Sally came to me complaining of hair loss. She had tried everything – every hair growth product on the market, every prescription for hair loss treatment, every supplement to help grow hair. At 38, she only had half her hair left.
Sally had been losing hair for the past ten years. I asked her what happened ten years ago. She described a major life change which included a career shift while involved in an abusive relationship. She also described a very stressful childhood. Poor lifestyle choices during the formative years of her adolescence led to malnutrition, toxicity, and living in a constant state of fear.
By her mid-twenties, Sally had gotten her life together. She was living well, making good money, described some supportive friends. Yet she was programmed from childhood to respond to life in perpetual fight or flight mode. And her body, specifically her hair, was paying the price.
STRESS MAKES YOU SICK
Stress – a fact of modern day living and the cause of so many diseases. Stress has been linked to heart disease, cancer, allergies, autoimmune disease, thyroid dysfunction, mood disorders and obesity.
While stress affects many parts of the body, the adrenals are responsible for creating the stress response. The adrenals are small glands that lie on top of your kidneys. These amazing glands have multiple functions.
The adrenal glands control blood pressure, orchestrate protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism, influence the immune system and run the stress response.
That’s a lot of responsibility for one pair of glands.
So what happens when you’re under stress?
First, your adrenals are stimulated by the nervous system (neuronal) and the adrenal medulla produces adrenaline. Adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure to initiate the fight or flight response.
Then your adrenals are stimulated by the hypothalamus-pituitary (hormonal) and the adrenal cortex produces cortisol to fuel the fight or flight response.
Your adrenals respond to the electrolytes in your blood (humoral) and the outer part of the adrenal cortex produces aldosterone that controls your blood pressure by balancing salt/water output by the kidneys.
Cortisol is a catabolic steroid hormone. Catabolic = breaks down. Steroid = made from cholesterol. Hormone = chemical messenger.
Cortisol fuels the stress response and then it breaks down other tissues – skin, hair, nails, muscles, and organs. Bones break down, leading to osteoporosis. Even the gut lining is affected by high levels of cortisol leading to leaky gut syndrome, food allergies and malabsorption.
Like most endocrine glands, your adrenals are stimulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary axis in a negative feedback system. Think of a seesaw. Cortisol is on one side and adrenal-cortico-trophic hormone (ACTH) is on the other. If cortisol is high, ACTH is low. If cortisol is low, ACTH is high.
Let’s say a tiger is chasing you. Your autonomic nervous system stimulates the adrenals to produce adrenaline. Your heart beats faster raising your blood pressure so you can get away. The adrenaline surge stimulates your hypothalamus which checks to see if you have enough cortisol to fuel the stress response. If not, your hypothalamus tells the pituitary gland to produce ACTH, which travels via the blood stream to the adrenal cortex and stimulates the production of cortisol.
Cortisol then tells the pancreas to produce glucagon, which is the hormone that releases glycogen (stored sugar) from the muscles and the liver. Now your muscles and heart have the energy to get away from that tiger!
Whew! Following the surge of cortisol, the adrenals produce dehydroepiandrosterone, also known as DHEA. DHEA controls protein and fat metabolism to help repair the damage from the flight or fight. The leftover cortisol is converted to cortisone, a natural anti-inflammatory, to soothe your aches after getting away from the tiger.
At first the high stress response causes a catabolic reaction as your tissues break down. You might lose weight initially, but over the long haul, the high levels of cortisol can cause you to store body fat. Remember, cortisol stimulates the release of stored sugar. How can the glucose get into the cells without insulin? So the pancreas also produces more insulin in response to the stress. If you are really running away from the tiger, then of course, you will use the glucose.
If there’s no tiger, well, if you’re lucky you’ll develop insulin resistant and store that extra sugar as body fat…around your middle.
WHAT IF THE STRESS NEVER ENDS?
Remember, I said, if you’re lucky, you get insulin resistant? It’s how your hypothalamus saves you from your stressful life. That weight gain around your middle is like a buoy helping you float through the stressors of your life. Your hypothalamus is just helping you survive until the world is safe. If you get treed by that tiger, then you can survive on that extra fat you’ve stored around your middle!
Now in the wild, you would either get eaten by the tiger or out smart it. You would not be chased forever. Today stressors are constant.
The hypothalamus does not know the difference between a tiger chasing you and you being late for work. The adrenal response is the same: Adrenaline —> Cortisol —> DHEA. Over and over and over again, day after day, week after week, for months, maybe years on end, the stress of modern day life puts a toll on the adrenals. Eventually they become fatigued, producing less and less cortisol and DHEA until you can hardly function.
What are the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?
- Profound fatigue – You struggle to wake up in the morning. You need caffeine and sugar to start your day. Your energy crashes in the afternoon. Sometimes you get a second wind at night and cannot sleep. This is a reversed circadian rhythm and it’s usually early in the course of adrenal dysfunction.
