Is too much stress affecting your health?

In this episode of IWG Radio, Dr. Nicole and Clinical Nutritionist Brooke discuss the health consequences of too much stress and the epidemic of adrenal fatigue. Want our tips and tricks to manage your stress?


Read Full Transcript

Dr. Nicole:
You are listening to IWG Radio, the place to be for all of your wellness needs. Hey, there. This is Dr. Nicole and welcome to another episode of IWG radio, the place to be for all of your wellness needs. Welcome back to another session here with myself and Brooke, our clinical nutritionist here at Integrative Wellness Group in Belmar, New Jersey. We're going to be actually dive in today talking about adrenal fatigue. I think this is a common phrase that we hear about, we maybe read articles, listen to other podcast but some of us maybe are not too sure what it means exactly or even the symptoms that come along with it, so we're going to just elaborate a little bit more on what adrenal fatigue and also what are some of the things that you can do to start addressing if you have it.

I'm glad that this is our topic today because Dr. Nicole and I we're actually standing in her kitchen earlier today having a conversation about how adrenal fatigue is something that is very common and we see it daily in our office but it's not necessarily something that if you're having these symptoms that you go to your regular doctor and that they tell you are possibly a reason why you could be experiencing some of the things that you are. I think it's really important to just shed some light on this and give you a little bit of information just so you have the tools to even ask better questions when you are seeking help. I have Dr. Nicole go ahead and explain a little bit more about what the adrenals are and what they produce in our body.

Dr. Nicole:
The adrenals are actually a gland that sit on top of the kidneys and the primary function of your adrenal glands is they produce the majority of your sex hormones, DHEA being one, estrogen and testosterone is also converted from DHEA and then progesterone. A big portion of your sex hones are being produced by the adrenals but your adrenals are also in charge of producing stress hormones, adrenaline being one and also your cortisol. There's definitely a balancing act that happens with your body's ability to pump out the appropriate level of stress hormones and then also still be able to produce adequate amounts of sex hormones which obviously will support reproduction, make sure that you're not necessarily having PMS or other types of hormonal conditons and also just allowing us to have proper mood and normal libido.

I'm glad that we are talking about this. I feel like these are like an underrated organ that there's not really a lot out there about the adrenals and really about what they do but we're talking about some really important things here. We're talking about sex hormones and then our stress hormones and I think we live in a super stressed out world and we're go, go, go. We have cell phones attached to our hands at all times so I think it's important learning more about the stress hormones and going into a little bit more about what exactly is adrenal fatigue.

Dr. Nicole:
I think this is important about you're saying that we live in a go, go, go world because some people when I speak to them I ask about stress levels which one of the things I inquire about in my consultation and some people say, "Yeah, of course I am stressed but I handle it really well. It's just my life," and unfortunately we've evolved so much as species but at the same time genetically our bodies don't necessarily understand that we live in worlds that we have to deal with more stress than maybe we did when we were hunter gatherers so despite our evolution certain levels of our biochemistry having evolved so even though you might be a go, go, go person but feel like your handling that, that is in turn affecting your biochemistry and essentially fatiguing your adrenals which is going to start to create a cascade of symptoms.

A little bit more elaborate than that is there are actually different phases of adrenal fatigue, so phase 1 is the people on a lab analysis is going to actually show me that they're over producing their stress hormones, so maybe their adrenaline is through the rood or their cortisol is through the roof and this is the person that's like go, go, go, really kind of burning the candle at both ends, and who feels a little high and wired. They maybe have some trouble with sleeping or to having racy mind before falling asleep so they're very much still in the first phase of literally running on adrenaline.

When that goes on for a long period of time and this could be 5 years, it could be 10 years then your adrenals get fatigued and you actually will see a noticeable drop on laboratory analysis that now the cortisol and the adrenaline is actually way lower. It's way lower than the normal and these are people that are now feeling burnt. They're feeling burnt out, they're really kind of struggling to get enough sleep, they're really exhausted in the morning, maybe they're drinking more coffee and they're definitely having that midday crash.

