Living with Vitality: What is adrenal imbalance?
May 28, 2012
Your adrenal glands are a pair of small glands situated above your kidneys. These are your stress glands, responsible for producing hormones – particularly cortisol – you need to induce a “fight or flight” response and handle stress. However, when you have endured too much stress, your adrenal glands may burn out, leading to adrenal fatigue.
The fast-paced lifestyles of the modern world have made adrenal fatigue far too common in adults, as well as increasing numbers of high school and college students. Living with stress day in and day out without relief, or facing “little” stressors – such as daily traffic – can build up over time, wearing down your adrenal glands and destroying your health.
One of the biggest complaints of patients suffering from adrenal fatigue is fatigue; you may feel like you are walking around in a fog. This fatigue can plague you even if you are getting plenty of sleep each night. It will not go away until your adrenal health is restored.
Fatigue is just one of many possible symptoms. You may also experience:
• A reduced tolerance for stress.
• Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
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• Anxiety, depression or other moodiness.
• An increased susceptibility to infections.
• Cravings for sweet or salty foods.
• Newly emerging allergies or chemical sensitivities.
• An intolerance of cold temperatures.
These symptoms can take a serious toll on your life and may compound upon one another – or lead to more serious health conditions. For example, if you are feeling depressed or anxious, unable to sleep and constantly craving sweets and frequently binging on “comfort” foods, you almost subconsciously add unwanted pounds and inches to your waistline. That rapid weight gain can lead to increased cardiovascular risks, high blood pressure and other serious conditions.
Determining if you are suffering from adrenal imbalance is the first step to finding a cure. Your doctor may discuss your medical history to rule out all other potential causes for your symptoms, such as thyroid issues, lifestyle choices and the overall balance of your hormones. If no other conditions are identified, the gold-standard test for adrenal imbalance is specialized saliva testing. Using this test, physicians evaluate the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day, so it is optimal to evaluate levels at different points throughout the day. Saliva testing is the easiest and most accurate way to ascertain your cortisol levels and determine the health status of your adrenal glands.
Once you have been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, treatment may begin. The first step in treatment is often the most difficult for many people: lifestyle changes. There are several ways you can modify your lifestyle and improve your ability to handle stress. The two cornerstones of good health are the best place to start: a healthy diet and a consistent fitness regimen. These are key factors to all aspects of your health; you need proper nutrients and physical activity for your body to function optimally. You also need to find ways to reduce stress, such as relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga.
Supplements may be useful in combating stress and fatigue, as well. Adaptogenic herbs have been shown to improve cortisol levels and aid the body as it battles stress. Other supplements, such as omega-3 and vitamin D, can help fortify your system, increase overall health and assist in the recovery of adrenal health.
Ensuring your hormones are balanced is another key step in maintaining adrenal health. All of your hormones work together to ensure your body functions optimally. The imbalance of just one hormone can disrupt the function of several systems and, in some cases, result in the decline of other crucial hormones.
Heidi Archer, M.D., FAAPMR, FAAAAM, practices regenerative medicine at The Vitality Center at Vail Mountain Lodge. Archer is AMA board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation, anti-aging, regenerative and functional medicine. Her practice focuses on preventative/
regenerative medicine, anti-aging and hormone therapy for the well patient or athlete, with expertise in diagnosis and treatment of pain from injury, illness or disabling conditions. For information, visit http://www.vailvitalitycenter.com.