Fatigue and Adrenal Insufficiency:
Adrenal insufficiency refers to the inability of the adrenal glands to produce a normal is
one of the most common imbalances in our population today.
Adrenal insufficiency is not to be confused with Addison's disease. Addison's
disease is more or less a total adrenal gland shutdown.
Adrenal insufficiency is also different from adrenal burnout. The latter is a more
severe derangement of the energy-producing mechanisms of the body. In burnout, the
body is basically unable to cope with stress. The symptoms of burnout are similar to
those of adrenal insufficiency, but are more extreme and require longer to correct.
ABOUT THE ADRENAL GLANDS
The adrenal glands are often referred to as the stress glands or the fight-or-flight
glands. The fight-or-flight response is mediated by the adrenal medulla. The
fight-or-flight response is the bodyís way of responding to stress.
The stress response prepares the body to run or fight. Blood pressure, pulse rate
and blood sugar levels increase. Blood is shunted away from the digestive organs and
toward the muscles and brain. The pupils dilate and the speed of reflexes increases. Part
of the stress response is due to the action of the adrenal hormones. Symptoms of
adrenal insufficiency can be directly traced to a reduced secretion of these hormones
when under stress. Adrenal hormones are divided into two groups, those produced in
the adrenal medulla and those produced in the cortex.
Hormones produced in the medulla are epinephrine and norepinephrine. These are
powerful, fast-acting neurotransmitters which initiate the fight-flight response. They
are also sometimes called adrenalin and noradrenalin. The hormones produced by the
adrenal cortex are aldosterone, cortisol and cortisone. The cortical hormones have a
slower, more prolonged action.
Aldosterone is called a mineralocorticoid hormone. Its primary function is to
increase sodium retention by the kidneys. Aldosterone levels roughly correlate with
sodium levels on a hair mineral analysis. Aldosterone is a pro-inflammatory hormone
required to initiate a healing reaction.
Cortisol and cortisone are referred to as glucocorticoid hormones because they
cause conversion of amino acids and glycogen to glucose. The corticosteroids are
anti-inflammatory and provide a mild sense of euphoria. Cortisol levels roughly
correspond to the potassium level on a hair mineral analysis.
A balance between aldosterone and cortisol is necessary to maintain one's health.
This balance is associated with the ratio of sodium to potassium on a hair analysis. If
aldosterone secretion is high ratio-wise to cortisol, inflammatory conditions such as
gastritis, colitis, arthritis, bursitis and sinusitis prevail. This often corresponds with a
high ratio of sodium to potassium on a hair analysis.
If cortisol secretion is high ratio-wise to aldosterone, diseases such as diabetes,
immune-deficiency syndromes, infection, arteriosclerosis, atherosclerosis, cataracts,
glaucoma, coronary heart disease or cardiomyopathy may prevail. This corresponds to
a low ratio of sodium to potassium on a hair analysis. Dr. Eck found the ideal
sodium/potassium ratio is about 2.5:1 in an unwashed sample of head hair.
SYMPTOMS OF ADRENAL INSUFFICIENCY
Adrenal insufficiency is commonly associated with the following symptoms, which
can vary from mild to extreme.
* decreased tolerance to cold
* poor circulation
* low blood sugar level (hypoglycemia)
* low blood pressure
* apathy or depression
* low stamina
* low self-esteem due to low energy output
* joint aches and pains
* low levels of gastric hydrochloric acid
* tendency to constipation
* muscle weakness
* need for excessive amounts of sleep
* fears, due to low energy and secondary copper toxicity
* lowered resistance to infection
* subnormal body temperature
CAUSES OF ADRENAL INSUFFICIENCY
Causes of adrenal insufficiency may include:
* Genetics. Genetics can affect the adrenal glands. Also, genetic defects can be a cause
of physical and emotional stress that can weaken the adrenals.
* Congenital Weakness. Congenital means present at birth. However, a congential
condition may not be genetic. It may be caused by nutritional deficiencies of the mother
that are passed on to the child. It may also be caused by toxic metals or other toxins
passed on from the mother's body that interfere with the functioning of the adrenal
glands. This is a very common cause of adrenal insufficiency today.
* Nutritional Imbalances. These can begin early in childhood with inadequate
diets, diet inappropriate for one's oxidation type, poor food quality or digestive
problems that prevent proper nutrition. Even natural foods today often are low in vital
minerals and do not provide adequate nutrition. Pesticides, heavy metals, bacteria,
solvents and other organic chemicals can all act as stressors that weaken the adrenal
* Emotional or Psychological Stress. Responding to emotional stress over and
over will eventually deplete the adrenal glands. A single overwhelming shock such as
death of a loved one can also deplete the adrenals. Emotional stress can begin in
childhood or at any time in life. It is actually the resistance or fear of a situation that
causes the stress response. A loving response will cause much less of a reaction, no
matter what the situation.
Other possible stressors include pressures from family, school, work, social
pressure, financial stress and others. People who force their bodies to "run or fight" all
the time by any means will tend to exhaust their adrenal glands. The 'fight-or-flight'
response must be balanced by adequate rest and sleep.
