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It's Not Me: It's My Adrenals! How Your Adrenals Govern Your Vitality

Posted on 21 July 2011

[caption id="attachment_1597" align="alignleft" width="166"] Here's where your adrenals live, in the back body, above the kidneys[/caption] Do you wilt in the face of stress? Feel more anxious when you have to step up your game? Think you might be burned out? It may not be you – it may be your hormones. Sprecifically, your stress hormones. Figure this out now, before you hit menopause, and your forties will be so very much easier. And, believe me, I speak from personal and professional experience. Do you know if you have a problem with your adrenal function? Our adrenals sit like hats on top of our kidneys, and while they are small in stature, they are enormously influential in terms of your capacity to cope with stress. What surprises me constantly is the number of empowered women I meet daily - entrepreneurs, lawyers, overeducated women with exciting lives who know their metrics inside and out from 401K to current home value - yet they have no idea what their adrenal numbers are. Some of us, myself included, spend too much time in fight/flight/collapse in response to daily stressors. Over time, this ongoing state of hypervigiliance takes a toll – the cells of your adrenals can’t keep up with the overtime and burn out. How do you know if this has happened to you? Two options: take a questionnaire or test your levels of the hormones your adrenals make, namely cortisol and DHEAS. Cortisol is like a General, in command of the army that is your body. Cortisol has its hands in many things – it controls how you use fuel, how much energy you have at your disposal, how you respond to a crisis, how you digest food, and whether to store the bread you just ate around your mid-section. DHEAS is a hormone of vitality – it is a pre-hormone to testosterone, and contributes significantly to sex drive. You can have either too much of these two hormones (stage 1) or not enough (stage 2) or adrenal failure (stage 3), a life-threatening emergency. I’m an organic gynecologist in the San Francisco Bay Area, and adrenal dysregulation is the most common hormone problem I see. Typically, my patients report poor stress resilience, difficulty functioning well under stress or even to react to them, sometimes even bordering on paralysis, which is totally new (and often has an onset in perimenopause, that time in your forties when your periods start to get closer together and PMS reaches new heights). Adrenal dysregulation manifests differently in different people – sometimes it feels more like excessive sensitivity to human suffering, or excessive compassion for the pain of other people, or even excessive irritation at the suffering of others. Both cortisol and DHEA influence other hormones too, and some you may know about. Excess cortisol inhibits thyroid, estrogen, melatonin, and growth hormone. Excess DHEA inhibits cortisol and stimulates testosterone. Clearly, one has to juggle many hormones to feel most vital. What do you do if you think you might have a problem with adrenal function, either too much or too little? I advise going to your doctor and asking for a blood test. See where you are right now, as a baseline. Know your adrenals at least as well as your 401K. Get as empowered about your health as you are in other realms of your life. There are numerous therapies for wonky adrenals, and many of them have been tested with the tincture of time in ancient wisdom traditions such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Examples include botanicals such as Ashwagandha and Ginseng. BUT. I like to start with nutrition, Whole Foods Nutrition. And boundaries. Folks with high cortisol tend to crave carbohydrates, the refined type. Sugar, chocolate, pastries, any flour-sugar combination, really. We must change that. Pronto. I’m a fan of several food plans, depending on your particular circumstances. Generally, I find the Paleolithic diet, based on fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry and fish, is best at optimizing adrenal function. Limited, sprouted grains. I also recommend removing refined or processed carbohydrates, particularly breads, cereals, pasta, and baked goods. Particularly good for your best adrenal function are lean proteins, and healthy fats such as coconut oil and olive oil. Want to take your adrenals to the next level? Reset the mother ship toward True North and vitality? Sign up right here to learn more about how to do it -- I did 2 webinars (I call them "webjams") over the past week on the topic. Register and I'll send you the replay! You’ve got questions? I’ve got answers. Proven, safe answers (finally, whew!). Let me know your questions in the comments section. Tell me where you are with your adrenal function, and what outcome you desire. How do you want to respond to stress? xo Dr. Sara PS: Quick! Before ADD gets the best of you! Register for my webjam!

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12 comments

  • Sara Gottfried MD: December 29, 2015

    Yes, there are thousands of adrenal supplements, and about 90% of them are unproven in humans. Some of them can be harmful — licorice can raise your blood pressure, and ground-up adrenal glands are… well, risky. I talk alot about supplements in my free and paid webinars. Hope you can join us! The one I did today can be accessed for the next week by registering here: /energyjam/ (replay available for a limited time only). I speak to the supplement issue a few times in both of the webinars that I did over the past week. All the best, Dr. Sara

  • Geri: December 29, 2015

    Is there a supplement that can be taken to improve adrenal function? Will it harm you to take a supplement if you don’t really need it?

