Adrenal Fatigue and Hormonal Health
Nov 30, 2016 09:41AM
By Linda Sechrist
According to the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org), “There is no end to the tricks that endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can play on our bodies: increasing production of certain hormones; decreasing production of others; imitating hormones; turning one hormone into another; interfering with hormone signaling; telling cells to die prematurely; competing with essential nutrients; binding to essential hormones; and accumulating in organs that produce hormones.”
After the research on endocrine disruptors had been in the scientific literature for years and the harms were well known, Dr. Aviva Romm, author of Adrenal Thyroid Revolution: A 4-Week Program to Rescue Your Metabolism, Hormones, Mind & Mood, approached a prominent endocrinology professor at her Ivy League medical institute to ask his opinion on their ability to mimic estrogen in the body and cause serious hormonal imbalances, adrenal fatigue and even cancer. His response, “You don’t really believe in that BPA crap, do you?” BPA stands for bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that has been used since the 1960s to make certain resins and plastic containers for storing food and beverages.
There is an answer to the perplexing problem of why the majority of M.D.s, like Romm’s academic colleague, have not yet been trained in the adverse health challenges connected to the complex array of nutritional, environmental and lifestyle factors contributing to chronic diseases such as adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome. It lies in a 2011 study, published in the Journal of Royal Society of Medicine that reviewed the literature quantifying the time lag in the development of health intervention research and its translation into potential patient benefit. Researchers estimated a 17-year lag for new scientific and medical information to reach most doctors and change the way they practice. This is unfortunately why functional medicine’s answer of nutritional and lifestyle solutions for chronic health problems is still met with skepticism.
Local health practitioners such as Dr. Carol Roberts, who practices at Hughes Center for Functional Medicine, in Naples, Dr. Zorayda “JiJi” Torres, owner of Upstream Medical Consultants, Dee Harris, registered licensed dietitian-nutritionist (LDN) and owner of D-Signed Nutrition, and Deborah Post, advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) and owner of Wellbridges, all located in Bonita Springs, as well as doctors such as Romm, have turned to functional medicine and practicing whole systems health care. Their approach takes into consideration the interconnectedness of all the body’s organs and systems, as well as how diet, supplementation, sleep, stress and exercise affect them.
From their knowledge, experience and cutting-edge training backed by research, Roberts, Torres, Harris and Post educate patients on interconnectedness among the nervous system, immune system, hormones, mood, cognitive function, digestion, circulation and the stress response that are all involved with chronic health problems such as adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome. Their patient education also includes what it takes to maintain or restore health to the major endocrine glands, such as the thyroid, as well as how EDCs wreak havoc on it.
No patient education is complete without EWG’s list of the Dirty Dozen EDCs that are found in food, water, plastics, industrial agriculture, fire retardants, cookware, personal care products, household cleaning products and paints.
Iodine Competitors and Thyroid Function
“Thyroid and adrenals are closely connected. If the adrenals are fatigued from too much stress, poor nutrition or lack of sleep, the thyroid doesn’t work, either,” says Roberts.
Fatigue due to low thyroid function can be due to the massive amounts of iodine competitors in our environment. “Fluorine, bromine and chlorine all interfere with the utilization of iodine by the thyroid through competitive inhibition. Very few of us pay attention to the fact that there is little to no iodine in the average diet, so we can’t make functional thyroid hormone. The fix is to take an iodine supplement, cook with sea vegetables such as kelp and nori, eat wild caught shellfish or use iodized salt, if we salt at all,” advises Roberts.
Progesterone is crucial for adrenal function, so when women stop ovulating, adrenals are at risk. “The progestin’s that the pharmaceutical companies make, that most doctors use, are unable to support adrenal function. Only real progesterone, given in a capsule at night, will boost adrenal function naturally,” says Roberts.
