Most of us can handle the ups-and-downs of our daily stress, even the occasional catastrophe. We suck it up, dig deep, and persevere. However, some individuals have an altered stress- coping system, which prevents them from managing daily stress.
Retrospective studies show that the stress of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse during childhood increases the future risk of developing certain symptoms or illnesses. These illnesses include many of the same symptoms associated with fibromyalgia , including fatigue, poor sleep, chronic pain, chronic viral infections, anxiety, and depression.
Apparently, for some children and adolescents, too many traumatic or stressful events de-condition their normal homeostatic stress coping abilities. Thus, stress and particularly traumatic stress, early in life, may alter the set point of the stress response system, rendering these individuals prone to stressful events later in life.
This most likely occurs from over-stimulation and depletion of certain stress coping hormones including serotonin, norepinephrine, cortisol, and DHEA.
Research shows that patients with fibromyalgia have genetic tendencies that cause them to be affected more drastically by the ups and downs of stress. Fibromyalgia patients are also more likely to report a history of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse during childhood and adulthood, compared to other patient subgroups.
Sadly, I find that many of my fibromyalgia and CFS patients have experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse as a child.
Stress is the main culprit in low adrenal function as well.
The Adrenal Glands
The adrenals are a pair of pea-sized glands located atop each kidney. The adrenal gland consists of two sections: the medulla (inner portion) and the cortex (outer portion). The adrenal glands release certain hormones that allow us to be able to deal with immediate and long-term stress. These glands and the hormones they release allow us to be resilient to day-to-day stress.
Second only to restoring consistent deep restorative sleep, optimal adrenal function is crucial for over coming low thyroid and or fibromyalgia.
Adrenal fatigue is known to cause:
o hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
o hypotension (low blood pressure)
o neural mediated hypotension (become dizzy when stand up)
o decreased mental acuity
o low body temperature (also a sign of low thyroid function)
o decreased metabolism
o a compromised immune system
o decreased sense of well-being (depression)
o hyperpigmentation (excess skin color changes)
o loss of scalp hair
o excess facial or body hair
o vitiligo (changes in skin color)
o auricular calcification (little calcium deposits in the ear lobe)
o GI disturbances
o abdominal pain
o muscle or joint pains
The adrenal cortex is primarily associated with response to chronic stress (infections, prolonged exertion, prolonged mental, emotional, chemical, or physical stress). The hormones of the cortex are steroids. The main steroid is cortisol.
Chronic over secretion of cortisol leads to adrenal exhaustion, which accelerates the downward spiral towards chronic poor health. Once in adrenal exhaustion your body can't release enough cortisol to keep up with the daily demands.
Eventually you become deficient in cortisol and then DHEA.
Chronic headaches, nausea, allergies, nagging injuries, fatigue, dizziness, hypotension, low body temperature (low thyroid), depression, low sex drive, chronic infections, and cold hands and feet are just some of the symptoms that occur with adrenal cortex exhaustion.
Abnormal Circadian Rhythm
Cortisol levels are affected by stress and the body's circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). Cortisol secretions rise sharply in the morning, peaking at approximately 8 a.m. After its peak, cortisol production starts to taper off until it reaches a low point at 1 a.m.
Fluctuations in cortisol levels can occur whenever normal circadian rhythm is altered (a change in sleep-wake times). Traveling through different time zones (jet lag) changes in work shifts, or a change bedtime can cause drastically alter normal cortisol patterns.
Therefore maintaining or reestablishing normal sleep/wake cycles is crucial for optimal adrenal health.
Not Enough DHEA
The adrenal cortex, when healthy, produces adequate levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
o sex drive
o resistance to stress
o self-defense mechanisms (immune system)
o general well-being
and helps to raise:
o cortisol levels
o overall adrenal function
o cellular energy
o mental acuity
o muscle strength
Chronic stress initially causes the adrenals to release extra cortisol. Continuous stress raises cortisol to abnormally high levels. Then the adrenal glands get to where they can't keep up with the demand for more cortisol. As the cortisol levels continue to become depleted from on going stress the body attempts to counter this by releasing more DHEA. Eventually they can't produce enough cortisol or DHEA. Aging makes holding on to DHEA even tougher. Even in healthy individuals, DHEA levels begin to drop after the age of 30. By age 70, they are at about 20% of their peak levels.
Stress and DHEA
DHEA helps prevent the destruction of tryptophan (5HTP), which increases the production of serotonin. This helps provide added protection from chronic stress. Studies continue to show low DHEA to be a biological indicator of stress, aging, and age-related diseases including neurosis, depression, peptic ulcer, IBS, and others.
Testing for Adrenal Fatigue
Ragland's sign is an abnormal drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) when a person arises from a lying to a standing position. There should be a rise of 8-10 mm. in the systolic (top) number. A drop or failure to rise indicates adrenal fatigue. Example: Someone takes your blood pressure while you're lying on your back. The systolic number is 120 and the diastolic number is 60 (120 over 60). Then take your blood pressure again after immediately standing up. The systolic number (120) should go up 10 points (from 120 to 130). If it doesn't increase 10 points, this indicates adrenal fatigue.
Reducing stress, boosting adrenal function with a good multivitamin and DHEA will help you build-up your stress coping abilities. There are several good adrenal supplements on the market, just visit your local health food store.