In today’s fast-paced world, we hear a lot about how much stress affects our bodies – from increasing our chances of developing high blood pressure to affecting the levels of sugar in the blood. The following post shares 7 reasons why reducing stress is key to adrenal health.
- Maintenance of excessive cortisol production. The walnut-sized adrenal glands above the kidneys react to stress by releasing the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is an essential hormone that plays an important part in maintaining the body’s equilibrium among various physiological elements. For example, cortisol helps control blood pressure, maintain the heart’s muscle tone and normal blood sugar levels, and influences the central nervous system and immune system responses. Just as important as secreting extra cortisol, however, is the body’s return to normal cortisol levels after stressful events. It is harmful for the body to maintain constant high levels of cortisol which can occur if the body is in a constant state of stress.
- Inability to recover levels of adrenal hormones. Individuals in a constant state of stress may face the body’s inability to recover normal levels of adrenal hormones such as cortisol. Too much cortisol circulating throughout the system can result in thyroid imbalance, sleep disruption, increased fat around the abdominal area which is in turn associated with heart problems, high blood pressure, and other serious physical ailments.
- The gradual depletion of Cortisol. Counter-intuitively, living in a constant state of “flight-or-fight” can lead to depletion of cortisol, or low levels of cortisol. Doctors describe low cortisol levels as adrenal fatigue which has three stages depending on the interpretation of the tests. Doctors diagnose adrenal fatigue by testing saliva or dried urine levels. End-stage adrenal fatigue – a life-threatening illness – is known as Addison’s Disease. Addison’s Disease manifests with symptoms of anemia, low blood pressure, extreme fatigue, weight loss, salt cravings, low blood sugar, body hair loss, and other symptoms.
- Depletion of DHEA. The medical term for DHEA is dehydroepiandrosterone. We don’t know everything that DHEA does. We do know that the adrenal glands synthesize DHEA from cholesterol and that DHEA is the forerunner to the male and many of the female sex hormones. We know that DHEA is important in the aging process and that it is depleted as we age. The adrenal glands secrete DHEA during periods of long-term stress. Sometimes the body over-reacts to long-term stress by producing too little DHEA and too much cortisol (which is generally a mid-term stress hormone). Doctors link low DHEA levels to several serious medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Addison’s Disease, Osteoporosis, and HIV/AIDS. The good news is that we may restore DHEA balance by eliminating stress through natural activities carried out on a consistent basis such as yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, breathing exercises, aerobic exercise like swimming, and through dietary supplements of DHEA when ordered by the doctor.
- The Cortisol Steal. When stress levels are high, the body secretes more cortisol. It sometimes does this by “stealing” pregnenolone, a steroid the body produces as a forerunner to its ability to create DHEA, progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone hormones. When the body steals pregnenolone in order to produce more cortisol, it may result in lower levels of the sex hormones and DHEA. When DHEA is low, the body exhibits problems with long-term memory, vision, and energy levels.
- Depletion of Vitamin C. The adrenal glands store the body’s highest concentration of Vitamin C. During stressful events, the body uses its reserves of Vitamin C to produce cortisol and the other stress-related hormones. If your body does not replace stores of Vitamin C – either from your diet or from supplements – the adrenal glands will go into panic mode to secrete even more cortisol. In addition to the complications from prolonged elevated cortisol, depletion of Vitamin C inhibits the immune system’s ability to produce white blood cells to fight infection, as well as to trigger interferon (a virus inhibitor) and virus antibody production.
- Loss of adrenal reserves. The human body needs adrenal hormones to live so it tries to keep a reserve of them. The problem is that life’s stressors are cumulative. Life can throw stresses at us quickly one after another. Or a long-term stressful job compounded by a divorce and the unexpected death of a loved one can dip into those adrenal reserves. If the reserves are not recovered, the body remains unable to cope with additional life-changing stressful events. Managing stress, therefore, is a critical component of staying healthy.
To talk more about this, or anything else, please contact us. We look forward to helping you improve your health. For additional information on cortisol and chronic stress, see the Mayoclinic.org article entitled “Chronic stress puts your health at risk”.