Welcome to another super simplified biology lesson, brought to you by the letter A and your adrenal glands.
(Hey, it should go without saying, but I am not a doctor, and none of my blatherings here have been evaluated by the FDA or any reputable medical establishment. This stuff is cobbled together from my long-ago and rusty background as a nurse, and various tubes on the internet. Please join me in the frustrating journey of finding medical help, and don’t take my word for… well, basically anything, ever.)
I got a little happy with the type-tool in Photoshop. Ahem.
Your adrenal glands actually have different parts that do different things. The adrenal cortex makes hormones that are vital to life: cortisol and aldosterone; your body won’t be able to function without them. The adrenal medulla produces nonessential hormones like adrenaline (epinephrine & norepinephrine). These aren’t considered necessary for life, though they do important things and you are very lucky to have them.
When your adrenal glands get sick and diseased, it wreaks havoc in your body. That list isn’t comprehensive, by the way.
During a period of extreme stress, your adrenal glands will over-compensate for the extra demand placed on your body. Illness, late nights, a high-stress job, a death in the family, major relationship problems, etc. can wear you out. Your little Dorito-shaped soldiers (or party animals), the adrenals, will rise to the occasion, producing extra cortisol and adrenaline to keep you going.
(Symptom list not comprehensive, yo.)
While they do a good job of keeping us together during periods of duress, over-working your adrenal glands definitely isn’t meant to be a long term solution. After so long (and the exact time frame will vary from person to person) they too will run out of steam; they can’t sustain those high levels of production forever, and as a result your cortisol levels dip.
Okay so that brings us back to this comic:
You present with a host of troubling symptoms, the doctor runs a blood test — maybe even checking your blood cortisol levels — and blamo, your results come back within the normal range. Sorry you feel like the bottom of a garbage can! Here’s my office bill, have a nice day.
As I’ve come to understand it, the only effective way to test for high or low levels of cortisol is with a 24-hour saliva test. Depending on the test provider, you collect saliva samples either with swabs or by spitting copious amounts of saliva into test tubes *gag*. You then mail the samples to the lab and they get back to you with the results. Then you get to fight with your doctor and make him take into account the results.
Last time I went through this I ordered this saliva test through the Optimal Health Network. I had a good experience with them. For a reasonable fee, they’ll go over your test results with you and work out a treatment plan. I responded very well to the host of (expensive) Standard Process supplements designed for adrenal support. That test will also look at your DHEA (another adrenal hormone), Secretory IGAs, Insulin levels, and Gluten antibodies. This time I used the saliva test recommended by Stop the Thyroid Madness which is good, but not quite as robust.
Okay, are you with me? Does that make sense? Your adrenals are little machines that take the wheel when life gets NUTS, but they can get tired and crash.
Last time I went through this I had broken my arm, suffered through my fourth hyper-emetic pregnancy, lost a twin baby, went through a brutal D&C for the twin’s retained placenta, hemorrhaged horribly during said D&C, and (not to sound too dramatic) nearly died.
If that isn’t stress in a pressurized can about to be punctured, I don’t know what is. After a year of breastfeeding and increasing difficulty with my weight and health, my skin exploded in a 10 month bout with giant urticara and angioedema. Basically, my body was waving a white flag: WE SURRENDER. HALP. After doing the (frustrating and dead-end) rounds with countless medical professionals, I finally got a tip from blog reader, Liz A. (Holla, Liz.) At her urging, I started researching all this adrenal fatigue stuff. Working with an MD who only sometimes raised her eyebrows so high they fell off her face, a nutty chiropractor, and a very understanding, crunchy DO doctor, I finally took the aforelinked saliva test from the Optimal Health Network, got my insane results, and started healing.
This time isn’t as bad as last time. It’s miserable, but it’s better. Part of that is because I’d already done all the frustrating run around five years ago, and knew what tests I needed straight off the bat. I was able to more quickly get to the point with my family doctor up here and line up the various assortment of medical help I knew I needed. Plus, the stress leading up to this time wasn’t nearly as catastrophic. I didn’t nearly die or anything Lifetime movie-esque. I just pushed myself too hard, so here we are.
My cortisol levels
So my problem (then and now) is too much cortisol. Last time my cortisol levels were OFF THE CHARTS morning, noon, and night. They are screwy this time: low normal in the morning (when they should be higher and ready to give me energy for a new day) and too high at night (when they should be calming the crap down so I can sleep… I currently can’t sleep.)
Cortisol levels can mess up your circadian rhythm. That super magical thing that happens in your body to regulate your energy throughout the day. It helps you wind down at night, gives you the ability to fall asleep, and affects how rested and ready you feel for a new day of work and life in the morning.
