Karen Jensen, ND
Strengthen your adrenal glands. It's the key to dealing with whatever life throws your way. The person who claims not to be affected by stress is either dead, living an illusion, or lying.
The person who claims not to be affected by stress is either dead, living an illusion, or lying.
Anything that elicits a response from the body is a stressor. Improving your diet or quitting smoking, both of which are good, are stresses. Getting a new job (even a better one), moving, exercising, weather changes, working long hours and major events like divorce and moving are all stressors. Improving the way the body adapts to stress is the key to improved quality of life.
Exposure to stressors results in a cascade of stimuli throughout the nervous system and the endocrine system (hormone-secreting organs) and affects the whole body. When the stressor, regardless of the origin, is unrelenting, the body may lose its ability to adapt to it–the defense mechanisms become exhausted. The nervous system and the adrenal glands are the primary organs that initially respond to stress.
The adrenal glands are among the most important organs in the body, are key to our ability to deal with stress, and yet receive little if any attention from allopathic practitioners unless there is a pathology. However, many symptoms that compromise our quality of life occur as a result of adrenal fatigue without the presence of clinical pathology. There is a very long road between optimal function of an organ and diagnosed pathology.
Our Coping Organ
The adrenal glands sit on top of each kidney and contain two major components: the cortex, on the outside, and the medulla, on the inside. In response to triggers from the brain, the medulla secretes hormones. some of which stimulate an area of the brain called the hypothalamus. This permits the body to respond to stress by increasing blood sugar levels, the breathing rate, cardiac output, blood flow to the muscles, lungs and brain and cellular metabolism–the famous "fight-or-flight" response.
The cortex produces a wide range of steroid hormones that are synthesized from cholesterol and are essential to regulating metabolic, excretory, reproductive, mineral-balancing and immune defense functions. The secretion of corticosteroids by the cortex in response to stress is one of the most important functions of the adrenals, as these hormones help us adapt over the longer term to the stresses of life.
Various corticosteroids stimulate the conversion of protein to energy, so that energy levels remains high even after the glucose used in the fight-or-flight reaction has been used up. Others help maintain elevated blood pressure and create changes needed for dealing with such stresses as emotional shock, infection, high work load, weather changes, environmental chemicals and physical or emotional trauma.
The Downward Spiral
Too much stress is the underlying cause of most health conditions. Recent research clearly indicates stress in virtually any form will cause, at the very least, a decrease in functioning of the immune system. And prolonged, unremitting stress may eventually weaken the adrenals, resulting in ineffective organ function.
Heart disease is primarily due to stress created by imbalances in the adrenal hormones. This will cause increased heart rate, sodium retention, increased blood pressure, heart irregularities and increased blood viscosity (stickiness of the blood) which can lead to stroke. Those who need coffee to get going and keep going are classic sufferers of adrenal fatigue. Symptoms include, but are not limited to: blood sugar problems, fatigue, anxiety, food and environmental sensitivities, lower back pain, insomnia, poor concentration, alcohol intolerance, salt or sugar cravings and poor concentration.
A number of herbs from around the globe both reduce stress reactions and strengthen the adrenals and the body as a whole. These herbs work synergistically and are supported by traditional and modern clinical research:
Chinese licorice has a direct effect on adrenal function. It reduces inflammation and helps the liver neutralize hundreds of potentially toxic substances. Licorice has also demonstrated antibacterial effects.
Gynostemma is a potent adaptogen. It helps increase vitality and physical energy while protecting the body from harmful chemicals and radiation. In addition, gynostemma is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory; has a beneficial effect on blood pressure regulation; strengthens the immune system; improves fat metabolism; moderates cholesterol levels; and enhances strength and physical endurance.
Siberian ginseng is generally recommended to help increase physical energy as well as the body’s capacity to adapt to stress. It was traditionally used as a remedy for hypertension, heart problems, fatigue and to promote longevity.
Astragalus is thought to protect and enhance the functioning of distressed organs. It is also used in combination with other herbs to enhance recovery following an illness or prolonged stress and to boost vitality. Astragalus It has also been shown to increase immunity. This plant is well documented for its capacity to reduce fatigue and strengthen weakened individuals.
Burdock has traditionally been used as a "blood cleanser," particularly for skin disorders and cancer. Because of its blood cleansing effect, it can help eliminate potential chemical stressors.
Suma has traditionally been used by natives of the Atlantic rain forest of Brazil as a "cure-all." It has been used as a tonic and aphrodisiac as well as a remedy for blood sugar problems, ulcers and general wound healing. It has demonstrated the ability to promote endurance and increase vitality as well as improve resistance to infections and stress.
Our goal should be to take responsibility for our own health now, and to use the least invasive, least toxic means available to address the cause of our symptoms so we can experience optimal wellness on all levels. Start living a healthier, happier life today.