by Dr. Carol Lynn Goldstein, a Chiropractor and Clinical Nutritionist who practices in Manhattan.
Sub-optimal adrenal function has been a focus of treatment amongst holistic practitioners for many years. Why are we so concerned about how your adrenal glands are functioning? Because they are your biochemical stress management centers. These small glands sit atop your kidneys pumping out hormones that affect blood pressure, water retention, blood sugar, mood stability, muscle-building, fat storage, and energy levels. They also produce estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and other sex hormones that influence function in our reproductive years, and are critical to function in perimenopausal and menopausal years. They affect men as well as women and children.
Adrenal glands are very responsive. Under prolonged and chronic stress, they can enlarge (the alarm stage), pumping out everything you need to keep going. You are in overdrive, working long days and sleeping four to six hours a night. Others marvel at your stamina and are amazed at how well you work under pressure. You may have evidence this mode of operation is not good for you. Loved ones may beg you to slow down. However, you have no intention of stopping or feel you have no choice and ignore all the warning signs. You may be edgy, irritable, and easily inspired to anger. You may be critical of co-workers and loved ones. Or, you may feel they are critical of you, creating more stress on your personal and professional relationships.
Perhaps you even forget to eat for long periods. Alternately, you may overeat, using carbohydrates to damp down the edginess. You may even self-medicate with alcohol, especially in the evenings when you feel unable to unwind.
Eventually you are wired and tired, but you keep pushing your limits. The stress may be from your actual level of activity, or situations that cause relentless emotional stress. Combined, these stressors rapidly deplete your reserves. However, if you recognize your fatigue and honor it by taking control of your diet, scheduling in your rest time as you would your activities, your adrenals, grateful for the reprieve, may adapt and regenerate.
Be forewarned that your adrenal glands do not do well with repeated cycles of abuse. When you override the warning signs you are bound to hit a wall (the exhaustion phase). Then you may experience any of the following; exhaustion, difficulty sleeping, difficulty waking up, sugar and carbohydrate cravings, memory problems or brain fog, mood swings, irritability, rage, depression, decreased libido, frequent infections, bloating and swelling, rapid pulse, dizziness (especially getting up from laying down or sitting) , and even digestive disorders including gastritis or ulcers. Moreover, your skin does not behave at all. The mirror does not lie. You look strained. You look exhausted. People may even inquire as to whether you are feeling well.
You may suffer acute or chronic pain in your spine or extremities. Perhaps an injury refuses to heal or recurs frequently. On the other hand, the onset may have been insidious and puzzling. Pay attention. Do not minimize your pain! It is not in your head, it is in your body! Stress creates inflammation, which causes pain. Pain creates more adrenal stress and soon you are stuck in a vicious cycle. It is exhausting. Given the history of all that your body has endured, you may suffer from dysfunctional musculoskeletal patterns compounded by multiple nutrient deficiencies. It is certainly not due to a deficiency of anti-inflammatory medication.
Do not despair. Help is available. Many wonderful, competent, highly trained Chiropractors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of complex musculoskeletal syndromes. Some are nutritionists as well who can help you rebuild your badly depleted body. Nutrition is simply biochemistry. Vitamins and minerals are enzymes and co-enzymes in the biochemical cycles of your body, including the manufacture of energy at the cellular level. Amino acids are critical to hormone and neurotransmitter production. They are also building blocks for internal repair. Essential fatty acids and herbs such as curcumin, ginger, red pepper, rosemary and hops are nature’s powerful anti-inflammatory agents. The specific application of targeted nutrient therapies by qualified professionals can modulate what occurs at the cellular level, contributing greatly to your healing and well-being.
Many stressors affect adrenal function. Emotional and mental stressors include: illness or death of a loved one, illness of your own, relationship difficulties, separation or divorce, moving /buying a residence, job change, overwork, worrying, obsessing, negative thinking, emotional suppression, self-pity, lack of humor and laughter.
Chemical environmental stressors include: new paint, carpeting and padding or upholstery, mold overgrowth , medications (some of which may be necessary), hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, aspartame-sweetened products, monosodium glutamate, caffeine, food containing antibiotics , steroids and pesticides (eat organic wherever possible), mercury from fillings or fish, and over consumption of alcohol, sugar and refined carbohydrates. Chemical stressors produced within the body include: imbalance in hormones or neurotransmitters, poor digestion, food allergy reactions, parasites, overgrowth of pathogenic intestinal bacteria or yeast, inflammatory response to stress, injury , surgery, over exercise and other repetitive stress syndromes, malnutrition and dehydration.
Please do not ignore your very human needs – they are necessary to life. Sleep. Food. Water. Breathing. Exercise.
Get sleep. Adrenal stress does not heal without sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene. Wash up and prepare for bed when you get home from work, so you do not wake yourself up by doing this later. Get closure on the day if you need to by making a list of things to do tomorrow so you can stop thinking about them. Eat a light nutritious dinner. Create peace and relaxation. Keep the lighting and sound at home low so you are not over stimulated. Stay off the computer and do not watch overly dramatic or highly suspenseful television in the two to three hours prior to bedtime. Choose relaxing music or a sitcom that ends at a reasonable hour. Laughter can help lower high cortisol levels. If you like, read, but not the news or a psycho-thriller book. Or, try relaxation tapes until you find one that works for you. Get to bed at a reasonable hour. You are sacrificing far more than the program you wanted to see by not doing so. If you have difficulty falling asleep, consider giving up caffeine or just having one cup in the morning if you must. Do not eat sugar, especially chocolate, at night. Although it will not serve you well in the daytime, it can certainly keep you up at night.
Eat regularly. Go shopping once a week or have groceries delivered. Eat every three to four hours. If you are hypoglycemic, eat every two hours. Cut the sugar, white flour, white rice and white potatoes. Get plenty of clean, lean protein, and fruits and vegetables that score low on the glycemic index. Cut the coffee, alcohol, soda (regular and diet) and avoid fruit juices. Drink water, herbal teas, and diluted fruit juice if you wish, or try grain coffees. Then drink more water. It looks great on your skin. It is also important to the function of every other organ in your body.
Breathe. Please breathe. Make it a practice to check your breathing pattern. Try six seconds in and six seconds out for several minutes a few times a day. It is a great stress reliever. Every bit helps. Try to walk for one half hour per day if you do not have an exercise routine. If you do have an exercise routine, include aerobic activity for at least forty minutes. Use a heart monitor. If your adrenals are very fatigued, you may not tolerate exercise periods longer than thirty minutes, three times a week, until you are better. Then you can gradually increase your activity level to tolerance.
The big decision underlying all health issues is to take responsibility. You can live an unconscious life or a conscious life. Decide to live consciously. The power is in making different choices. You are making choices anyway. Choose differently. We have all learned bad habits. Now we need to learn good habits. When choosing your foods, ask what will increase your life force and what will deplete it. The answers are instinctive. It takes just a second – consider it a second of grace.
Big progress is often born of small manageable changes. Do what you can. The healing lies within but needs nurturing. Every effort helps.
Carol L. Goldstein DC, DACBN, CCN