Chronic Stress and Adrenal Dysfunction

Societal expectations, family obligations, job pressures, and economic hardship can result in stress, and if that stress becomes chronic, it can result in Adrenal Dysfunction and ultimately lead to:

  • Mood disorders and depression
  • Increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases
  • Osteoporosis
  • Dementia/memory loss
  • Sleep disorders
  • Insulin resistance/diabetes
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Premature aging

The adrenal glands are involved in the “fight or flight” response. One of the body’s initial responses to fear or stress is the release of hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol that initially help us to react or adapt to a stressful situation. Cortisol raises blood sugar and blood pressure, and increases the breakdown of protein while inhibiting protein synthesis. Cortisol interferes with thyroid hormone action and stimulates visceral fat deposition, which can lead to metabolic syndrome. Medical literature has confirmed the correlation between high levels of cortisol secondary to chronic stress (hypercortisolism) and disease development, including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Immune suppression
  • Impaired thyroid function
  • Decreased kidney function
  • Exacerbation of skin conditions (acne, psoriasis, eczema)
  • Gastrointestinal problems (GERD, Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

Over time, the body may no longer be able to produce the needed amounts of cortisol and patients can ultimately end up with low cortisol levels (hypocortisolism).

Factors which influence the development and progression of adrenal dysfunction:

  • Duration and severity of stress
  • Previous exposure to chronic stressors
  • Individual coping mechanisms
  • Gender (females are more likely to develop adrenal dysfunction than males)
  • Personality (introversion)
  • Low self-esteem

Treatment of Adrenal Dysfunction

  • Stress reduction techniques –Gentle exercise, Tai Chi, yoga, Pilates, meditation
  • Sleep hygiene - Regular sleep-wake cycle, avoid third shift work. The following supplements may be helpful: 5-HTP, Melatonin, Phosphatidylserine, L-Theanine, Calming herbs (Valerian root, Chamomile, Hops, Passion flower)
  • Lifestyle modification - Delegating responsibilities to eliminate stressors, regular meals, avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Vitamins and minerals - Magnesium Glycinate or Citrate, B Vitamins, selenium, zinc, calcium, manganese, Vitamin E with mixed tocopherols, Vitamin C (Ascorbate)
  • Adaptogens – Ashwaganda, Rhodiola, Holy Basil
  • Pharmacologic therapy - Low doses of hydrocortisone (by prescription, and closely monitored) have been found to help when the body fails to produce sufficient amounts of cortisol.

Our pharmacist will work together with patients and their physicians to customize therapy for adrenal dysfunction.

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