by Valerie Robitaille, PhD(c)
Your adrenal glands, located on top of your kidneys, secrete hormones including cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, which effectively help you manage stress.
Supplementing with appropriate vitamins and minerals may be a good idea, but reducing your stress level is critical since adrenal dysfunction may lead to adrenal insufficiency and exhaustion.
Types of Stress
Pioneer endocrinologist Dr. Hans Selye, MD, noted that all forms of stress are handled the same way — and stress is cumulative in its effects. Environmental stress includes heat, cold and noise. Chemical stress includes pollution and drugs. Physical stress can occur from overexercising, trauma or an infection. Psychological stress includes worry and fear. Biochemical stress, such as nutritional deficiencies and excessive refined sugar consumption, as well as imaginary stress, are additional types of stress.
The Stress Response
In the “fight or flight” stress response, the adrenal glands enlarge and secrete large quantities of adrenal cortical hormones. These hormones suppress inflammatory responses and mobilize the body’s energy reserves. This puts the body on RED ALERT and diverts all biochemical resources to immediate survival. The body’s self-healing mechanisms are arrested, the immune system is suppressed, glycogen stores in the liver and muscle tissue are mobilized to raise the blood sugar level, and digestion and assimilation are inhibited. The stomach lining becomes thin and ulcerated and the thymus gland and lymphatic tissues shrink. This “fight or flight” response works well under emergency situations, but is not suited for our modern lifestyle. Battling traffic, competing for parking spaces and watching the evening new produces the same physiological responses as running for your life.
All forms of stress produce the same physiological consequences and different sources of stress are additive and cumulative in their effects.
As the body responds to this cumulative stress, it goes through 3 stages of response:
- The first stage is REACTION, The body experiences the symptoms from the trauma, infection, heat, cold, chemical irritation, etc. The endocrine system responds with the release of cortisol and other hormones to compensate for the trauma. The heart beats faster, the blood pressure rises, the pupils dilate.
- The second stage is ADAPTATION. After the adrenal glands have enlarged and release large quantities of adrenal cortical hormones, the symptoms disappear and the individual feels good, has energy and is able to function in the presence of the stresses he/she is under.
- The third stage is EXHAUSTION. After an extended period in stage two, the body’s reserves of nutritional elements (raw materials) and resilience becomes depleted. The symptoms return and there is now no relief. The individual may collapse physically, suffer a nervous breakdown, become dysfunctional and/or experience an organ or body system failure (heart attack, stroke, etc.).
- An optional fourth stage is DEATH. If the stresses continue after stage three is reached and the body is no longer able to adapt, and rest, regeneration and healing do not occur, the consequence is death.
An individual in this cycle short of stage four can reverse the consequences of stress by removing themselves from the stressful situation, and giving themselves the rest, peace of mind and nutritional support that is necessary to restore the body’s reserves.
Testing Your Stress Hormones
Dr. Selye has found that even the slightest strain on the body, mental or physical, will cause it to use vitamins and minerals in excess of its normal needs. When the stress mechanisms of the body are exceeded, their functioning is diminished. All glands, but especially the adrenal and thyroid glands are responsible for the energy of the human body. When these systems are unbalanced nutritionally, symptoms arise.
If you are tired for no apparent reason, or have other symptoms that you feel may be due to adrenal fatigue, you can test your adrenal hormones at home.