Adrenal fatigue is rampant largely caused by a lifestyle that disrupts circadian rhythm and sleep cycles. “A most disruptive factor is electronic screens, which emit blue light that inhibit the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps people fall asleep. Young people who spend a lot of time on computers and cell phones are particularly affected. Blue-blocker, orange tinted glasses can help,” advises Torres.
Torres advises that individuals with night owl schedules and bedtimes beyond 10 p.m. find it challenging to adapt to sleep-inducing requirements such as dimming the lights at home in the evening, refraining from the bright light of computer or TV screens and reliance on sleep medications.
Lack of sleep impacts the immune system. “It’s not just lack of sleep, but also an erratic sleep schedule and the hours during which you sleep that increase the levels of cortisol, a crucial hormone that usually protects health and well-being. Poor sleep habits create excess cortisol which then raises blood sugar, promotes weight gain and inflammation, alters mood and impairs brain function,” says Torres. Add the problem of unhealthy diet, gut dysfunction, and chemicals like parabens, phthalates, and others, and challenging health problems such as adrenal fatigue begin to develop.
It’s Never Just One Thing
When Harris works with a patient that has adrenal fatigue, she’s not focused only to on adrenal glands. “I don’t look myopically at one organ or system. In adrenal fatigue, brain research shows that sleep deprivation increases junk food cravings and appetite control. Junk food lacks nutrients, so my first consideration is to improve the level of nutrients by replacing bad food choices with nutrient-dense, healthy food and to consider any food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities.
High on Harris’ checklist for nutrient sufficiency are essential fatty acids, iodine, vitamin D and B-complex, as well as improving intestinal ecology. She considers proper hydration with filtered water that does not contain fluoride and an anti-inflammatory diet as important tools the body needs to heal. “We also work on sleep patterns and gentle exercise. The last thing someone with low energy needs is strenuous exercise. Adrenal fatigue can progress into chronic fatigue syndrome when burnout occurs,” she explains.
The Stress Factor
Post uses a metaphor to describe the adrenal fatigue scenario. “Someone pushed their accelerator to the floor and now they’re running at high speed with no brakes. If they have two or three genes with a faulty switch and keep running only on fuel provided by chronic stress caused by revved up levels of cortisol or endocrine disruptors that mimic the hormone, they get in trouble faster. The brain doesn’t shut down and cortisol continues to increase, keeping them awake until 2 or 3 a.m.,” says Post.
Sometimes increased cortisol is about the gut—what someone ate for lunch or dinner, constipation, an imbalance in gut ecology or even sleep apnea. “Test for nutrient deficiencies and environmental toxins, and never kick start a dysfunctional thyroid with medication before first giving it the raw materials to make what it needs on its own,” emphasizes Post.
Regarding environmental toxins such as BPA, Post is adamant about teaching her patients not to use plastic bottles. “If someone comes into my office with a plastic water bottle, I tell them why I’m taking it from them and then go to my kitchen and bring back a bottle of filtered water I’ve poured into a recycled glass bottle. The majority of patients who drink out of plastic bottles and store food in plastic containers have higher than normal levels of BPA in their system. This disrupts hormones, the immune system, stimulates antibody production and it causes weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes.
Post sums up adrenal fatigue as a cascade of problems which are caused by poor nutrition, inflammation, sleep deprivation, gut microbiome disruption, stress and dysfunctional hormones. “All of these can be restored to normal when an individual accepts health as a personal responsibility,” she says.
Dr. Carol L. Roberts, Hughes Center for Functional Medicine, 800 Goodlette Rd., Naples, 239-649-7400, HughesCenterNaples.com.
Upstream Medical Consultants, PLLC, 27499 Riverview Center Blvd., Ste. 255, Bonita Springs, 239-444-5636, UpstreamMD.com.
D-Signed Nutrition, 3531 Bonita Bay Blvd., Ste. 300, Bonita Springs. 239-676-5249, D-SignedNutrition.com.
Wellbridges, 9200 Bonita Beach Rd., Ste. 113, Bonita Springs, 239-481-560, DebPost.com.