrenal hormones, but lab results are still within normal range. This is why your doctor doesn’t know how to diagnose you but you still have all these debilitating symptoms. A more accurate way to assess adrenal function is using multiple samples of saliva or urinary hormone metabolites since this reflects levels over a period of time. A similar condition is also found in hypothyroid patients where labs are still in normal range (or close to end of the ranges) but the clinical symptoms strongly suggest hypothyroidism.
Adrenal Symptoms can be understood through the deficiency of the various adrenal hormones: glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, and DHEA
Most common and distinctive symptoms include:
• Morning tiredness – this is a very characteristic symptom of impaired adrenal function
• Exhaustion after exercising – for most people they should feel better after exercise but not for people with adrenal fatigue
• Cold hands and feet – this can also be a sign of low thyroid function but don’t overlook the role of the adrenals and body temperature
• Very sensitive to environmental changes – this is another example of lack of the ability to adapt to changes
• Emotionally hypersensitive – the adrenal hormones regulate neurotransmitters and therefore emotions
• Brain fog, concentration and memory problems – again related to neurotransmitter imbalances. Excessive cortisol also decreases the storage of memories in the hippocampus (memory storage area) in the brain
• Low blood pressure, light-headedness, salt craving – the mineralocorticoids hormones secreted by the adrenal regulate this function. A common symptom is getting light headed when rising.
• Low blood sugar – this commonly known as being “hangry.” Cortisol needs to be secreted to regulate blood sugar.
• Multiple allergies/ sensitivities – this person usually reacts to most things and usually has to eat a very restrictive diet. Cortisol (think cortisone) in an anti-inflammatory hormone and when deficient it can’t keep excessive immune responses in check. Low immunity and infections
• Un-Resolving Inflammation – same as above
The adaptogenic properties of Pantethine (an activated form of Vitamin B5) stem from its role in the biosynthesis of key adrenal hormones and the formation of energy (ATP). In the normal metabolic pathways Pantethine it is an essential component of the metabolic factor, coenzyme A (CoA) therefore aiding in the production of energy.1,2
Vitamin C is essential for adrenal stress hormone (cortisol) normalization in times of stress adaption. 3 In healthy adrenal glands, concentrations of Vitamin C are higher than in any other part of the body except the brain. However, Vitamin C stores are rapidly depleted in stressful situations. Interestingly, studies also show that Vitamin C and Pantethine work together in supporting adrenal function.4
Rhodiola (Rhodiola spp.) is an herb with a long history of use in the traditional medicine of Siberia. Several randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials have supported the ability of standardized Rhodiola to enhance the body’s physical and mental work capacity in addition to improving productivity under stressful conditions. Users found that Rhodiola was highly effective at helping with the psychological impact of stress, even enhancing physical and mental endurance.5
Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian ginseng) and Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) have developed a long standing reputation as effective adaptogenic herbs. Studies have shown that Eleutherococcus has powerful immune-modulating or immune-balancing effects. In clinical trials, Eleutherococcus has been shown to increase the number of lymphocytes and also increase phagocytic function in neutrolphils.6 Ashwagandha, has shown promising immune-modulating effects in animals and in one clinical trial following radiation treatment, the supplementation group had favourable changes in serum inflammation markers.7,8 Since prolonged stress creates a state of immune-deficiency, immune stimulating and modulating herbs are essential to a complete adaptogenic formulation.
Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice) has been shown to activate the receptors for key adrenal hormones (mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids) involved in mobilizing energy reserves in response to stress. The active component of Glycyrrhiza, Glycyrrhetic acid, also helps to keep these hormones in their more active forms, by having an effect causing the inhibition of the enzymes (5-beta-reductase and 11-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase) that degrade adrenal hormones into less active forms.9
One of the most powerful tools to heal adrenal fatigue is supplementation with adrenal glandular extracts. These extracts have been used extensively by naturopathic physicians and other health care practitioners with great success and safety over the last century. Historically, “organotherapy” was the term used to describe the administration of extracts of glandular tissue. The first experiments were conducted using extracts of thyroid tissue and now glandular thyroid is a mainstay of the conventional medical treatment of low thyroid. Despite the lack of rigorous trials using adrenal glandular, the clinical results are impressive. Even if the glandular doesn’t contain any active hormone it still contains all the nutrients, peptides and co-factors needed by the adrenal glad to function.
All of the above nutrients are found in an OrthoAdapt, is an evidence-based formulation containing ingredients to powerfully help the body adapt and function at an optimal level during demanding and stressful periods. Based on the previously discussed ingredients and the supporting clinical evidence, a well balanced effect is achieved by fortifying vitamin stores, providing an immune-modulating action to increase illness resistance and even supporting mental focus and stamina making OrthoAdapt the leading choice anytime adrenal support is needed to maximize performance and productivity without compromising health.
Have you ever suffered from adrenal fatigue? How are some ways you de-stress? Share with us in the comments below!
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