Chronic Infections Feed Chronic Stress Causes Adrenal Exhaustion
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is caused by stress, imbalances of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis, nervous system malfunctions, sluggish metabolism, and poor immunity. It causes countless problems, including fatigue, allergies, frequent infections, anxiety, poor concentration and insomnia.
Adrenals at a Glance
The adrenal glands release epinephrine and norepinephrine, hormones responsible for the fight or flight response. The adrenal cortex produces mineralocorticoids (like aldosterone), androgens (like pregnenalone) and glucocorticoids (like cortisol).
Aldosterone regulates the balance of sodium and potassium in our cells and in consequence, our blood pressure.
The adrenal cortex makes pregnenalone. Pregnenalone makes cortisol and sex hormones (DHEA, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone).
Cortisol fights stress, regulates blood sugar and is secreted as an anti-inflammatory response (think epi-pens). As stress increases, more cortisol is produced. The HPA axis createsAdrenal Corticotrophic Hormone (ACTH) to adjust cortisol levels and allows cholesterol to be turned into pregnenalone, the precursor to many hormones. Normally, cortisol is highest at 8am, and drops from 9:30am-11:30am and 3:30pm-5:30pm. It’s lowest from 12am-4am.
When you are about to outrun a tiger
- The sympathetic nervous system is activated.
- ACTH is released from your pituitary gland, which signals the release of epinephrine and cortisol.
- Your blood pressure increases, your muscles tense, and glucose increases in the blood to help you fight or flee.
- Digestion slows because your blood has moved to your muscles and your heart.
- You pee yourself so you can get rid of any extra weight. Teehee.
If internal, external or mental perceptions of stress are chronic, your adrenal glands can’t keep up with the body’s need for cortisol. Adrenal fatigue is the result.
- Your body then starts converting more pregnenalone into cortisol while neglecting the production of the sex hormones. Estrogen dominance occurs, messing up menstrual cycles and causing infertility.
- Once your hormones are imbalanced, secretory IgA (your cellular defense), NK cells and T-lymphocytes are reduced and bacterial and viral infections become harder to fight off and easier to catch.
- Low blood pressure that follows can leave you feeling like a zombie and may trigger vertigo when you change positions.
- Hypothyroidism and poor metabolism also follow.
- POTS is a symptom of Lyme but it’s also a symptom of weak adrenals. Sweating profusely or not at all, postural hypotension and thermal imbalances can occur.
- The Ovarian-Adrenal-Thyroid (OAT) Axis Imbalance: The ovaries, adrenals and thyroid depend on one another. When one is affected, all three are. For example, progesterone – normally produced by the adrenals – comes to a halt in favor of cortisol, leading to estrogen dominance, which then raises thyroid-binding proteins and lowers T3 and T4.
This video from Dr. Lam’s website provides more details on the OAT Axis.
Adrenal Fatigue Treatment
- When you have a chronic infection, your body is stressed enough as is. Remove stressors where possible.
- Sleep by ten pm, because it is at this time that our adrenals work hardest to repair our bodies. If you wake up easily through the night, consider a sleep aid concoction.
- Limit stimulants. If you drink coffee, ingest it when your cortisol is at its lowest: 9:30 am-11:30 am or 3:30 pm-5:30 pm.
- Breathe and stretch. Gradually work your way up to yoga or lifting weights.
- Take vitamins to support the adrenals, including vitamin C, glutathione, B vitamins, vitamin D, and magnesium.
- Support your digestion. Digesting food takes energy. You may need enzymes to aid digestion.
- Adaptogens are controversial. Research the pros and cons of adaptogens before using them. The more severe your adrenal fatigue, the more likely these herbs will act as stimulants and make you crash.
- Consider adrenal cortex supplements for mild adrenal fatigue.
- Research hydrocortisone for severely low adrenal fatigue. Caution: Hydrocortisone supresses the HPA feedback loop. Sex hormones and calcium levels can also reduce this.
- Eat breakfast to fuel your body. This may not be the best time to introduce intermittent fasting or keto diets. A lot of people with weak adrenals are borderline hypoglycemic. Eat protein and fat, which fuel the body slowly and sufficiently until your next meal. Eat carbs at the end of your meals to avoid sugar spikes.
- If you have high blood pressure and ACTH, lower your salt intake. If you have low blood pressure and ACTH, increase your salt intake. If your sodium is low, avoid potassium-rich foods (or salt them).