I went to an excellent seminar a few years ago where the lecturer, Dr. Eldred Taylor, listed the top 10 best selling pharmaceuticals of that year. They included Lipitor, for cholesterol; some asthma medications; Ambien, for sleep; drugs for heart disease; and some antidepressants. Then Dr. Taylor went on to say that every disease that these drugs are used to treat can be caused by chronic stress.
Well, that really got my attention since I had not heard a word about this in my 4 years of pharmacy school (although I did learn a lot about those top 10 drugs). As I began talking to some of my patients about this topic, I realized that chronic stress is the 300 pound gorilla in the room. The more I talked to people, the more it seemed like everyone had it. Chronic stress and the subsequent adrenal fatigue that it causes, may be the single most important medical condition of our times, and no one has heard of it – not even most doctors!
What happens when we experience chronic stress over months and years is that it slowly alters the way our adrenal gland functions, ultimately depleting it of its ability to produce hormones necessary for our body to function properly.
The adrenal gland is an important organ that sits on top of our kidneys. Among other things, it is responsible for secreting the hormone cortisol, with is the hormone that allows us to cope with stress. All cells in the body need cortisol. It regulates glucose metabolism, it mediates inflammation, it regulates blood pressure, it affects the contractions of the heart, it affects the functioning of our immune system, it regulates the functioning of other hormones (like thyroid and the sex hormones), and much more.
Interestingly, although our adrenal glands are the organs in our body that are designed to respond to stress, they are also the glands that are most easily damaged by stress. Some people who have suffered from post-tramatic stress disorder (PTSD), have such a massive shock to their system, that their adrenal functioning is instantly altered. For most of us, the damage is slow and incremental.
The good news is that there are things we can do to restore the functioning of our adrenal glands and reverse the negative effects of all this stress. I’ll talk about that more in a future post.
In the mean time, live well!