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The Brain and Adrenal Health

Posted Apr 02 2010 7:49am

Our big phat brain is not only our largest sexual organ but also the most vital and important organ for rapid responses, reflexes and ultimately both short-term and long-term survival. [Image courtesy of]

Another wonderful medical image of the adrenal glands which sit at top the kidneys at our flank, below.

Note the proximity of adrenals to our major blood highways, the aorta and the vena cava which feed from the BRAIN and the heart which pumps and circulates 5 liters of your blood every second.

Nephropal post: Evo Brain, Survival of the PHATTEST

Instantly in less than one minute, chemical messengers that are integrated from the brain and its structures -- hypothalamus and the pituitary -- as a response to environmental and internal cues elicit changes immediately in the adrenals glands.

What Do the Adrenals Control?

The adrenals produce ~50 hormones (98% cholesterol-derived): all the sex hormones and their intermediaries, adrenaline (NE, EPI), aldosterone and cortisol. We need cortisol like we need insulin. Type 1 diabetes individuals make no insulin as a result of autoimmune damage and insults at the pancreatic islet cell level; to survive insulin must be injected or I.V. basal dosing all day at low levels. Insulin is necessary to make muscles and fat but not mandatory for fuel utilization. On the other hand, cortisol is necessary to integrate all food -- carbs, proteins and fats -- as well as to burn and produce energy -- ketones, glycogen, gluconeogenesis (GNG), and fatty acids. Cortisol may be the master hormone because it may control insulin and leptin, not the other way around. And... the BRAIN controls cortisol.

Natural Cortisol Secretion Patterns

Cortisol secretion follows a circadian pattern under normal relaxed circumstances. Generally, cortisol blood levels are highest in the morning as we are getting up and ready for the day. Shifting from a comatose, restful sleep tone to an alert, reposed, wakeful tone requires all the products from the adrenal glands, as directed by the brain (pineal gland downshifts melatonin, our internal 'clock' and 'calendar for seasons', light hits past the eyelids to crank out chemical messengers from the hypothalamus and pituitary to turn us 'on' for the day).

Spikes occur with 3 types of stimuli1) to produce energy from fats, protein, glycogen/glucose/GNG -- for waking, lower blood glucose, starvation/fasting, exercise training
2) to store energy -- post meal storage
3) to react to stimulation to maintain blood pressure and suppress inflammation -- caffeine, environmental cues (scent, sight, hearing, touch), mental stress, physical stress, sleep deprivation, nutritional deprivation

Cortisol Pathologies

Chronic 'spiking' may be pathologic if all the above are present or stimulus from an autoimmune or hyperplasia of growth at the hypothalamic, pituitary or adrenal cellular level (pheochromocytoma, Cushing's disease, hyperadrenocorticism).

Over time, alternatively, production can be halted, staggered or even chronically depleted.

Adrenal Insufficiency in the 21st Century

If there is one condition that may characterize neolithic living in our hyper-informed, hyperaware, super active, 'go-go-go', multi-tasking, 24/7 plugged-in age, adrenal insufficiency is IT. Btw, don't bother asking your conventionally trained physician about this condition. Currently, as far as I am aware, adrenal insufficiency just as vitamin D insufficiency and gluten/wheat-intolerance is not a part of the med school curriculum. Current M.D.s' are not trained to identify, diagnosis or treat this 'subclinical' condition unless you are about to keel over and display non-existent, undetectable serum levels of cortisol. Addison's is at the extreme end of the adrenal insufficiency 'spectrum' and is considered life-threatening, leading to complete shut down of organs if untreated. Like diabetes and celiac sprue, it's all a SPECTRUM which we may all be on... somewhere. Pre-diabetes? Silent-celiac? Show me someone who is not...

Trivia: who was a notable famous person with Addison's? [John F. Kennedy]

Signs of Low Adrenal Function

What are the signs and symptoms of poopy adrenals? The same as poopy thyroids? YES.

Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms (courtesy and adapted from HERE )

Low body temperature
Lack of energy (reduced energy metabolism)
Unexplained hair loss (grrrrrls, pay attn)
Difficulty building muscle (hitting WODs but no gains?!)
Difficulty losing weight (grrrrls and boys...)
Mental depression
Difficulty gaining weight
Reactive hypoglycemia (feeling shaky/cranky/palpitations after high carbs)
Inability to concentrate
Excessive hunger
Tendency towards inflammation
Moments of confusion
Indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome
Poor memory
Alternating diarrhea and constipation
Osteoporosis, osteopenia, bone fractures
Auto-immune diseases
Poor resistance to infections
Frequent infections
Respiratory infections, pneumonia, bronchitis
Low blood pressure (but high occcurs too)
Lightheadedness especially upon standing
Palpitations [heart fluttering]
Dizziness that occurs upon standing
Food and/or inhalant allergies
Craving for sweets and carby foods
Dry and thin skin, dry skin, acne
Headaches, Migraines, Abdominal Refractory Migraines
Scanty perspiration (or excessive with reactive hypoglycemia)
Alcohol intolerance
Caffeine intolerance
Iodine intolerance (heart palpitations, racing heart, jittery? probably adrenal fatigue)
Thyroid replacement intolerance (ditto... with Armour, Cytomel, Synthroid, Levoxyl, Nutri-med Thyroid, etc therapy)

Causes of Low Adrenal Function

I've tried to look into the multivaried causes of adrenal insufficiency. They are the same as other organ and subsequent hormone failures (thyroid, kidney, coronary vasculature, brain/migraines, brain/Parkinson's, ovaries/PCOS, testicles/T-deficiency, etc) and insufficiency spectrums.