Then you still don't really know what's going, you go, "Oh, well. I'm getting older so it is what is it and I guess kind of deal with it and I know I need to sleep but I have this project and I have kids and I can't really take a break," so you let it go, you let it go, you let it go. Maybe you're 15, 20 years down the line now and now you're going to phase 3 adrenal fatigue and this is really the people that can't really get out of bed, their body is literally just not allowing them to even to have normal activities of daily living anymore and every day is a struggle and they're not able to think clearly. The brain goes out of this world and they're really just never feeling energized, never feeling refreshed.

I think it's funny the way that you explained it too because I always think of it as it almost goes along like the pattern of your life so you think about when you become an adult, you're 18, 20s, you're in college maybe, you get out of college, you've got all these drive and you're wired and you have all the stress and you're managing it really well and then a couple of years later you get married and you have kids and somewhere along the line there you hit the point where you start to burn out and then everything starts to drop low and you get that crash and you have more of that stress, and stress, and stress. Then years later by the time some people even come and see us, they've been running that for so long that they're at that 3rd and final phase of they're not even getting the stress hormones.

I think it's interesting that you can almost see it kind of go with the pattern of life. The other thing I wanted to mention too as you were explaining some of that, I always thought it was very interesting that our bodies don't necessarily know the difference between real and perceived stress so something like watching the news or even like a dramatic movie or something on TV that's going to kind of work you up, you might start to feel upset or cry at movies, that type of thing is not something that our body necessarily recognized if there's a difference between. If we're stressed out all day long and then we come home and we're watching the news or watching these stressful shows it can contribute to those symptoms as well.

Dr. Nicole:
I 100% agree, unfortunately we live in a world where there's a lot of stressors around us and not even just the emotional stressors but we have so many chemical stressors that are around us if we're working in a city and we're breathing in different types of chemicals or we're going to give a sales pitch and then we have that more of that adrenaline rush with the emotional stress and then you have pressure for your deadline, there are all these different stressors that come up.

Then even going home and like you said that when you're supposed to be essentially whining down if you're then getting on technology, you're sitting there trying to bang out the rest of those e-mails you didn't get to through the day which is technically actually pumping out more stress hormones because that's one of the things that technology does is it actually runs the stress response in the brain and then you might be watching the news which is giving you technically negative feedback because of all of the violence and other tragic events happening so there are a lot of ways that we can essentially burn out adrenals out and just burn ourselves out in general.

Going back to talking about the adrenals and I know that you'd mentioned sex hormones, what other parts of the body does this effect?

Dr. Nicole:
We already established that the adrenal glands are making our sex hormones and one of the really important things to understand is if we've ever taken a psychology class, we've heard about the concept fighter flight and when we go into these stages of pumping out adrenaline again because maybe we are high and wired and we have a lot of deadlines and projects or you're just running around being go, go, go, because you have a family, all of these different things start to push us into what we call fighter flight and fighter flight is something that your body literally thinks that you are in a situation to either fight the tiger or run, AKA you're running on adrenaline.

If your body perceives you to be in this stage or either fighting a tiger or needing to run and flee the scene then there's a couple of things that are not important at that time because you need to pump out the stress hormones so one of the things is reproduction. It is not important for you to be reproducing at that time, so AKA your stress hormone production goes down and the other thing is is digestion. You're not worried about digesting a meal when you're in fighter flight so a lot of the mobilization and breakdown in digestion of your food slows down tremendously as well. There's definitely a cascade of events that happen but this is one of the primary reasons for the epidemic of hypothyroidism as well as just hormonal imbalance in general.

There are other influences to hormones, we've talked about the influence of the gut with hormones in some of our previous podcast which is a very important thing to consider but at the same time if we are that person that's doing the long commute, getting up early, working all day especially behind a computer all day kind of putting our brain in that stressful state and then you get home and you have to take care of the kids and you got to get them ready and take the bags then finally you're not really able to whine down until late at night, these are things that are going to dramatically change your endocrine system because your hormones are not a priority to be produced at that point.