* Stimulants. Most stimulants whip the adrenals. This may cause one to feel better
for a while, but the long-term effect is to weaken the adrenal glands. Stimulants include
sugar, alcohol, caffeine, theobromine in chocolate, amphetamines and other medical
drugs, cocaine, heroine and others.
Other stimulants can include loud noise, loud music, light stimulation such as strobe
lights in night clubs, excessive exercise and excessive vibration. Anger, fear and worry
can act as stimulants as well.
Note that stimulant use can be a result, as well as a cause of adrenal insufficiency. A
person who is tired due to weak adrenals may be attracted to stimulants such as drugs,
loud music or anger to feel better temporarily.
* Infections, Energetic and Structural Imbalances. These are all internal
stressors that, if left uncorrected, can eventually weaken the adrenals by forcing the
body to mount a chronic stress response to these irritants.
* Toxic Substances. These may include chlorine in water, polluted air, mercury from
dental fillings, household chemicals, food additives, pesticide exposure, dusts, molds
and pollens. These often cause allergies that can be controlled with adrenalin or
cortisone, the adrenal hormones.
Medical therapy, particularly cortisone or prednisone therapy, weakens the
adrenals by creating hormone imbalances.
* Mental Attitude. One's attitude makes a great difference in determining the stress
response. Worry, fear, anger and resentment tend to increase the stress response. An
attitude of gratitude and compassion for oneself and others tends to diminish the stress
response. Understanding the impermanence of the body and the world we live in,
emotional detachment and detachment from all form, and a single-minded desire to
extend love can greatly diminish the stress response.
DETECTING ADRENAL INSUFFICIENCY
It is often possible to assess adrenal insufficiency based upon symptoms. Anyone
who is tired, allergic, intolerant to cold, with symptoms of low blood sugar, weakness
and low blood pressure, most likely has some degree of adrenal insufficiency.
Blood tests may be useful to detect serious adrenal insufficiency. A serum sodium
level less than 130 mEq/L and a serum potassium greater than 5 mEq/L may be noted.
A low glucose levels and elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN) may also be present. Other
factors, however, can affect the serum readings.
A blood test for adrenal function involves measuring 17-ketosteroids, a breakdown
product of the adrenal hormones. Measuring the ketosteroids alone is not considered
accurate. To perform the test properly, an injection of ACTH (adreno-cortical
stimulating hormone) is given first. Then urine is collected and measured for
17-hydroxycorticosteroids (17-OHCS) and 17-ketogenic steroids (17-KGS).
Measurement of 17-OHCS and 17-KGS without the ACTH loading is not useful and
may be misleading. The loading dose of ACTH measures how well the adrenals respond
to the pituitary. Many people with adrenal insufficiency have no symptoms if the
adrenals are not called upon to respond to a stressor.
Hair mineral analysis is an excellent assessment tool for adrenal insufficiency when
the test is properly performed. It is probably more reliable and sensitive than the blood
The hair must not be washed at the laboratory. Washing at the laboratory
erratically removes sodium and potassium, critical minerals for adrenal assessment.
According to the research of Dr. Paul Eck, the following are indicators of adrenal
insufficiency on a hair analysis:
* Sodium level less than 25 mg%
* Potassium level less than 10 mg%
* Sodium/potassium ratio less than 2.5:1
* Sodium/magnesium ratio less than 4.17:1
* Calcium/potassium ratio greater than 10:1
The more of these indicators that are present, the greater the evidence of adrenal
insufficiency. Also, the more extreme the values, the more suggestive of adrenal
The best and most reliable tests for adrenal insufficiency is the saliva test. This
measures the free fraction of cortisol and DHEA in relation to the cortical output which
happens several times throughout the day. For more information see our page on
hormone saliva tests.
CORRECTING ADRENAL INSUFFICIENCY
The only medical treatment for adrenal insufficiency is cortisone replacement
therapy. While low dose cortisone is used by some physicians, this therapy can cause
serious side effects. In our experience, the best approach involves:
1) Saliva testing for Cortisol output and nutritional assessment through hair tissue
2) A wholesome diet of natural foods appropriate for one's oxidation type and digestive
3) Nutritional supplements to reduce stress and enhance adrenal activity. The adrenal
glands especially require vitamins A, C, E, pantothenic acid, manganese and zinc.
Adrenal glandular substance is also recommended to provide adrenal nucleoproteins
and other specific nutritional factors to help rebuild the adrenal glands.
4) Supplements to enhance overall metabolism, eliminate toxic metals and enhance
absorption and digestion of food.
5) Detoxification procedures such as sauna therapy to help eliminate toxic metals.
6) Lifestyle modification to reduce harmful stressors.
7) Techniques to improve one's ability to cope with stress. This can include
biofeedback, meditation, relaxation techniques, etc.
8) Attitude adjustment, including letting go of resentment, blame, attachments and fears
that stimulate but also can paralyze the adrenal glands.
In mild cases of adrenal insufficiency, correction can occur in a matter of months.
In more difficult or longstanding cases, complete correction may require several years.
Persistence and patience are needed for optimal results.
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