When one hears the word “stress,” we often think of vulnerability to multiple work demands, time pressures, crumbling relationships, and impending debt. This stands in stark contrast to our early ancestors, who would have viewed stress in terms of heat, altitude, famine, or predators. The external causes of stress may have changed over time, but the internal causes have not, from injury and physical trauma to bacterial/viral assaults and other diseases.
How an individual copes with the actual stress on a physiological level is largely dependent on nutritional status, various lifestyle factors, and the period of time we are subjected to a particular stress factor. Emotional behavior and personal attitudes are closely intertwined with the physiological expression of stress. However, this reaction remains a survival mechanism that temporarily upsets the natural homeostatic balance of stress hormones (adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, cortisol, DHEA and neurotensin) to help the individual cope with the stress factor. The two main hormones measured in the Adrenocortex Stress Profile are Cortisol and DHEA.
Cortisol levels are determined by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenocortex (HPA) axis. Secretion of cortisol by the adrenal glands is regulated by the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) produced in the pituitary gland. ACTH is counter-regulated by corticotrophin releasing factor (CFR) from the hypothalamus. Cortisol levels are affected by diurnal rhythm (sleep-wake cycle), neural stress signals, and/or pathological conditions that override the negative feedback mechanisms involved in cortisol production. Cortisol has a significant effect on muscle tissue maintenance, myocardial integrity, suppression of inflammatory responses, and protein, carbohydrate, and lipid metabolism. High cortisol can also result in decreased capillary endothelial permeability.
During stressful conditions, an excessive amount of cortisol is produced by the accelerated conversion of progesterone. This leads to a deficiency of progesterone and estradiol, both of which play a key role in the menstrual cycle. Conversely, impaired cortisol inhibition feedback may cause over-secretion of testosterone, progesterone, and/or estrogen, all of which can lead to menstrual disorders. Salivary cortisol levels significantly increase during pregnancy, reaching twice the normal levels in late pregnancy.
Functions of cortisol:
- Mobilizes and increases amino acids in the blood and liver for fuel source
- Mobilizes fatty acids as fuel for energy source
- Counters inflammatory cascade and reduces allergic response
- Maintains blood pressure and volume by controlling sodium retention
- Provide resistance to stress (infection, trauma, etc.)
- Increases mental and physical energy
- Dampens inflammation and depresses the immune system
- Aids mood and emotional stability
DHEA was shown to have an anti-obesity effect by decreasing adipose tissue, hyperinsulinemia, and food intake. DHEA could also serve as an important modifiable factor in the development and progression of coronary atherosclerosis.
Low DHEA/cortisol ratios are frequently seen in patients with surgical stress, depression, anorexia and panic disorders. Decreased DHEA levels may be seen in thyroid disorders, cardiovascular disease, obesity, reduced immunity, rheumatic diseases, and excess cortisol production, or with administration of pharmacological doses of glucocorticosteroids. Low levels are indicative of a lowered tolerance for physiological/psychological stress. trauma, or injury, and may present result in abnormal immune responses or autoimmune diseases.
Functions of DHEA:
- Stimulates and strengthens the immune system by concentrating the suppressive effect caused by excessive cortisol, which ultimately improves resistance to microbes, allergies, and cancer.
- Improves metabolism by bolstering the efficient conversion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into energy, which can reduce fat storage.
- Slows down the natural aging process.
- Aids dietary protein synthesis, which improves mood and overall wellness while reducing food intolerances.
- Helps prevent osteoporosis.
- Lowers LDL cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol can contribute to heart disease).
- Decreases PMS and menstrual disorders.
- Decreases food cravings.
- Increases basal metabolic rate, thereby discouraging fat storage.[/checklist]
GENERAL ADAPTION SYNDROME
Any physical or mental trauma will trigger an immediate set of reactions – called “fight or flight” response – due to the hypothalamic stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. This results in elevations in adrenaline, cortisol, and DHEA. Immediate physiological responses occur, such as an increased oxygen supply to the organs involved with stress response, namely the brain, heart, lungs, and muscles. Circulation shifts away from the gastrointestinal tract and halts the digestive process. Urinary and reproductive functions are also inhibited. The immune system are depressed and inflammatory responses dampened. After the stress factor has been removed, normal physiological functions should resume.