Causes Of Adrenal Fatigue (courtesy and adapted from HERE )

Stress, Stress, and more Stress!
Work pressure
Death of a loved one including beloved pets
Changing jobs, losing jobs
Physical illness
Marital and interrelationship problems
Feelings of helplessness and powerlessness
Overwork/ physical or mental strain
Excessive exercise, endurance training, elite athletic events
Sleep deprivation
Light-cycle disruption
Going to sleep late
Skin burns, sunburns involving extensive areas
Head trauma/injury
Frequent fevers
Chronic inflammation
Chronic infection
Chronic pain
Temperature extremes
Toxic exposure (live near a refinery? have silver-mercury-filled cavities?)
Environmental toxins (smells, pesticides, heavy metals, PCBs, dioxin, and other endocrine disruptors)
Food toxins (gluten/casein, MSG, nitrates, preservatives/fungicides, bromides in flour, bromides in yellow sodas and veg oils, deep-sea fish (tuna, ahi, shark, etc), seafood/mercury, etc)
Drinking water toxins (alum, aluminum, cadmium, lead, mercury, FLOURIDE, CHLORIDE)
Poor gut biofilms
Chronic illness
Chronic-severe allergies
Food allergies (gluten, casein, corn, egg-whites, legumes, SOY, nightshades, etc)
Nutritional deficiencies (B-vitamins, pantethenic acid, vitamin C, vitamin D, mixed tocopherols/trienols, vitamin K1 K2s/probiotics, vitamin A, coenzyme Q10, trace minerals: magnesium iodine selenium zinc chromium manganese molybedenum, omega-3 EPA DHA ALA, protein, saturated fat, cholesterol, egg yolks/caviar/organ meats, etc)
Drugs that cause autoimmune diseases (statins, all drugs with sulfur groups, hydralazine, SYNTHETIC HORMONES: oral contraceptives, progestins, Premarin, Provera, treatments for prostate cancer, prednisone, methylprednisone, dexamethasone, etc)

Adrenal Recovery

Inducing the adrenals to perform and function the way that we are meant to evolutionarily involves a multi-tiered program geared at feeding and recovering the adrenals. I am no expert but I am getting through recovering. Part of how my thyroids and adrenals pooped out can probably be traced back to childhood and even the in utero environment. Children can be born with adrenals working subpar (like many autism and spectrum children/adults). The factors for me: mother with IBS (gluten intolerance) and probably vitamin D/EPA+DHA deficiency, childhood 3rd degree burn involving majority of L-thigh (comatose for a few days), mother's death during childhood, asthma, bronchitis, infections, decades of gluten/n-6/candy toxicity, college and other stressors, finally use of synthetic birth control hormones, C-section surgery, 4 years straight not sleeping (pregnancy/lactation), our cat falling unrecoverably ill and passing away, stopping yoga and exercising less last year, caffeine dependency, progesterone-excess and extreme endocrine disruption from Mirena hormone IUD, 18-24 month lowgrade dental inflammation/abscess, and a bike accident (proverbial last straw).

One the best resources I have found is Dr. J. Wilson PhD ND's book 'Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome'. So far I agree with everything except the use of omega-6 (he advises a Tbs of sunflower oil daily) and whole grains, though he addresses gluten sensitivity. Achieving success in an evolutionary fashion would be far superior I believe and prevent further taxing of the adrenal organs. Otherwise, Dr. Wilson's recovery plan appears complete, thorough and borne out of deep 20+ years of research and experience. He covers medical data and research from 100 years ago combined with current medical publications but has written the book for the layperson. Part IV reviews the anatomy and physiology excellently and explains very well role of adrenals and the pathophysiology of damage.

The recovery program is multi-tiered(a) Pro-active relaxation and 'programmed' laughing (seriously, LAUGH LAUGH GIGGLE)
(b) SLEEP and nap
(c) Address nutritional deficiencies which occurred in the course of burning out the adrenals or from incomplete diets (iodine and mineral deficiencies are in fact very common as shown in the medical literature)
(d) Routine regular eating combining small amounts of carbs at each meal with plenty of fats and protein, including starting the day off w/good breakfasts; often people with low adrenals have low hunger in the morning (few in the morning however, and no fruit for most secondary to hyperglycemic effects)
(e) Routine regular deep breathing: exercise, yoga, meditation, massage, stretching (more sex)
(f) Avoiding as much of the above listed 'causes' because they are all adrenal depletors

Adjusting our internal cues is the key. I have observed in my hypertension and diabetes patients incredible blood pressure lowering and even glucose lowering with simple 5 minute breathing relaxation exercises in the clinic.

We indeed have extreme control of mind and therefore body. Tap into the mental inner core. (In yoga they say 'the breath is the bridge between the body and the mind')

Easy? Incredibly so. Once one is not in denial *haa!*

Part of the recovery plan, I'll be on vacation for several weeks in Beijing and Shanghai. YIPPEE! More to follow (or not *hee*).

Thank you Gentle Readers for your insights (you know who you guys are) and those sharing your adrenal stories with us at animal pharm and nephropal.

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