Avoiding Adrenal Exhaustion
by author Carolyn DeMarco, MD
Driven to be superwoman at home and on the job, you can overtax your hormones and eventually suffer burnout. But there is hope and help.
To squeeze more into less time, women cut back on sleep, eat on the run and use caffeine and other stimulants to prop themselves up. The result? A lifestyle that creates adrenal stress has almost become the norm, according to naturopathic physician Verna Hunt.
High levels of stress affect the whole hormonal system, especially the thyroid and adrenal glands. Symptoms of adrenal exhaustion include fatigue, muscle weakness, low metabolism and difficulty resisting flus and colds. Other effects range from headaches and depression to increased environmental sensitivities.
Adrenal Stress Worsens Menopause and Pre-Menopause
Leading female health expert Dr. Serafina Corsello has witnessed a dramatic increase in both the length and intensity of perimenopause in her clinical practice. In her book The Ageless Woman (Corsello Communications, 1999), she reports: "I now see women in their thirties beginning to show early menopausal signs. For women who are chronically stressed such as high-powered city-dwellers, this transition can be debilitating and go on for many years, unless remedial action is taken."
Most symptoms commonly attributed to perimenopause or menopause are the same as those resulting from stressed adrenal and thyroid glands, an overtaxed and underfunctioning liver and poorly functioning digestive system, says naturopath Karen Jensen, ND, author of Menopause, A Naturopathic Approach to the Transition Years (Prentice Hall, 1999).
Estrogen mimickers found in many chemicals and pesticides also contribute to a hormonal imbalance of too-little progesterone and too much estrogen.
Consider Thyroid in Treatment
The thyroid and adrenal glands are intimately linked. If the adrenal glands are stressed, the thyroid gland tries to compensate, eventually becoming exhausted. Here’s how to measure thyroid gland function: Take your temperature first thing in the morning for five days starting on day two of the menstrual cycle. If not menstruating, take the temperature any time during the cycle. A reading below 36.4 C indicates an underactive thyroid.
To Stimulate an Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism)
1.Try a natural progesterone cream (see #2 below) for a few months, then add a natural thyroid supplement.
2.Apply one-eighth to one-quarter teaspoon of natural progesterone cream to the thin skin of soft tissue areas such as the palms, face, neck, wrists, inner arms, breast, hands, chest, and the soles of the feet. Rotate the application site twice a day from day 12 to 26 of the cycle so that fat tissue does not become saturated.
Start with at least one 60-ml (two-ounce) jar containing 900 milligrams of natural progesterone per month for the first three to six months. Suggested maintenance dosage is 500 to 1,000 mg per month.
Pharmacists can make up natural progesterone skin creams or provide natural progesterone in pill form or as vaginal suppositories. Oral natural progesterone is also available.
3.To help hypothyroidism, apply pure myrtle oil over the thyroid glands (located in the front of the neck, just above the collarbone). Check your health food store for thyroid-supporting supplements that contain iodine, zinc and tyrosine.
Prevent Adrenal Exhaustion
To strengthen and support your adrenal glands:
1.Take an adrenal-supporting formula that contains some or all of the following: American ginseng, Asian ginseng, Siberian ginseng, licorice root, Rhodiola rosa, Indian or Brazilian ginseng.
2.Take 500 mg each of vitamin C and pantothenic acid four times a day. The adrenal glands use vitamin C at a higher rate than any other cells.
3.Try an adrenal-supporting herbal formula that includes some or all of the following: licorice root, bupleurum, wild yam, Siberian ginseng and sarsaparilla. Sip licorice root tea throughout the day. Black currant bud makes an excellent adrenal balancer.
4.Take a high-quality adrenal gland extract. Recommended dosage: two capsules at eight a.m. and two capsules at three to four p.m. Take for only about three to six months at a time.
Adrenals and Your Hormones
Think of your adrenal glands as a hormone factory. These small triangular glands, the size of prunes, sit above the kidneys and create many different hormones including adrenaline, aldosterone, DHEA and cortisol. They also serve up our sex hormones in small amounts.
Cortisol, secreted by the adrenals, provides a vital response to any type of stress or injury. It stimulates the conversion of protein to energy, suppresses inflammation and temporarily inhibits the action of the immune system. After a stressful event has passed, cortisol levels should return to normal. Otherwise, sustained high levels cause symptoms including bone loss, decreased sex drive and tendency toward diabetes.
High cortisol levels also lead to lower progesterone. Decreased production of DHEA can cause lower levels of both estrogen or testosterone. If the adrenal glands become exhausted, this creates a damaging domino effect for hormones.