Here’s what’s helping
The first thing on this list is a great team of medical people:
I have two family doctors (MDs) who are relatively willing to listen to my own non-medical-doctor research. If one won’t listen to me, the other one will (not that I’m always right, but you know, it’s nice to be heard). The same DO medical doctor who is much more willing to take me seriously. I like her a lot. An energy worker who, I often feel like is doing crazy voodoo, but seems to hit the nail on the head when I’m confused about tweaking a supplement or why I’m having a problem in a certain area. If nothing else he helps me meditate and focus and take RESTING seriously. An ND (natropath physician) with expertise in thyroid / adrenal function which I have so far only corresponded with on the phone, but who I may be visiting soon (he’s in another state). It’s kind of depressing that you can’t just walk into a family practice and get all the help you need, but with sort of weird problems like this, you have to do a lot of your own research and be willing to fight for the right kind of help.
These supplements and medications:
- Dessicated thyroid. My dose / type is currently getting tweaked. Read more here.
- Floradix (the gluten free variety) liquid iron supplement. 20ml per day.
- Dessicated adrenal. By Standard Process. It’s expensive, but very effective. I take 7 per day for 6 weeks (I have 2 more weeks left — you don’t want to be on it longer than that, your adrenal glands will get lazy)
- 2 – 3 teaspoons of Real Salt in water daily
- 3 Dermatrophin PMG (this also stops after 6 weeks, more on that below)
- 8 Standard Process Calcium Lactate tablets
- 2 Potassium tablets
- 3 Nature’s Way B-100 complex capsules
- 1 Jarrow Formulas Milk Thistle capsules
- 6 Twinlab C-Plus Citrus Bioflavonoid capsules
- 3 Standard Process Zymex
- 1 Standard Process Prolamine Iodine
- 14 Standard Process Cataplex B
- 5 Standard Process Cataplex D
- 6 (3 in am, 3 at night) Standard Process Congaplex
- Trace Mineral drops
- 6 (3 in am, 3 at night) Standard Process Chlorophyll Complex
- 2 Himalaya brand Holy Basil
- I took one bottle of Medi-Herb Nevaton
- 1 teaspoon in water of Medi-Herb Ashwaganda
- 1 teaspoon in water of Medi-Herb Rehmannia
- 2 teaspoons in water of powdered Turmeric (natural antihistamine)
At the 6 week mark, I stop the dessicated adrenal and Dermatrophin PMG and switch to Drenatrophin PMG for 6 weeks (also by Standard Process). After that I take Drenamin for a year and then retest everything and re-evaluate (lots of those supplements will get tweaked / eliminated as we go).
It’s a lot, but it’s helping and so that’s motivating. For me, the monster rash seems to have a direct correlation to my cortisol spaz attack. With adrenal support, I’m down to just 3 Benadryl every 8 – 12 hours. This is AWESOME. I have various degrees of welts and facial swelling most mornings, but after taking my bowlful of supplements I’m usually fairly comfortable by the afternoon (comfortable for me is not, probably, going to be comfortable for you — you get sort of used to a certain level of misery).
I am perfectly capable of having / running our homeschool from the sofa or bed, but we are still very cautious (due to the POTs symptoms though those are improved) of me doing much more. I do not have any church or community responsibilities, and friends are still helping with grocery shopping and errands. I am able to run the kids to dance classes, but they are very nearby.
There is a link between adrenal function & thyroid and low iron & thyroid. We’re hoping that as I continue to get my iron & adrenal glands in line, some of my thyroid problems will resolve, or at least be easier to treat.
Oh my gosh, just one more thing and then you are FREEEEEEEE
I made a mistake last time this happened: I abandoned everything (supplements, testing, doctor visits) once I felt better. I am realizing more and more that my body is a delicate flower. What I need to do is remain vigilant even when I start feeling like a human.
I’m going to need to stay on top of having regular blood work and the gross saliva tests. I need to remember that I probably can’t just dance off into the sunset and abandon my resolve to maintain my iron levels just because I can go to the grocery store without help. This is going to be an ongoing regular-checkup sort of thing. Some of you are probably like, “Uh, no duh?” But really, once I feel semi-normal it’s super easy for me to forget all about everything until I wake up with a Bratwurst sized lip.
Okay then. I think that’s all. Can you guys appreciate why these posts take longer for me to put together than I think they will? I mean the obvious need for an editor aside, it’s kind of a lot to figure out how to present in a semi-digestible fashion. I hope I did okay. Holler if any of it is confusing.
p.s. GAH! I left out a couple of illustrations & took the time to edit for clarity (and sanity) in a couple areas. Friends don’t let friends hit ‘publish’ after they’ve taken their melatonin for the night.