Chronic Illness & Your Adrenals
I finished up the book Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by Dr. James L. Wilson. It was packed with so much interesting and helpful information. I highly recommend it, especially if you struggle with relentless fatigue… the key symptom of adrenal fatigue.
The primary purpose of your adrenal glands is to help your body cope with stresses and survive. It is their job to ensure your body can deal with stress from all sources: from injury and disease to work and relationship problems.
The adrenals get worn down by various things in the environment like toxins, food intolerances and/or pharmaceuticals.
The adrenals also tire out when your body struggles with chronic pain or illnesses. Per Dr. Wilson, “the more chronic the illness, the more critical the adrenal response becomes.”
With all this in mind, I think that adrenal fatigue and it’s related chronic fatigue could be common companions with endometriosis. It is not something that many doctors are aware of, however, so for many this condition goes undiagnosed for years.
Addressing the Master Hormone: Cortisol
According to Dr. Wilson,
your adrenals significantly affect the functioning of every tissue, organ and gland in your body, and also impact the way you think and feel.
This interplay comes from your adrenals’ production of an important hormone called cortisol (commonly known as the stress hormone).
When cortisol levels are off due to stress and/or adrenal fatigue then big reactions happen in your body. After all, cortisol is the “master” hormone. When it comes into play, all others subside.
Makes sense since survival is kind of a primary concern 🙂
The amount of cortisol circulating in your body is regulated primarily from your brain with complex interactions between the hypothalamus (a regulatory part of your brain), the pituitary gland at the base of your brain, and your adrenal glands. This interaction is called the HPA axis.
The HPA axis is one of the most important elements of your body’s processes because it helps maintain homeostasis, or balance in your body. The HPA axis adjusts cortisol levels according to the needs of your body.
Cortisol & Inflammation
During stressful situations cortisol is released. If stress is chronic (physically or emotionally) then your body is unable to keep up and eventually cortisol levels drop off.
Many of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue arise from decreased cortisol levels in your body or inadequate levels of cortisol during times of stress when more cortisol is needed.
According to Dr. Wilson, cortisol is the most powerful anti-inflammatory substance in your body. It influences most cells that participate in immune reactions and/or inflammatory reactions, especially white blood cells, specifically lymphocytes, the commanders of your white blood cells.
When cortisol is elevated during times of stress, then there is almost a complete disappearance of lymphocytes from your blood. That is why your immune system is suppressed when you are under stress.
(Ever notice that endometriosis symptoms are worse during stressful times?)
When circulating cortisol is low, then lymphocytes circulate in excess. This creates an inflammatory reaction that takes your body longer to return to normal.
Cortisol & Blood Sugar Levels
There is a close relationship between adrenal fatigue and blood sugar levels. In fact, cortisol is essential for maintaining blood sugar levels in the proper balance.
When cortisol levels are low then blood sugar levels are low. Thus, adrenal fatigue goes hand in hand with low blood sugar levels or hypoglycemia.
A drop in blood sugar triggers your adrenals to make more cortisol. If your adrenals are fatigued, then this becomes a difficult process.
With lowered cortisol levels, your liver has a more difficult time converting glycogen (stored blood sugar) into glucose (active blood sugar). This can create further energy depletion.
Low blood sugar times are most likely to occur around 10am, 2pm, and between 3-4pm. Eating a small snack causes a small burst in cortisol levels. If you have a slump during these times, then Dr. Wilson recommends a small snack to help energy levels.
Testing for Adrenal Fatigue
With the help of the self-test in Dr. Wilson’s book and the other at-home tests he recommends doing, I have confirmed that my symptoms likely point to moderate adrenal fatigue.
To confirm this for sure, Dr. Wilson recommends saliva testing. This can be done at home or with the help of a functional doctor or naturopath. He recommends testing cortisol levels at morning, noon, evening and night and also testing DHEA-S levels.
The adrenals secrete cortisol levels at different parts of the day. Cortisol levels should be highest in the morning and steadily drop down during the day so that levels are lowest at night.
If adrenal fatigue is in play then the opposite occurs. Cortisol is low in the morning and higher at night. This makes it rough to get up in the morning and tough to go to bed at night.
I’ve been experiencing fluctuating bouts of fatigue during the day and struggle to wake up in the morning, regardless of how many hours of sleep I get. Dr. Wilson’s book has helped me to understand that this could be in direct correlation with the fluctuation (or lacking fluctuations) of my cortisol levels during the day.
Outside of chronic fatigue, additional signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- decreased tolerance
- decreased clarity of thought
- decreased memory
Additionally, people who are deficient in cortisol usually have low blood pressure.
On the Positive Side?
There are things that can be done to help combat adrenal fatigue and the chronic fatigue that comes with this condition. Yes. There is hope 🙂
I want to share with you the strategies that I picked up to help combat chronic fatigue, but it’s way too much for this post.
Thus, I’ve put together a new course: Eat for Energy with Endo.
Find out more & Register Here.
I’m excited to share this information with you to help you re-gain your energy.
Thanks for another great article. Excellent research and very clearly explained. You write so well.
The GnRH drugs often prescribed for women with endo act directly on the pituitary gland which can’t bode well for balancing cortisol levels and the HPA axis you mention.
Thanks CB! Interesting tidbit about the GnRH drugs and their impact on the pituitary gland. I assume this does more harm then good. Another reason to steer clear 🙂
I can attest to the bouts of low blood sugar (since I was a child) and low blood pressure. Doctors usually ask me if I’m an athlete when my BP runs low and I’m not. The last few times I’ve had it checked it’s been in a healthier range so that’s good. I actually am waiting on the arrival of a light therapy box to possibly help with my sleep issues and general mood since this winter has kept me inside so much. Having a hypoglycemic attack is one of the worst feelings in the world. It can be paralyzing until it passes which is why I always have to make sure I have food around. I’m so glad to have made a connection with low BP and BS after seeing a talk with Dr. Wilson and then reading your post here. I’m looking forward to your webinar!
Hi Tosha. I relate as well with the low blood pressure. I’m always commended for it… when in actuality there’s a bigger reason behind it 🙂
Curious about the light box therapy. Will have to look into that more. Thanks so much for sharing.
Ese es mi diario vivir, la fatiga se ha apoderado de mi vida!!!
If you’re ready to make changes, my new course, Eat for Energy with Endo can help: http://peacewithendo.teachable.com/p/eat-for-energy-with-endo