The adrenal glands produce two main hormones cortisol and DHEA. Cortisol and DHEA perform a number of functions in the body. Their effects include controlling inflammation, maintaining blood sugar levels. The adrenal glands are controlled the brain. The areas of the brain that control adrenal glands are the hippocampus, hypothalamus and the pituitary. So “adrenal” problems aren’t just in the gland. So we call it the hippocampus, hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal (HHPA) axis.
Most people experience stress, and most people think stress is only a mental problem. It is only in our mind. However, Hans Seleye MD and others discovered that stress causes many measureable physical and chemical changes in the body. Everyone is familiar with mental stress. Some of the main causes of stress are either high or low blood sugar or large fluctuations of blood sugar. The other big cause is inflammation from an acute or chronic infection (bacteria, virus, yeast or parasites) or an allergic response usually from a food allergy secondary to a gut problem. Also sex or thyroid hormone imbalances. He described three stages to the Adrenal Stress Response:
Alarm Reaction stage
Here are some common symptoms of adrenal HHPA axis dysfunctional:
Excess Adrenal Function
Cannot fall asleep
Slow starter in the morning
Dizziness when standing up quickly
Headaches with exertion or stress
Decreased Adrenal Function
Cannot stay asleep
Under high amount of stress
Weight gain when under stress
Wake up tired even after 6 or more hours of sleep
Excessive perspiration or perspiration with little or no activity
Cortisol and DHEA effect and interact with other hormones and systems in the body. Disruption of cortisol and DHEA has wide reaching effects. Changes in the levels of these hormones in people undergoing the different stages of stress can be measured using saliva and blood tests. In the Alarm Stage cortisol is elevated and DHEA remains steady. I the resistance stage cortisol remains high and DHEA drops. AS the person transitions through the Exhaustion stage the levels of Cortisol and DHEA drop. In the end phase of Adrenal Exhaustion cortisol is very low and DHEA plateaus.
Abnormal Circadian Rhythm
For millions of years man has awakened and fallen asleep with the rise and fall of the sun. Consequently, our body’s biochemistry, mainly cortisol and melatonin, has developed a cyclical pattern in tune with the rise and fall of the sun. We call this the Circadian Rhythm. This all controlled by a part of our brain called the hippocampus. Normal function of hippocampus insures that during in the evening melatonin starts to go up to help us fall asleep. At the same time cortisol goes down. And then during the early morning hours hippocampus will lower the melatonin and raise cortisol. The increased cortisol is needed to keep our blood sugar steady to maintain body functions; especially the brain. The hippocampus is also important for memory and focus. So an abnormal circadian rhythm and hippocampus function can lead to sleep problems, blood sugar problems, fatigue, and decreased ability to fight infections and decreased focus and memory.
Fortunately there are some great tests to assess Adrenal, Cortisol and Circadian Rhythm. Click here to see an example. To assess this whole system I use saliva hormone testing from Diagnos-techs Labs.