An alarm stage reaction can be due to a particularly stressful day or series of days. However, it is important that you recognize and understand your body. Try to take the appropriate action to prevent the stress from developing further, possibly worsening present symptoms and contributing to the development of new symptoms. Focus on identifying the various causes of stress (physiological, chemical, physical, psychological and environmental) and design appropriate management strategies aimed at reducing/eliminating these factors.
Resistance Stage 1 – 3
Unlike the alarm stage, which his initiated primarily by nerve impulses, the resistance stage is controlled largely by hypothalamic hormones. It is a long-term reaction. This can be further broken down into three stages. If the stress factor is not removed, the resistance (adaptation) stage will begin.
During this stage, excessive hormones are secreted to increase blood sugar levels so the body can sustain energy and raise blood pressure. Eventually, sometimes rather quickly, we adapt to stress and refuse to acknowledge signs of illness and disease. If this adaption phase continues for a prolonged period of time without periods of relaxation and rest, sufferers become prone to fatigue, concentration lapses, irritability, and lethargy.
This occurs after the body has depleted a majority of its reserves, energy, and immune responses. Mental, physical, and emotional resources suffer.
The blood sugar levels decrease as the adrenal glands become depleted, leading to decreased stress tolerance, illness, mental and physical exhaustion, and even collapse. No one has identical resistances and tolerances to stress, but everyone’s immunity at some point collapses after being exposed to prolonged stress reactions. Stress disrupts the natural balance, the homoeostasis that is crucial for well-being.
SYMPTOMS OF ADRENAL FATIGUE
- Morning fatigue, difficulty waking early, and the inability to get up before 10 am (usually with the aid of coffee)
- May feel better and more awake after lunch
- May have afternoon slump about 2-4pm
- May feel better around 6pm
- Tired by 9-10pm, but resists going to bed, and sets second wind until 1-2am
- Wants to sleep in and achieves best sleep from 7-9am
- Often does best work at night
- General lethargy throughout the day
- Mild depression and feelings of apathy
- Increased PMS and menopause symptoms
- Decreased ability to handle stress
- Needs to lie down or rest after emotional/psychological stress
- May have muscle weakness
- Increased allergic reactions (in frequency or severity)
- Postural hypo-tension
- Swollen ankles that seem worse in afternoon
- Mild constipation or diarrhea that worsens with stress
- Craves salt and salty food (possibly due to aldosterone deficiency)
- Can become hypoglycemia when stressed
- Feels better with high fat diet and uses high fat foods and caffeine to function
- Doesn’t handle carbohydrates well if not eaten with fats/protein
- Intolerance to high potassium foods (beans, veal, bananas, dried fruit)
- History of nervous breakdowns
- Chronic cough, frequent/recurring bronchitis, asthma, and colds
- Allergies including skin conditions (eg. eczema, dermatitis)
- Metabolic disease (eg. RA, CFS, fibromyalgia, diabetes Aquarian Industries)
- Worsening conditions if life consists of work stress, poor diet, unhappy relationships, lack of exercise, lack of enjoyment, lack of control over spare time (if any).
- Feels better if rested (mentally, emotionally, and physically), relaxed, takes frequent rests (15-30min) around 10am and 3-5pm, avoids stressful situation (can have immediate effect), eats regular meals in small portions, spends time with friends, and exercises (not competitive sport).
SALIVA Adrenocortex Stress Profile: DHEA am, Cortisol 8am, noon, 4pm & 8pm cortisol
URINE Cortisol & 17OH steroids; DHEA & 17OH steroids
SERUM Cortisol, transcortin (CBG), free cortisol & DHEA at 8am & 4pm
If you have any more questions please contact our friendly therapists and we will do our best to assist you.