Adrenal Gland Testing
What are the Adrenal Glands?
- Cortisol: helps stabilize blood sugar levels, maintains proper muscle mass, involved in your energy to function physically and mentally, acts to stimulate immune system, acts as natural anti-inflammatory, helps prevent excess allergy reactions in body, keeps you alert and awake in the daytime, lowers at night to allow you to sleep, helps you deal with stress.
- DHEA: a natural anti-inflammatory hormone and touted as anti-aging. Helps prevent tendency to auto-immune disorders, helps with energy, mental focus and stress, is used to convert into other hormones that your body may need.
- Aldosterone: is involved in the balance of salt and water in your body, therefore affects your blood pressure.
- Adrenaline: this hormone has some of the same actions as cortisol but its effects are thousands of times stronger. It gives that well-known “adrenaline rush” sensation and is part of the “fight or flight” reaction of extreme or sudden stress.
Elevated acute stress
However if the stress continues and if no attention is given to the adrenal imbalance then the person’s condition may worsen. The cortisol level my drop as the adrenals begin to fail to keep up with the person’s need for stress hormones. At this point the person may feel increasing fatigue and lethargy. They might find that simple daily tasks become more and more taxing and that exercise, which used to be energizing now exhausts them. Sleep which used to come easily, may be difficult or may just feel unrefreshing. If the cortisol drops in the daytime, the pituitary, a master gland in the brain, will send hormonal signals to the adrenals in attempt to stimulate them to produce more appropriate amounts of cortisol. In some cases, by the time the fatigued adrenals are able to respond to the stimulation from the pituitary, the daytime hours have passed and it is now nighttime. Normally, at night the cortisol levels should be lowered to allow for proper sleep, but if the adrenals produce too much cortisol in the evening the sleep with be poor quality. This leads to more daytime lethargy and mental sluggishness. In addition, with less ability of the adrenals to produce higher cortisol levels as needed, the person finds that their blood sugar no longer regulates well and that they may develop symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia, such as shakiness, confusion or irritability between meals. This is because in healthy adrenal patients cortisol is released in slightly higher amounts between meals to keep their blood sugar from dropping too high.
Also, when upsetting, or startling stresses occur the adrenal fatigued person finds that they may over-react with anger, frustration, or may startle very easily. They often report increasing generalized anxiety and difficulty recovering from general stresses of life. Many adrenal fatigued patients suffer from occasional rapid heartbeat, heart palpitations, shaky or weak feeling and mood swings. This is because of the worsening of the adrenal function, but sometimes they are told that they need to take more anti-depressants to cover up these symptoms. If you have severely fatigued adrenals, they are unable to secrete extra cortisol in case of an acute stress, and your may find that you “over-react” to acute stresses. For example, you may feel an adrenaline rush when someone criticizes you, or you may react with an extreme startle reaction when a spouse walking up behind you and startling you while you were concentrating on a task at hand. This is because without the ability to produce a little cortisol for these minor stresses, your adrenals release adrenaline, a powerful fight or flight hormone that makes everyday stresses exhausting and can make you feel out of control.
Other symptoms of adrenal problems can include headaches, muscle tension, fibromyalgia, allergies, chronic hives, mental confusion, digestive disturbances, increased susceptibility to infections, a feeling of aging too fast, joint pain and swelling, increased susceptibility to autoimmune conditions, excess sweating, and intolerance to both cold and heat.
Two extreme conditions
There is an alternative lab test capable of detecting these non-optimal adrenal conditions. It is a simple saliva test that measures several parameters of adrenal function. The test kit is given to the patient in the doctor’s office and instructions are provided for collection. The patient then collects saliva on a cotton roll four different times through-out a single day and the sample is sent to a specialized lab that deals with saliva hormone testing. In two weeks a comprehensive report returns to the doctor’s office that shows the level of two key adrenal hormones: cortisol and DHEA. The cortisol has an important daily rhythm and so four separate values are given from the four saliva collections. Because the adrenals affect the blood sugar, insulin, and the immune system, the saliva test also gives information on these body functions. I have found this test to be invaluable in helping to determine which treatments are best for my different adrenal patients. With the information from this test, I can decide what time of day a person needs treatment and how much and what type of adrenal support each person requires. I can see if their immune system or insulin levels have been adversely affected or not and treat accordingly. I have found that adrenal problems are remarkably common among people with long term stress, anxiety, or fatigue, and treatment generally leads to significant improvements in time. Development of adrenal problems do not develop overnight and as you can imagine, improvement takes time, but I am pleased to see the improvements that my patients make when we tailor their adrenal treatments to their individual needs.