If someone presents to you with these symptoms or a history of stress, what type of testing would you likely do with them?

Dr. Nicole:
One of the best ways to evaluate the adrenal glands definitely doing a combination of urine and saliva test so typically when I evaluate someone's adrenal health I am going to do anywhere between a 4 point to an 8 point cortisol test so pretty much what that means is you're going to do a saliva sample a couple of times throughout the say and it really just allows us to see the fluctuations in your cortisol and I think this is something that's really important as well because we always hear these different recommendations of like how frequently we should eat or what's the best remedy for weight loss and some people say eat 5 meals a day, another people say, no, eat 3 meals a day.

When you actually look at someone's cortisol through the day it actually dictates a lot about their blood sugar so it really allows us to have a better understanding as to what their eating habits should be during the day because if they're kind of doing peaks and valleys with their cortisol levels then that means their cortisol is really unstable AKA their blood sugar is really unstable so there are various strategic ways about fixing that and that can also induce weight loss which is great but not only are you going to get information about the cortisol from the saliva, you're also going to get information about the sex hormones so you're going to be able to look at the DHEA, you're also going to look at the estrogen and you're going to look at the testosterone and the progesterone levels.

These are things that are going to give us a lot of insight as to is this person overproducing the stress hormones and under-producing the sex hormones and it allows us to kind of best advise and treat this person to get the adrenals functioning better. One of the other things that I typically tag along with this test is the urine sample and the urine sample is actually to look at some stress hormones but also pretty much all of your neurotransmitters because 2 of your neurotransmitters called norepinephrine and epinephrine are also classified as stress hormones so if you just do saliva you'll only get one part of the picture because you're only going to get those cortisol so actually looking at somebody's adrenaline output is really, really important and that's typically through urine.

When it comes to now someone presents to you and they are presenting to you with the adrenal fatigue, we've done the testing and now we know, what types of things would you do with this person to help fix this?

Dr. Nicole:
Like I mention before, you definitely always want to rule out gut issues, that is something that will kind of impede the process of healing the adrenals just because different pathogens in the gut can affect everything in the body especially our endocrine system because the adrenals are technically part of the endocrine system. With that being said, rule that out first which would be through stool analysis, but then if you've kind of been moving along and somebody has cleared out their gut, everything is working really well in that area and now you've kind of moved into the phase of healing the adrenals, there's actually a lot of really fantastic adaptogenic herb.

What I mean by adaptogenic is these are herbs that will actually meet you where you are and so if you're in phase one adrenal fatigue AKA you're pumping out a lot of adrenaline, pumping out a lot of cortisol then you're going to want obviously lower those numbers, maybe you're someone who's maybe phase 2, phase 2 and your levels have bottomed out you actually need to stimulate the production without over stimulating, so you don't go backwards into producing too much adrenaline. These adaptogenic herbs actually kind of allow, they meet you where you're at and bring you to a normal range, they adapt.

A couple of these different herbs include Aswagandha, Holy Basil, Rhodiola, ginseng, Schizandra and Reishi, Reishi mushrooms specifically. There'll be different supplements that you'll use according to the person in their labs but that's kind of just a general overview. I would Aswagandha is one of the most powerful and also one of the herbs that we see the most success with so that one is kind of a safe route to go but having the testing and having more of the picture of what the entire endocrine system looks like you'll be able to determine more specifically which adaptogens you're going to gravitate towards. Supplements are really just one part of the puzzle. We obviously talked a lot about how our lifestyle can impact this and we really need to be conscious of having that downtime, having some level of exercise that can increase endorphin release which will also help to decrease stress hormones and we also have to be conscious of our technology use.

