These are typical scenarios I hear from patients in my practice:
- “I’m tired. I mean I have the energy to do the things I HAVE to do but at the end of the day, I don’t have the energy to do the things I WANT to do.”
- “I have every symptom of low thyroid–fatigue, weight gain, depression, constipation–but my doctor checked my thyroid and told me it’s normal.”
- “My hormones just feel off. I feel moody and irritable and my sex drive is pretty much non-existent.”
- I’m trying so hard, yet I’m struggling to lose weight.
- I get sick frequently and I have trouble getting over it.
I see patients with these complaints all the time. I saw them frequently in my family practice too. I was one of these patients. The difference is now with a functional approach, I know how to treat them. The tools I had in conventional medicine weren’t enough.
Conventional medicine is great at treating acute illnesses. It also offers some life-saving therapy for chronic diseases. But if you go for your annual physical and your labs are normal, you are told you are fine. Often, patients, like myself and the patients I work with KNOW INTUITIVELY that something is being missed. They may be “fine” by conventional standards, but if that is so, they want to get beyond the line of fine.
What I now know is that all those common scenarios usually start with the damaging effects of stress on the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands become overwhelmed by this stress. When this happens, changes in the following ensue that effect:
- Energy production
- Thyroid gland function
- Sex hormone production
- The ability to effectively lose weight
- The immune system
In order to effectively combat this, we first need to look at stress and learn where it comes from (it’s more than you think) and how to manage it.
There are 3 types of stress:
1.) Emotional stress → This is what most people typically think of when they think about stress. This is the stress of daily living. Work, kids, bills, laundry, dishes, errands–it’s never-ending! Then throw in bigger stressors on top of all this like illness in self or a family member, death, divorce, conflict, caring for a special needs child, caring for an aging parent–and it’s just too much!
2.) Dietary stress → This is the stress on your body from the standard American diet. The impact our diet has on our bodies is profound. It’s easy and typical to fill our bodies with high-calorie foods with low nutritional value. Often these foods keep our blood sugar very unstable which sends stress signals to our adrenal glands. Dietary stress is hidden stress and it is a big contributor to poor adrenal health.
3.) Inflammatory stress → This is another hidden stress and it comes from the bacteria living in your gut. There are trillions of bacteria living in our guts. Some of these bacteria are good and impact our health positively and some of these bacteria are bad exerting inflammatory signals in our body and adding to our overall stress burden. There is also inflammatory stress coming from toxin exposure.
So these 3 stressors add up to create a total stress burden.
Emotional stress + dietary stress + inflammatory stress = total stress burden
Your adrenals can only handle so much. When the stress burden is high, your body adapts to help keep you alive. The body acts as if you are in danger of dying. It responds as if you are actually being chased by a tiger!
Let me back up. What are the adrenal glands anyway?
The adrenal glands are 2 small glands that sit on top of each kidney. The adrenal glands are responsible for making cortisol and the body’s other stress hormones and the precursors to our sex hormones. Additionally, signals from the adrenal glands and the thyroid communicate, so when there is a problem in one there is often a problem in the other.
In order to protect you and help keep you alive, the following changes occur:
- Precursors are shunted away from sex hormone production towards cortisol production (favoring survival over reproduction). This leads to hormonal imbalances causing irritability, mood swings, and low sex drive.
- Thyroid function is impacted by increasing the production of reverse T3 to slow your metabolism. A high reverse T3 will make the standard thyroid lab tests look normal because there is enough thyroid hormone, just not enough of the right kind of thyroid hormone.
- Fatigue ensues. Dysregulated cortisol leads to dysregulated energy.
- The immune system becomes diminished allowing bad gut bugs to proliferate creating increased inflammation.
- The metabolism is purposely slowed, signaling your body to store fat.
Keep in mind that your body doesn’t hate you. These changes are occurring to protect you. These are the exact changes we’d want your body to make if you were indeed being chased by a tiger. While these changes are ideal for acute stress, they are not ideal for chronic stress which is what most of us are all dealing with today.
The first step to fixing this is to purposely send signals to your adrenal glands daily that you are not in danger. This can be accomplished by meditation, deep breathing, journaling, prayer, tapping, or any other technique that helps you feel calm and present. It’s also important to keep the blood sugar stabilized. This can be accomplished by eating real food regularly throughout the day to prevent spikes and dips in blood sugar.
While these lifestyle modifications are a great place to start, testing and correcting the adrenals can accelerate the progress. Tests like this are rarely offered in conventional medicine. I recommend a 4-point salivary cortisol test to see just how strained the adrenal glands are. Then a comprehensive protocol can be instituted to restore the adrenal glands to optimal function.
By fixing the adrenals, slowly but surely, the hormones start to balance, the thyroid begins to function better, the immune system revs up, energy improves and our body begins to release body fat.
Stress seems like no big deal. It is a BIG deal. The breakdown in our health all starts with stress.
Register for Dr. Libby’s 12-week program The Energy Accelerator. This program will help you take back your energy and shift from surviving to thriving so that you can invest fully in yourself and your relationships.