  • Peyton: December 29, 2015

    Within the last month I have found out I am perimenopausal and hypothyroid. I also have adrenal dysregulation. I was started on bio-identical progesterone, 10 mg troche and 10 ml cream with dims. Last Friday I started 60mg of Armour Thyroid. I suffer from severe insomnia since Dec. 2010, averaging 2-4 hrs. of sleep every 24 hrs. waking daily by 6 AM. I have tried medications, accupuncture, amino acid IV’s, numerous sleep specialist, homeopathic MD’s, whole psychiatry, changes in diet, cbt, supplements. I am miserable and feel no one is able to help me, that I am the only person to ever go through what I’m going through. I am desperate, please help

  • Allie: December 29, 2015

    Hi Dr. Sara – I was on your teleconference yesterday and I loved it. I have suffered from adrenal fatigue for at least 7 years. I have been treating with holistic doctors for 4 years. I’m holding on, but not finding relief yet. I’m also hypothyroid (was hyper for years) and estrogen dominant (on bioidentical estriol with a little progesterone). I lead a stressful life as a single woman in mid-40’s having to stay afloat in this economy. I’m working on the stress (yoga, energy healing). I’m looking for advice on supplements specific to the adrenals. My saliva test for cortisol a few months ago came back 10.59 nmol/L (morning), 4.64 (noon), 3.38 (evening) and ,0.28 (night). I’ve been on Adrenal Rebuilder for years and it helps. But I feel I need more to strengthen my adrenals. Any suggestions?

  • Nanci Domarew: December 29, 2015

    Hi Dr. Gottfried,

    I don’t know where to begin but I am a real mess and could use your help.
    I have been seeing an osteopath but I haven’t had much success in feeling any better.
    I had 2 saliva tests, one was done back in May, but probably not accurate because I was using the Wiley Protocol of BRHT and was only off of them for 9 days when I did the first saliva test. My progesterone and estradiol was off the charts, had normal DHEA and testosterone on saliva but high on serum the month before. The cortisol showed high in the evening and night. I have been off of all biodientical creams since April 24th 2011. The Wiley is a crime towards all women…as it is way too much P/E for anyone. 3 gynos fell off their chairs when they saw just how much i was rubbing into me. it made me so sick, raised my blood pressure and pulse and had to increase the beta blocker I have taken for over 20 yrs. I am 55 yrs old and haven’t had a period in almost 4 yrs. I had NHL 2 yrs ago and went through chemotherapy for it. follicular type B NHL stage 3, grade 1 (not curable but treatable) I think I am still in remission. I also lost my smell(anosmia) for the second time after a cold and created a lot of anxiety where I ended up on xanax and had to withdraw using valium. this was 7 yrs ago, but after all this stress plus living in a loveless, stressful marriage and hating where I live in upstate snowy and cold NY I am never happy. I think the beta blocker, the chemo, the anxiety, the stress, and the benzo w/d on top of using the wiley protocol for 7 weeks through my body into a turmoil of adrenal burnout with high cortisol at night. I have terrible insomnia and can’t sleep for months now. I know that loss of sleep can cause the vicious cycle of creating too much cortisol. it has affected my thyroid and probably all my hormones. I have a high RT3 with a low FT3/RT3 ratio. I have tried to wean off the beta blocker but when I got down to 12.5mg that is when I knew I couldn’t get off. My heart pounds now every night and it wakes me up in the mornings. I am at the high end of the range in cortisol in the mornings and highish at night. I am afraid that one day they will just all burn out and I will have AF. I don’t even know if the saliva test I just had was even accurate as I didn’t ship them on ice or overnight like I was told by my support group told me to do. I called up ZRT and they said not necessary. But my symptoms don’t match my results, so I don’t know how to treat. I take an adaptogen at night but most of them have soy or soy lecithin it them, along with some other fillers. Rhodiola doesn’t agree with me and doesn’t really help. I have tons of anxiety and jitters, with a shaking, nervous feeling in my gut. I feel like I am coming out of my skin. I have tried Ashwaganda, PS, B complex, C, D and am trying to eat better. I am trying to avoid as much sugar and gluten as I can. I have an elevated A1C now at 6.1, high triglycerides and cholesterol. I have reactivated EBV, parvo and mycoplasma pneumonaie in which I take Olive Leaf extract. I take 3mg of Melatonin at night but it has stopped working and I find myself up all night, until I fall out from pure exhaustion. I have tight, rigid neck muscle and my body aches all over. I have a neck condition with stenosis, pinched nerves and no curve. I don’t know what to do anymore. I have tried T3 (compounded and generic) and both made me pretty ill with rapid heart rate and b/p and made me psycho, with terrible mental symptoms, anxiety, crying, like a crazy person. I was on it for 6 days at 5mcg’s a day (2.5mcg’s twice a day) and I called the doctor and she told me to stop it. I know that beta blockers, chemo and stress can increase RT3. I was told by a support group I have hashi’s but my doctor said no. I have a low aldosterone but I know that comes from taking a beta blocker and accurate results are not possible unless you are off the BB for 2 weeks. I don’t crave salt, but I do urinate sometimes often at night. I was told I had PCOS by one endocrinologist but my gyno and doctor told me no, not in menopause. My b/p is high in the mornings as well as my pulse and I take the BB and some supplements and then within an hour or so, it drops, to sometimes pretty low ranges, and if too low I get faint. I don’t know what to do anymore and I am scared.
    I know I am not your patient and you can’t medically advise me, but I was hoping for some suggestions. I am lost and confused and not sure what to do or how to get better. No one wants to hear my constant complaints anymore. I am not a fun person to be around and I don’t blame them, I don’t want to be around me either. Sorry for writing a book here. I just wanted you to know what is going on. Thank you so much….Sincerely, Nanci Domarew

