Healingways Adrenal Function and Maintenance
BY WENDY CLEM
With adrenal glands producing hormones to combat stress, it's only natural that today's abundance of pressures leads to a discussion of ways to combat them. But, how much do we know about adrenal function and maintenance? Local experts weigh in on the details.
Doug Cutler, N.D. of Cutler Integrative Medicine in Bingham Farms, describes four levels of adrenal reaction as follows: Hyper Alarm Phase, aka “Fight or Flight” Response; the Resistance Phase; the Exhaustion Phase; and finally, the Burnout Phase.
He explains that, in the event of Adrenal Fatigue, “Patients who are in different stages of adrenal dysfunction will have differing hormones and neurotransmitters imbalanced.”
"A common complaint," says Laura Kovalcik, D.O., of Clarkston's The Downing Clinic, is fatigue related to the myriad of stress caused by modern living — marital and job pressures, care-giving of elderly parents and financial problems, to name a few. That is followed by frustration due to general insomnia in the U.S. and over-exposure to electronics such as cell phones and household smart meters that measure electricity usage in the home and transmit the information to the utility, called EMF, or electromagnetic frequency exposure.
She does not identify such Adrenal Exhaustion as a warning sign. "Instead, she says, "it is the result of a gradual condition. People go to bed tired, wake tired, can't sleep and have lack of enjoyment overall. And in extreme situations, a chronic condition results because the body begins to break down."
Dr. James Lewerenz, of Longevity Health Institute and Lewerenz Medical Center in Rochester Hills and Madison Heights, adds that a typical Adrenal Fatigue patient encounters a long-lasting stressful event — from months' to years' worth. It's a matter of “wired and tired,” in a cycle of never-ending, extreme exhaustion. Cortisol, one of the stress hormones produced by the adrenals, is imperative in survival during a “Flight or Fight” response. But, bursts of it are not meant to be sustained for long periods of time.
“You can almost see this developing, as it unfolds,” Lewerenz said. “The old saying, 'What goes up, must come down' is the same for your adrenals. Too much stress without the balance of recovery — sleep, good nutrition, spiritual harmony — eventually leads to a burnout, or Adrenal Fatigue, caused by too low of a cortisol response.”
He adds that what occurs is the body's equivalent of screaming, “Time out! You are killing us!” Typical related fatigue can include low energy, brain fog, dizziness or lightheadedness, sensitivity to light, low blood pressure, cravings for salt or sugar and general over-sensitivity to most stimuli.
A patient of Dr. Cutler's describes additional symptoms as becoming lightheaded when standing up or taking showers, shaking hands and blurred vision, nausea, inflammation, joint pain and extreme fatigue. "It was caused by her constant cortisol production," he explains, "that took away from other hormones in a condition called pregnenolone steal. That creates another set of health issues."
Certified Nutritional Counselor Lee Rossano, of Lake Orion's Advanced Nutritional Solutions, has found that Adrenal Fatigue is becoming more common, with many physicians ignoring the adrenals.
"As a result," she says, "it is not generally treated until in the final stages of failure, such as with the emergence of Addison's Disease. Patients arrive feeling overwhelmed by their lives and edgy, irritable, depressed or anxious, unaware that the adrenals are the culprit. Possible root causes could include viruses, out-of-balance sex hormones and diets high in processed foods."
“Clients can barely open their eyes in the morning," says Rossano, and simple tasks like going to the grocery store feel overwhelming, and they find themselves operating in panic mode most of their days. It is difficult for them to function in their everyday lives and jobs, not to mention taking care of a family. Society is moving away from a relaxing life and many people have minimal down-time. When they do relax, they spend it on their phones or social media looking at other people’s lives. When we begin to move away from taking care of ourselves, we lose the ability to handle stress, and we then walk ourselves right into adrenal fatigue.”
Catherine Waller, M.D., of Waller Wellness Center in Rochester Hills, most frequently treats adrenal stress and adrenal fatigue, with the former ironically characterized by an over-production of cortisol. "That," she says, "is a typical response to health conditions such as psychological stress, inadequate/interrupted sleep, blood sugar dysregulation, inflammation, pain, anxiety, over-scheduled lives, toxic exposures, overuse of stimulants, thyroid problems, nutritional deficiencies and more."
“Over-production of cortisol can promote further problems as conditions progress to advanced and profound adrenal fatigue, which then produces too little cortisol,” adds Waller.
