MindCheck is the Weekly Wednesday Kids Mental Health series with Dr. Ray Pataracchia N.D. MindCheck provides in depth information on the orthomolecular approach to coping with mood and/or behavior disorders. The MindCheck Health Series is endorsed by the Mindful Network - ‘A Better Future for Children’s Mental Health’.
If stress has reached its maximum, your adrenal gland might not be doing its job!
Adrenal Health is Mental Health
The gland involved most directly in our response to stress is the adrenal gland. Stress hits us all in different ways, some more directly while others only after repeated physical or environmental stressors. Stress can evolve after the trauma of a crisis situation (e.g. post-war or concussion trauma), academic demands, growth an development demands, pregnancy, financial crisis, a death or a deteriorated relationship.
In clinical practice adrenal support can be as simple as adding vitamin B5 and C to a protocol or as complex as adding a botanical tonic or adaptogen. Adaptogens help your body adapt to your environment. Our clinic protocol is targeted and factors in adrenal function and several other nutrient syndromes associated with anxiety and other mental health conditions.
Adrenal Symptoms are Global
The adrenal gland affects mental and physical health. If the adrenal is sluggish you can experience brain fog, lethargy, tiredness, anxiety, depression, nervousness, fear, poor memory, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, frequent infections, allergies, arthritis, difficulty losing weight, and feeling worn-out.
Clinically the signs of adrenal imbalance should correct themselves in an optimal protocol. That being said, there are many layers of biochemical imbalance (heavy metals, thyroid imbalance, mineral imbalance, etc.) that affect adrenal function and these have to be addressed to achieve success.
The Adrenal Response
The main adrenal hormones are cortisol and adrenaline. Elevated cortisol is common in our response to stress but this can be problematic if cortisol levels stay elevated. In early to mid- stage adrenal dysfunction we often see vacillating spikes of cortisol and adrenaline. If the problem is not addressed, the adrenal gland gives up (adrenal exhaustion) on the production of one or more adrenal hormones.
Your ability to adapt to a changing environment is dependent on the efficient production and appropriate release of adrenal hormones.
If your adrenal is sluggish you can’t adapt to the temperature of your environment. You may not cool down or warm up as fast as you’d like. This temperature adaptation is not to be confused with the cold hands/feet symptom of low thyroid metabolism where we see low overall average body temperatures.
If your adrenal is sluggish you can’t adapt fast enough to raise blood pressure when rising from a sitting or lying position to a standing position. Often the on standing blood pressure drop is accompanied with dizziness and/or blurry vision.
Mid-day sluggishness and waking in the middle of the night are also associated with adrenal sluggishness.
The Sluggish Adrenal Profile – a Closer Look
From a biochemical perspective, the top adrenal imbalances are:
Blood Pressure Imbalance
The adrenal modulates the minerals sodium, potassium, and magnesium which are imperative to blood pressure maintenance and heart rhythm. Magnesium depletion is also directly involved in mental health compromise. Low cortisol is seen in advanced adrenal fatigue, a state where we see profound stress intolerance and low blood pressure.
If you need a sugar fix, your adrenals are probably sluggish. Low cortisol and high insulin states can cause sugar drops. Cortisol aids in the on-demand release of sugar. When sugar levels are not maintained, a hypoglycemic state ensues and we see hallmark symptoms: dizziness, irritability when you miss meals, tiredness after meals, and feeling ‘better’ when arguing. Frequent meals with high protein, lipoic acid, vanadium, and chromium are quite useful in this condition.
Structural Protein Breakdown
Cortisol breaks down protein. Protein breakdown affects not only muscles, connective tissue and bones, but also neurotransmitter production. Proteins are needed for generating energy molecules (ATP) and are therefore important to energy maintenance. Pain in your musculoskeletal system can result from the lack of protein. We also often see kids with a failure to thrive characteristics, that is, kids that don’t reach developmental height-weight landmarks; adults also present with this body mass depletion condition. Digestion is also influenced as structural protein is needed to maintain your digestive tract structure and, digestive enzymes are proteins that are required for nutrient absorption.
Nervous System Dysfunction
When the glandular system is sluggish, mental health suffers. In early stage adrenal sluggishness we see dampened serotonin (feel-good neurotransmitter) levels and elevated adrenaline and nor-adrenaline levels. The adrenal rush is associated with anxiety and overstimulated mental states but as adrenal sluggishness continues the compensatory calming system (the GABA neurotransmitter system), in an attempt to diffuse the situation, does so only partially which leads to classic ‘wired yet tired’ sensations.
Female Hormone Imbalance
With elevated cortisol the body finds it difficult to maintain progesterone, the precursor to cortisol. It is important to maintain progesterone levels because progesterone is a natural anti-depressant. Without adequate progesterone we see mental state changes prior to menses (PMS), menstrual irregularities (including the lack of menses), and greater incidence of PCOS, endometriosis, and breast disease. If progesterone is depleted we see compensatory estrogen dominance which shares symptoms similar to progesterone depletion with the addition of fibroid disease, infertility, auto-immune disorder, and blood sugar dysregulation.
If you have poor thyroid function, more often than not you will require adrenal gland support, as the adrenal and thyroid system work synergistically. The intimacy of adrenal with thyroid gland function makes it important to look at both systems if your aim is to optimize physical and mental health.
Your immune response is modulated by cortisol which is anti-inflammatory. If you have adrenal sluggishness and low cortisol you are more susceptible to having poor immune responses and you can experience frequent seasonal infections (flu’s), or worsen other inflammatory states such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Chronic infections can tax adrenal function and shift your metabolism to a state of adrenal sluggishness that further inhibits recovery; this is especially seen in cases with recurrent respiratory infections, serious digestive system infections, sinus infections, and intestinal bacteria imbalance (dysbiosis).