- Unhealthy Skin, Hair and Nails – The early stress response creates high DHEA production which converts to testosterone and then dihydrotestosterone causing hair loss. Then your adrenals get so exhausted, your DHEA production bottoms out. Your hair is thin, dry, brittle. Your nails are brittle and slow growing. Your skin is dry and aging fast, although early in the stress response the high cortisol levels will induce oily, acne prone skin. Wounds heal very slowly. This is partially because of the catabolic nature of cortisol and mostly because of the decreased production of DHEA that normally helps you metabolize protein and fat to grow new you (hair, skin, nails and other more important tissues). If your hair, skin and nails are unhealthy, you can bet that your internal organs do not look so good.
- You’re sick a lot – You cannot seem to recover from illnesses. You keep catching one cold after another. All your old viruses come back to haunt you. You break out in cold sores, genital warts, relapse with chronic infections like Epstein Barr and hepatitis. Your immune system does not seem to be working properly.
- Sugar Cravings – When you eat, cortisol is produced which releases stored sugar so that you have immediate fuel until your food is digested. Tired adrenal glands do not produce enough cortisol and you crave sugar after you eat.
- Salt Cravings – Your adrenals also make another hormone called aldosterone that regulates salt water balance. Fatigued adrenals do not produce enough aldosterone, so your blood pressure is low. You get up too fast and you feel dizzy. Healthy adrenals produce enough aldosterone to raise your blood pressure twenty points when you rise from a lying to a standing position. Otherwise if you were napping under a tree, how would you be able to get away from that tiger?
- Slow Metabolism – Eventually your thyroid is affected. That’s because thyroid function is controlled by the same hypothalamic hormone (POMC) as the adrenal glands.
- Sex Hormones Decline – That’s because reproduction is not a necessary function when your body is under profound stress. Most brides experience this stress response when their period shows up on their wedding day. Your adrenals use progesterone to make cortisol. Progesterone stabilizes the lining of the uterus. High stress equals high cortisol production and there is not enough progesterone to regulate the menstrual cycle. Eventually, inadequately opposed estrogen leads to heavy, painful periods and fibroids. Overtime, your imbalanced sex hormones induce early menopausal and andropausal symptoms. Yes, stress affects men, too.
Conventional medicine does not recognize adrenal fatigue. Why? Because while adrenal fatigue is not optimal functioning, it is not a disease. Complete adrenal failure is called Addison’s disease. Your adrenal glands no longer produce cortisol. You need cortisol to survive, so you are given synthetic cortisone for the rest of your life.
Why wait until you have full blown Addison’s disease? Why not stop before you fall off the cliff?
Integrative medicine recognizes less than optimal functioning as something that can be improved through better lifestyle choices, detoxification, and supplementation.
Adrenal fatigue is recognized by integrative medicine as a treatable condition.
Adaptogenic herbs, B vitamins, essential fatty acids can help adrenal glands recover. Glandular products are useful initially to support adrenal function, but you weren’t meant to eat hormones and glandulars are rich in hormones. After six months or so, your liver treats glandular supplements as toxic. They no longer support the gland.
Sometimes bio-identical cortisol and DHEA can be prescribed to supplement adrenal function, but again only until the adrenals can function on their own. So natural breaks to wake up the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis are crucial if your adrenals are ever going to make their own hormones. Bio-identicals are great, but nothing matches natural hormonal production that follows the seasons and your unique stress response.
I believe the body will heal itself given the proper nutrients. So first I recommend foundational support to heal the adrenals as well as all the organ systems affected by stress. Getting the adrenals functioning properly will stop the hair loss, weight gain, and aging, but the body needs extra nutrients to grow hair and healthy skin, improve body composition to increase lean body mass and decrease body fat, and optimize health.
I always recommend hypothalamic support to improve the communication system between the adrenals and the brain. Supporting the hypothalamus allows it to orchestrate the rest of the endocrine system as well as the neurological and immune system to harmonize the symphony of hormones, neurotransmitters and cytokines so your DNA dances optimal health and wellbeing.
Yes, I recommend adrenal glandulars and adaptogenic herbs for a few months to boost adrenal activity, but revving the engine without providing gas and oil will burn out the vehicle.
Genesis Gold® is the fuel that provides foundational support for your adrenal glands as well as optimizes your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
To stop her hair loss and increase hair growth, I helped Sally reprogram her stress response with a holistic mind-body approach.
First, she got foundational and hypothalamic support with Genesis Gold®. Then I treated her hormone imbalance through lifestyle counseling. More nutritious foods, better sleep hygiene, consistent circadian activity. I prescribed some topical hormones to promote her hair growth until she could make the necessary adjustments to her life. And through all this, I counseled her regarding her programmed stress response. Over time, as she completed the homework, made the lifestyle changes, and reprogrammed her subconscious, Sally got healthy.
Other articles you might like:
Adrenal fatigue Symptoms | What You Need to Know
Neurons containing messenger RNA encoding glutamate decarboxylase in rat hypothalamus demonstrated by in situ hybridization, with special emphasis on cell groups in medial preoptic area, anterior hypothalamic area and dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus
*Statements not reviewed by the FDA.