Stress… How It Affects Our Lives and Hormone Balance (Part 2)

Understanding that everything seems to be a stressor, which affects hormone balance, which affects thyroid balance, which affects almost every major thing that happens or doesn’t happen in our bodies, one starts to wonder “where do I stand”. Stress is something that I don’t think most people completely understand. In my many consults with patients, regardless of the type and origin, stress has become a major topic of discussion.


I will start by saying that until you have experienced complete “adrenal shut down”, you may not fully understand what I am about to tell you. In the past, when people told me that they “just couldn’t get out of bed”, I truly couldn’t understand a situation where someone could not get out of bed; as I (personally) had not had that experience. I thought that what they were saying must be a gross exaggeration. How could someone not get out of bed unless they had experienced a stroke or something of that magnitude? I could not comprehend…until the day when I personally, “just couldn’t get out of bed”.

I was working 2 jobs, putting in about 20 hours a day 5 days a week. This had gone on for several years. I would work 12 hours in a pharmacy during the day, go home eat dinner with the family, immediately go to bed, sleep 2 hours, get up take a shower and prepare to go to work at the hospital at 11pm until 7am the next morning. Then I would go to the pharmacy at 7am and work until approximately 7pm; then go home, eat dinner and start the whole routine all over again. I was setting myself up for complete adrenal exhaustion. With sleep deprivation, hormone balance is completely upset; cortisol and thyroid balance is also completely upset. Nothing is balanced and nothing is correct.

During this time, I had committed to giving a talk on “Thyroid Balance” and “Cortisol”. Being a double-triple type “A” personality, I just couldn’t say “no” to anyone. Sense of accomplishment was my game. Give me more and I will always ask for more. Stupid, Stupid…if I only knew then what I know now.

I had taken a couple of days off in final preparation for this talk. I will never forget. One day I prior to this talk, the alarm went off at approximately 7am. I was very drowsy and groggy – unable to focus. I started to reach for the alarm, when I realized that I “could not move”. I literally could not move. At first, I thought I had had a stroke. I couldn’t even lift a finger. It scared the heck out of me. I couldn’t imagine what was going on. I was so drowsy and tired that I went back to sleep and woke up in about three hours. The alarm music was still playing, this time I was able to move and turned the alarm off. I got up, got something to eat and realized that what I had just experienced was exactly what I was going to speak about, “Complete Adrenal Shutdown”. I had run out of fuel. I had no cortisol. Due to my self-inflicted stress, I had consequentially run out of cortisol and glucose. Our bodies run on glucose (sugar). Without it, we do not move.           

Stress is a very benign thing…meaning that we become very accustomed to our stress without realizing how much stress we have and the tremendous impact it has on our bodies. Until that day when our withdrawal of cortisol exceeds our production and our cortisol reserve becomes completely depleted, do we really start to understand what this is all about. Simply stated, when we are out of “gas”, we have no more fuel. Cortisol is responsible for giving us glucose, “fuel”. When we are out of cortisol, we are out of fuel.

There are many degrees of “adrenal fatigue”. The primary symptom is fatigue. When we are out of fuel, we just don’t have any energy to do anything. Physically fatigued, mentally fatigued, emotionally fatigued, we are just tired all the time.

It is thought that adrenal fatigue will affect 90-95% of all Americans at one time in their life. How does one recover from adrenal exhaustion or adrenal fatigue? Rest, supplements designed to support adrenal function, hormone support, lifestyle changes all become very important to the slow recovery of adequate adrenal function.

Adrenal fatigue, (depending on the individual) may take weeks, months or even years for proper healing to occur. Common sense plays a big role here. Even though I thought I had good common sense, obviously in this area, I had no sense at all. It has been years and even though currently I address adrenal support through hormone replacement (testosterone), many supplements on a daily basis and a renewed appreciation for adrenal fatigue (lifestyle changes), I struggle for good adrenal function.

What is good adrenal function? One of the first things I look for is an adequate AM-cortisol. I test for AM-cortisol in every patient. I want to know what their capability is to produce cortisol. An individual’s cortisol level should be the highest at 8:00 AM sharp. With knowledge of symptoms and an AM-cortisol level test, a practitioner can judge the condition of the adrenals and the patient’s ability to handle stress. In short, an adequate AM-cortisol level is your fuel for the day. It provides glucose. I look for an AM-cortisol level to be in the range of 18-24 for proper functioning. I rarely see a patient who is in this range. Personally, I test in the 10-13 range. The accepted range for “normal” AM-cortisol levels is approximately 5-24. How ridiculous. Let me give you an analogy: If you were preparing for a road trip in your car, one of the first things you would do is to FILL up your gas tank with fuel.  One of the first things we need for our daily journey of life is a full tank of gas. This means a substantial amount of AM-cortisol.

How do we fill up our tank? There are many ways. Sometimes conservation and control through lifestyle changes, such as diet, exercise and behavioral modifications can play the biggest role. Supplements such as vitamin C and adaptagens (to control the excess release of cortisol) can play a significant role.

Adaptagens are supplements which tend to normalize, or control a function in the body. Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, Cordicepts, and Bicopia are some of the most significant adaptogens to improve cortisol levels. Stress is stress to the limbic system (the ancient survival part of the brain).  Adaptagens tend to control the excess response, and consequentially the excess release of cortisol, thus producing a conservation effect.

Remember those famous words that every mother says, ”Every growing boy or girl needs a good night’s rest”. Proper, good, deep, restful, hormone-producing sleep is absolutely necessary to our health.