The Many Faces of Adrenal Dysfunction
Hey Nourish community,
Your adrenal glands are powerhouses that are involved in several critical body functions designed to help the body evade dangerous situations. The body is very good at responding to immediate danger, but it is not very good at telling the difference between a predator that is hunting you and an upsetting work email. This means that modern stress and the lack of good coping skills can chronically activate your adrenals, wearing them out over time.
This leads to a condition called adrenal dysfunction, an imbalance of the adrenals that is considered a dysfunction rather than a disease. There are several adrenal diseases in which the glands have significantly high or low output of hormones. Adrenal dysfunction, on the other hand, is when the adrenal glands are performing, just not at optimal levels or not in an optimal rhythm throughout the day. Adrenal dysfunction happens when chronic stress disrupts the natural function and rhythm of your adrenal glands.
Below are a few different diseases and dysfunctions of the adrenal glands:
Addison’s Disease is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the adrenal glands, causing it to slowly stop functioning and produce too little cortisol, and often, too little aldosterone. There are several tests that can confirm Addison’s, including tests for blood cortisol levels, sodium, and ACTH levels. Once the adrenals stop functioning all together, medication to replace the missing adrenal hormones will be needed.
Cushing’s Syndrome is caused when the body has an excessive amount of cortisol. This can be caused by the long-term use of corticosteroids for inflammation or excess production from an adrenal tumor, ectopic tumor or a pituitary tumor (Cushing’s disease). Usually blood tests are needed to confirm high cortisol levels as well as imaging of the pituitary and adrenal gland if a tumor is suspected. Treatment usually involves eliminating the cause of the overproduction.
Adrenal dysfunction is caused by long-term exposure to chronic mental, emotional, or physical stress. Because adrenal dysfunction is not a disease state, conventional medicine may not recognize it as an illness and may not treat or support your adrenals.
However, with the pace of modern lifestyle and constant demands, we find it essential to support adrenal health, especially to help people overcome fatigue, hormone or blood sugar imbalances, dizziness, insomnia or weight gain. Many people describe the sensation of adrenal dysfunction as feeling “burnt out.”
Cortisol is normally produced in a diurnal rhythm over the course of a day. It should be highest in the morning so that you wake feeling rested and energetic and then cortisol slowly lowers throughout the day and should be the lowest when you sleep. As cortisol levels lower, melatonin (your sleep hormone) levels rise, giving you a good night’s sleep.
However, if someone has adrenal dysfunction, their cortisol may be too high throughout the day, too low in the morning and too high at night (a reverse rhythm), too low throughout the day (adrenal fatigue), or some people have a “roller coaster” rhythm of ups and downs.
Thankfully, we can have great success with adrenal dysfunction by treating with diet, lifestyle, supplementation and a focus on getting back in rhythm by creating cortisol-building routines in the morning and cortisol-lowering routines in the evenings.