If you're the person that works in front of a computer all day long you need to really try to tone it down at night. The last thing that you want to be doing is be on the computer all day and then get home and get back on the computer to do your personal e-mails or then start watching TV or cruising the web on your phone while you're in bed. It's just too much simulation and these are things that again induce that fighter flight response, so it's really matter of trying to tone that down. One of the things that we actually love that we use in our own office and I know that some people based off of their work environment will be able to download this and some won't but it's called F.lux and this is something that will actually take the blue light out of your computer and this will actually decrease the stress response in the brain from staring at a computer screen all day.

Also the iPhone most recent update if you do have an iPhone they recently implemented something called Nightshift and it does the same thing, it takes the blue light out of your phone so if you have an iPhone you can implement that as well.

Dr. Nicole:
Perfect. One of the other things that you can use actually while you're at work or your can use it late at night especially if you're having trouble with sleep is an app called Brain Wave which is binaural beats and this is something that we use quite often even during our work day because if something that you actually will put headphones on or put the ear buds in your ears while choosing one of the setting in this app and what I mean by that is they have so many different options. They have something for concentration, they have something for focus, they have things for sleep and what it does is it actually will play these binaural beats which are frequencies that will help to balance the brain hemispheres.

This is really fantastic for balancing the brain hemisphere so you decrease the stress response but at the same time it's also going to increase activity in certain parts of the brain so if it's trying to make you more alert or make you focus or concentrate so it's really, really useful to use again during your work day and there are different settings for sleep if you are someone who's having racy mind at night.

I'm glad that you shared some of those lifestyle tips because I think that when people are listening they really like to have something that they can take away with them. I think that self care is really important and I think it's something that for most people gets put on the back burner and that could be different for everyone. It could be scheduling your self time to listen to the binaural beats or could be getting a massage or exercise. Everybody has that thing that kind of is their stress relief and I think we always think that we have to go, go, go, and we have to meet that deadline and truthfully if we're overly stressed and not being able to focus we're not meeting that deadline anyway.

Dr. Nicole:
We're not productive.

We could be way more productive if we're actually taking that time to slow down and I know that for a lot of people it's difficult to do that because we're so programmed in this fighter flight stage that you lay down and now you have to check your personal e-mail. I like to tell people too even if you have to start slow and say, "All right, I want to cut off my technology an hour before bed." That sounds like a lot of time, so let's start maybe 10 minutes. Can you take 10 minutes to read a book or spend some time listening to the binaural beats, so it's just always about changing the habits and implementing things a little bit at a time.

Dr. Nicole:
I think it's really important that you said that because for those of you listening and thinking like this sounds really overwhelming and I can't imagine slowing down, we've been there, been there, done that between going to our graduate program then working, I work full time while taking 45 credits per quarter, I then got out of school and built a business and then left that business and then came and opened my own business. I didn't know how to relax. I thought that I was not being productive by sitting around or relaxing.

I almost couldn't even find, like I would get stressed out to get a massage because I was like couldn't relax so it's a process to try to kind of slow down and take that time for yourself but I think the operative word that you use for it was schedule like if it's not on your schedule it will not happen and I remember having a business coach and her telling me that I had to schedule time off and I had to schedule self care. I remember thinking that's absolutely ridiculous and it almost made me angry to be honest and after me being stubborn I realized literally no self care was happening.

I let it go for a year. If it was not on the schedule something else filled in that gap so putting it on the schedule and like literally making a commitment to it allowed me to finally start to take that time for myself then it kind of snowballed into being like, "No, I need this. I need this to stay focus. I need this to stay productive productive," so when you're kind of just going through the motions and you're go, go, go all the time you don't realize that your energy is so scattered so it's very unlikely that you're doing things to your full potential or to the full potential that it can get done because again your energy is so all over the place, so take the time for yourself. You deserve it first of all and like Brook said, take it slow.

We love to send over, if you like to opt in would would love to send over those resources, the F.lux and the Nightshift app just so that you have those and you can begin implementing those ones too.

Dr. Nicole:
Thank you so much for listening, until next time.