Adrenal Fatigue is one of the fastest growing epidemics of our modern world, with the general concept being that we are running around in a constant state of ‘Sympathetic Dominance’, otherwise known as ‘fight or flight’.
When we are in this rushed state, we are constantly secreting higher than normal levels of Cortisol, which inevitably depletes over time.
Today I wanted to explain the ripple effect of Cortisol depletion from a Biochemistry standpoint. You see Cortisol is required for almost all dynamic processes in the body- from blood pressure regulation, to kidney function, glucose levels, fat building (you know that little roll of tummy fat you just cant shift no matter how hard you train?!), protein synthesis and immunity.
One important role of Cortisol is to make your thyroid hormones function more efficiently. In fact, normal thyroid function relies heavily on the right amount of Cortisol being secreted into the cells, and if it is not present in sufficient levels (as in the case of Adrenal Fatigue), the Thyroid cells can not perform their job effectively.
This is sometimes the case in people who have all the symptoms of low thyroid, but their blood results show the thyroid hormones are at sufficient levels. It’s not the thyroid that’s low underactive, but rather the adrenal function.
On the flipside, if Cortisol levels get too high in the cells, a condition called Thyroid Resistance can occur, which is where the thyroid hormones can be normal but fail to respond to signalling… in fact, this resistant state can also occur in other hormones in the body such as insulin, progesterone, estrogen and testosterone. When this happens, a much higher level of the relevant hormone is required to create the same effect in the body- this is why chronic stress (which elevates cortisol) can reap havoc on many systems of the body and be a primary driver in things like erectile dysfunction, weight gain (insulin and thyroid resistance), hot flushes (estrogen resistance), depression and mood… the list goes on really.
On the note of Hot Flushes in peri and post menopausal women, where the estrogen receptors in the brain are involved; It is common practice to assume that flushes are a symptom of the drop in estrogen in a peri menopausal woman, but what if she is under a lot of stress and instead is suffering from estrogen resistance and her circulating estrogen levels are actually ok?
If given estrogenic herbs, she may start to get symptoms of estrogen dominance, such as weight gain, water retention and moodiness – and the flushes may not go away. (this is because you are raising her hormone levels which didn’t need raising in the first place), and the brains estrogen receptors may still not accept the estrogenic herbs in the presence of cortisol.
Same goes for a man with erectile dysfunction. Here we find that testosterone resistance is common, and if bloods are tested for free testosterone, generally the result shows a normal(ish) level of hormone.
So when someone presents with hormone resistance being a likely candidate, aside from the obvious matter of treating the underlying Cortisol dilemma, how do we decipher what does (and doesn’t) need to be done for every individual that comes into the clinic? After assessing their lifestyle, diet and sleep habits, we can also run salivary assays (which offer far more accurate readings of the free and usable hormones at the tissue level). Depending on the person’s symptoms, it may be as simple as a Cortisol panel. But there are also a variety of panels including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone and DHT (an androgenic form of testosterone that rises in the presence of cortisol).
For more information on any of this, please feel free to contact me in clinic.
Claire @ NBL