  • Stephanie: December 29, 2015

    It took a naturopath to diagnose me properly! I had low progesterone and low functioning adrenals – low cortisol! Oh I was a MESS! Since doing her protocol for 7 weeks I am now feeling so much better! But let me tell ya — the regular M.D’s NEVER thought to check my hormone levels and I TOLD them I had been under major stress.

  • Sharon Burress: December 29, 2015

    Why do you specify lean meat? My understanding from studying many different sources in books and online is that many curative properties are ours when eating the fat and organs of wild or pastured animals.

  • Kellyann: December 29, 2015

    Hi Sara,
    I am 39 and having patches of hair loss on the sides of my temple and the top above my hairline. My doctor said it has nothing to do with my diet (my first thought) and he said it will just grow back-not to worry about it not even oking blood work. My own research suggests it being alopieia…
    I’m wondering though if it’s possibly adrenal/hormones due to my age?
    Thanks so much;-)

  • MIchelle: December 29, 2015

    What about if one is diagnosed with Addison’s….?

  • Katie Petoia: December 29, 2015

    I listened to your EneryJam and you talked about too much cortisol. I have the opposite problem…too little cortisol. Are the treatments the same? Do you ever prescribe Hydrocortisone for your patients?

  • Colleen Funderburk: December 29, 2015

    Hello Dr. Sara
    I am a single mom and I have a child with ADHD who stresses me out a lot. He is very defiant and I find myself being less tolerable the older I get. I just turned 40 last year and I also don’t tolerate noise very well. When my children are at school, I feel very relaxed but when they come home, I feel stressed again. Sometimes I feel dizzy or light headed even though I eat well and my pulse starts to become more rapid. I love my kids and would like to know is this a hormonal problem I have or am I just naturally nervous? I don’t do well with quiet music or yoga. I prefer just to be alone in a quiet place. I have a garden where I usually sit and relax in but I would like to know how can I relax more when my children come home? Please let me know at your earliest convenience. Thanks.

  • Pixie: December 29, 2015

    I’m a vegan – who has given up flour products since last fall and eat only whole grains when I do partake of grain products – no wheat, as it causes inflammation in my joints. I eat a lot of raw fruits, veggies and nuts, and some cooked veggies, beans, and tofu. I use coconut and olive oils. I haven’t completely given up sweets, but they are homemade using honey, stevia, and occasionally evaporated cane juice crystals. I try to use smoothies for my sweet fixes. I’m 48. I’m about 30-40 lbs. overweight. And I am always tired. I got some kind of bug in January that left me with a low-grade temp for 2 weeks and weakness for longer. I’ve not felt strong since that time. Just when I start to think I’m regaining my energy, it seems I get slapped back down. I tend to be an easily-stressed-out woman – finding myself tense and tight for NOTHING. Does this sound like adrenal issues?

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