The Immune System and Stress
I am reading an awesome, highly recommended book called The Immune System Recovery Plan by Dr. Susan Blum. She is a functional doctor who healed herself from Hashimoto’s through diet and lifestyle changes.
Since I have Hashimoto’s this definitely intrigues me and I feel like a lot of what she shares is beneficial in the quest to heal my endometriosis.
I just finished up a section of her book on stress and its negative impact on your immune system. She writes about the role of your adrenal glands in this whole interplay and I thought the information quite interesting, so I thought I’d share 🙂
Tired Adrenal Glands
Your adrenal glands sit at the top of your kidneys. They are a vital component in your endocrine system and are super important for balance and healing.
The outer part of your adrenal glands is called the adrenal cortex. This is where hormones and pre-hormones are produced, including:
- aldosterone — a hormone that regulates blood pressure
- DHEA — pre-hormone for testosterone and estrogen, also regulates blood sugar and lipids
- cortisol — a stress hormone
When your body is under stress then your adrenal glands secrete high levels of cortisol and continue to do so until the stressor goes away. If the stressor does not go away then eventually your adrenals tire out.
Patterns of tired adrenals include:
- waking up tired…
- feeling best in the middle of the day…
- crash and the need for a nap in late afternoon…
- second wind at night
Adrenal Fatigue and Hormonal Impacts
With sustained stress then DHEA is the first adrenal hormone to get depleted. When DHEA levels are low then this is a sign that the adrenals are in trouble.
Since DHEA is a precursor hormone — testosterone levels also drop. DHEA and testosterone support sex drive, maintain muscle mass and bone density. They also regulate cholesterol and sugar levels.
With consistent stress then eventually the adrenals burnout. When the adrenals burn out they no longer produce sufficient cortisol or adrenaline. The immediate result of this is exhaustion.
Other signs of low cortisol include puffiness, stiffness, achiness in joints and muscles (especially in the morning when cortisol levels should be at the highest).
When the body has low cortisol and resulting lower norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter) then the body is at a much higher risk for inflammation. Essentially the body is unable to control the immune system and unable to conquer inflammation.
Low functioning adrenal glands results in an increased risk of developing an autoimmune disease including thyroid disease (hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Graves, Hashimoto’s), rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Sounds to me like tired adrenals do no good for an inflammatory condition like endometriosis either 🙂
How to Cultivate Happy Adrenals
According to Dr. Blum in order for the adrenals to be happy….
Get a minimum of seven hours of sleep but preferably eight or more.
It is also important to have adequate protein and vegetables throughout the day, while limiting intake of white flour and sugar — basically a diet of whole foods.
Moderate exercise is important — not too much, not too little — Goldilocks 🙂
She also suggests limiting exposure to toxins and making time for relaxation each day.
By following these suggestions then the adrenals should be able to handle the external stress and trauma in life more easily.
On the Positive Side?
By being mindful and aware of feelings of stress in the body, then we can trigger our own response through the power of the breath. Deep belly breathing helps the body to relax as does guided relaxation with imagery and creative outlets (painting, writing, cooking, music…. etc.)
Everyday stress is going to happen. Life can get messy. It’s really the long term, chronic stress that is most damaging.
By learning to have a different kind of response to a stressful situation, then we avoid turning on the body’s damaging stress hormones and save the health of the all important adrenals.
Do you have symptoms of sluggish adrenals or low cortisol? Do you experience the pattern of having a hard time to wake and second wind at night? (I can totally relate). Have you healed your tired adrenals? I’d love to hear from you….