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As the semester comes to a close for students and professors, and the end of the program season for our activists and favorite nonprofits, many of us are pushing ourselves to finish, finish, finish!…at the cost of our emotional and physical health. So what organ(s) are actually paying this cost? And how can we better support their functioning, regeneration and healing?
The key organs involved in initiating and maintaining our stress response are the adrenals, the walnut shaped organs just above our kidneys. When we’re in stress mode, our nervous system tells the adrenals to secrete hormones such as cortisol which suppress functions that aren’t necessary for our immediate survival (like digestion, immunity and libido) in favor of processes enabling us to fight or flee. These include increased heart rate, increased blood sugar, blood directed towards muscles and away from organs, and heightened senses. Over time, our over-taxed adrenals may either secrete too little or too much cortisol, leading to problems such as anxiety, tendency to catch colds, sleep disturbance, increased allergies, hypoglycemia/blood sugar problems or even infertility on one side of the spectrum; and decreasing attention span, fuzzy thinking, decreased productivity, fatigue, depression and weight problems on the other. Other stress-related conditions include overeating, insomnia, hypertension, headaches, asthma, hay fever, eczema, ulcers, and amenorrhea. As stress continues to wreak havoc on our bodies, accelerated aging, auto-immune conditions and even cancer can occur.
Cortisol regulates the health of our gastrointestinal tract lining. Chronically elevated cortisol levels could lead to increased stomach acid, disruptions in the delicate lining and imbalances in the gut flora (the bacteria which lives in our gut and helps us to digest and process certain vitamins); abnormal immune reactions to certain foods; and “leaky gut” (when improperly digested food and other microbes enter the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on our detoxification mechanisms). That is how stress can lead to problems such as indigestion, food allergies, inflammation of the colon, and an irritable bowel. Also, since a significant percentage of neurotransmitters are metabolized in the gut, this can result in fatigue, fuzzy thinking, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, etc. The continued exposure to food allergens and improperly metabolized foods further taxes the adrenals. The system is self-perpetuating and our detoxification system is overwhelmed.
Pregnenelone is the primary precursor hormone from which all of the steroid hormones are made, including cortisol, DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estradiol and more. If given the choice, the body will prioritize making cortisol from pregnenelone in order to survive, at the expense of making the other hormones. Hence, women, depending on their age, may experience menstrual irregularities, hot flashes or even infertility due to the impacts of the chronic stress response. In addition, the adrenals modulate the efficiency of the thyroid – the organ that regulates overall metabolism. Improving adrenal health may support the healing of many seemingly disparate symptoms.
Trained health care providers can functionally assess adrenal health during a physical exam, and can order inexpensive salivary lab tests to assess cortisol levels along with gut lining health. Tissue mineral analysis also uncovers the possibility of adrenal fatigue. Niu Health for a New You! can partner with you in releasing chronic neuroemotional stress patterns and can provide personalized lifestyle, dietary and supplement approaches to improve your nervous system health and maximize your healing potential for years to come.
Healing takes time. See your holistic health practitioner to get the support you need to let go of ingrained stress patterns, maximize your nervous system flow and rebuild healthy cells to regain your verve and resilience!
Yours in Health,
Read more articles by Dr. Chris. See The Call to Evolve: Letting Go, Making Shifts, Reducing Chronic Inflammation Through Diet, The Total Stress Load Concept: Why Your Body May Not Be Healing Itself, Vagal Tone: at the Intersection of Chiropractic, Emotions and Nutrition, and Rebalancing Through Nutrition and the Healing Crisis.
“9. Adrenal Section,” Question by Question Guide to the NAQ, Dr. D. Weatherby.
“Adrenal Imbalance: The Effects of High Stress and Cortisol Levels,” M. Pick, accessed Dec 14, 2011.
“Chronic Stress and Hormonal Health,” Mar 31, 2011, Labrix.
“Cortisol Testing for Adrenal Function,” Provider Data Sheet Rev 01.21.09, ZRT Laboratory.
“Decreased Adrenal Function and Hypoglycemia,” J. Connor, LAc, Aug 2004.
“Insiders Guide to Functional Diagnosis: Adrenals,” Dr. D. Weatherby. Downloaded Feb 7, 2011.
“Managing Stress During the Holidays and Year Round,” Dr. N. Zabriskie, accessed Dec 15, 2011.
“Most Common Cause of Fatigue That is Missed or Misdiagnosed by Doctors,” Dr. J. Mercola, Sep 5, 2009.