The effects of chronic stress can damage your body

Dr. Patrick B. Massey, MD, PH.D.,  medical director for complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, shared with the Daily Herald Newspaper that almost all of his adult patients mention that their stress and fatigue are significant.

Given the current state of stress in our lives, who could blame them? Many are diagnosed with some degree of adrenal fatigue.

The World Health Organization recognizes adrenal fatigue syndrome as a real, clinical entity. It is believed to be caused by unrelenting stress and is characterized by profound fatigue, non-restorative sleep, afternoon sleepiness and a need for caffeine and energy drinks.

There is often a craving for salty, sugary and starchy foods accompanied by weight gain, a low sex drive, and a feeling of overwhelming, undying stress.

Most American endocrinologists do not believe that adrenal insufficiency is a real condition. The Endocrine Society has stated that adrenal fatigue is not consistent with adrenal gland pathophysiology.

However, all other endocrine organs can experience levels of limited function so it is contradictory that the adrenal glands cannot. Chronic stress is believed to over-stimulate the adrenal glands resulting in cumulative damage to the mechanisms controlling adrenal hormone release.

The usual blood test is not sensitive enough to detect adrenal insufficiency. It is designed to only diagnose either Cushing’s disease (too much cortisol) or Addison’s disease (lack of cortisol).

Solid medical research suggests that a salivary cortisol test is more sensitive and can diagnose adrenal insufficiency.

Chronic stress is a threat to homeostasis (equilibrium). Chronic stress activates two different “anti-stress” systems located in the brain, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, and the autonomic nervous system.

Chronic stress causes the pituitary gland to produce ACTH which stimulates the production of cortisol in the adrenal gland.

Chronic stress in the autonomic nervous system over-stimulates the adrenal gland to make more adrenalin than the body actually needs.

The effects of chronic stress damages all bodily organs. It is a significant risk factor for all illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, depression, irritable bowel and that devastating illness without any effective treatment, Alzheimer’s disease.

Since two different brain systems contribute to adrenal fatigue, a “one size fits all” approach does not work in treating adrenal fatigue.

The best treatment involves treating the body, mind and even spirit together: reducing the most stressful aspects of lifestyle. Sleep deprivation is a factor so night shift workers are at greater risk of adrenal fatigue. Endurance exercise (not resistance) is important. Tai Chi and Qigong-based exercises offer the best evidence of benefit. Select dietary supplements may accelerate the healing. Mediterranean diet and probiotics also show benefit.

Stress reduction techniques including meditation and energy-based therapies help. Specific adaptogens are also helpful, but not all adaptogens have the same effect. Some may make it worse.

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