Following diagnosis, effective medication is important, concur our experts.
I was always so driven and motivated until one day I wasn’t. Getting out of bed felt like my greatest task of the day and I wondered if I would ever have my drive and energy back. Until I healed my adrenals, no amount of coffee or caffeine would provide the energy I was used to. I began to implement relaxing activities into my nighttime routine, started eating a whole foods diet and taking my personalized supplement plan. I finally felt like myself again and couldn’t wait to get back to my to-do list and conquer each day! I will continue to live this lifestyle, realizing if my adrenals aren’t happy, I’m not happy!
~From a patient of Lee Rossano's
I was always energetic, but after donating blood in December, 2005, noticed a severe change. I couldn't get out of bed for three months. I was so weak and tired, was becoming intolerant of people and angry all the time. After doing some research, I was tested and learned I had adrenal fatigue. After I started taking the prescribed supplements I felt better right away. I enjoy my life, because I’m not so wound up anymore. I can relax and breathe.
~47 year-old Annette T., a patient of Dr. Waller's
Dr. Kovalcik is a strong proponent of the common good-health denominator: changes in lifestyle and diet. Keeping a regular sleep schedule by rising and retiring at consistent times and eating regular meals containing good protein and organic vegetables are also key factors.
“Doing a liver cleanse can be beneficial,” she says, urging additional support for the thyroid. “Changing stressors may be necessary, like switching jobs as an extreme example—and using low-level exercise is important. However, exercising too hard can be detrimental.”
"A hospital worker and patient," explains Kovalcik, "exhausted by too many nights on-call and weekends in a traditional hospital environment, had come to resent the job.
Feeling bad all the time, she went to bed tired and woke up tired. When family plans were made, she just wanted to stay home all the time. Irritable and frequently angry or crying, she chose to finally change jobs. Able to get rest and eat better, she took time to enjoy her surroundings, working in the garden and exercising."
"Adrenal supplements and IV therapy also helped," she adds, "and during the course of 18 months, healing occurred. Although the occasional bad day happens now, she recognizes the symptoms and how to schedule daily eating, sleeping and taking time for herself, and to begin supplements again if stress is occurring."
Dr. Waller studies patient lifestyles and stress as pivotal aspects for diagnosis and treatment. She supports intake of vitamins and minerals, but through IV's rather than via digestive processes. “We often begin by testing cortisol levels in saliva," she explains. "We also utilize specific supplements to either raise or lower cortisol levels, accordingly, and in cases of advancement, we prescribe low-dosed hydro-cortisone to aid in function until improvement is made.”
Other important aspects in treating adrenal fatigue include addressing gut health, and possible chronic infections.
“The HPTA Axis involving the hypothalamic, pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands is often overlooked by conventional medicine,” says Cutler, “but plays a pivotal role in overall health, which can easily be destabilized by emotional stressors.”
He adds that although life always provides stressors, it's how we handle them that makes a positive or negative affect on our health.
“Consistent exercise, utilizing daily stress outlets, and eating an organic, non-inflammatory diet–while supplementing for nutritional needs–helps patients achieve optimal health,” says Cutler.
Lewerenz urges the use of Vitamin C to restore balance, taken orally or through IV.
Likewise, Hilda (“Dr. Hilda”) Lauderman, R.N., Ph.D, of Davison, uses natural approaches, including supplements and homeopathics and other natural approaches.
Kovalcik says, “Recovery is slow; I tell patients that it took them a while to get there, it will take some time to get better. Once adrenals have been exhausted, they tend to be a bit fragile. In one patient's case, it took about 18 months.”
Rossano is a proponent of relaxing activities—yoga, deep breathing—and throwing off toxic relationships, healing the mind “and falling in love with life again.”
“Sleep is one of the most important healers,” she says, “as is sea salt in water. Staying up late at night damages the adrenals and the most restorative sleep is between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. or between 7 and 9 a.m.”
Rossano utilizes B vitamins, magnesium, glandulars and healing herbs.
Wendy Clem is a writer/editor for Natural Awakenings and resides with her family in Roseville, MI.
This article appeared in the September 2016 issue of the East Michigan Natural Awakenings Magazine.
Linda Gross (Kinesiology)
This article was first published in September 2016 in Natural Awakenings of Mercer County, NJ