By: Krista Borowski, RPh
Most everyone experiences stress in their everyday lives. The stressor may be a big life-changing event such as a death, divorce, serious illness, or accident; or it may be the daily stresses of life – busy family life, workplace pressure, unhappy relationships, poor diet, a lack of rest and relaxation can all add up to measurable stress on your body. You may have physical symptoms of stress such as body aches, poor concentration, allergies, weakened immune system, food cravings and weight changes. You may feel tired all the time, no matter how much sleep you get, and feel like you have lost control over your life. You know something is not right with your body, but your doctor may tell you that there is nothing physically wrong with you. You could be experiencing decreased adrenal function and routine lab tests may not show this. The doctor may want to prescribe medications for anxiety/depression or medications to help with sleep but they are only helping with symptoms, and not the underlying condition if you are suffering from adrenal dysfunction.
Your adrenal glands are responsible for all your responses to stress. Cortisol is one of the main adrenal hormones and its output is one of the indicators of adrenal function and how well your body handles stress. A saliva test that measures cortisol is one of the most reliable ways to measure the physical effect of stress on your body. Because cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day, it is best to collect four measurements; morning upon awakening, at noon, in the late afternoon/early evening and at bedtime. Cortisol levels are the highest in the early morning and the lowest at bedtime. It is important to work with a professional that has experience in testing and interpreting saliva test results. Adrenal impairment affects the balance and production of other important hormones that the adrenal gland is responsible for as well: DHEA, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Therefore, it may be recommended to check your levels of other steroid hormones when testing cortisol levels.
Adrenal dysfunction can be corrected and people do regain their good health. Lifestyle changes that include a healthy diet, exercise, positive relationships, less work stress and quality sleep are vital in recovery. Nutritional supplements may be needed to help the adrenal glands recover. It may be also necessary to replace depleted hormones in order to regain hormone balance. Because there are so many factors in play to correcting adrenal dysfunction, it is important to work with an experienced healthcare professional to best help regain optimal adrenal function and stress response.