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Using a Multi-faceted Approach to Reverse Adrenal Exhaustion: A Case Study

As we head into the first full month of summer, consider giving yourself (and your hormones) a big thank you. Summer is a busy time with several responsibilities, and one of the key reasons why we adapt to these everyday demands is due to the stress response. Specifically, your adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, secrete cortisol, adrenaline, and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) —three important hormones that help you feel like you.

Under bouts of stress, healthy adrenals quickly adapt to the situation and enhance their output of cortisol, adrenaline, and DHEA, enabling you to function normally with an added boost of energy. If your situation becomes chronically stressful, your adrenals may no longer be able to keep up with the demand you are putting on yourself. What we see clinically is that DHEA levels begin to plummet, indicating adrenal exhaustion. 

Furthermore, the over-secretion of adrenaline causes you to feel anxious and nervous, even when nothing stressful is going on. Common complaints include insomnia, fatigue, depression, irritability, and digestive difficulties. Because adrenaline surges during stress, digestive enzymes are simultaneously lowered (which means you’re not breaking down and absorbing what you eat) and blood sugar levels transiently rise (which is an adaptive response so that you can stay alert and fight, flight, or freeze). 

Overtime, this is disastrous for optimal health, but many don’t realize the extent that stress can have on the human frame. The results of high cortisol and adrenaline levels from prolonged stress include, but are not limited to:

When a 33-year-old lawyer named “Jill” came to see me, she wanted a second opinion about a recent diagnosis of Hashimoto's thyroiditis. If you’ve been following my patient case studies, then you know that Hashimoto’s is intimately tied to digestive function. I’ve written extensively about this topic since starting my own practice (see below):

Besides her new autoimmune diagnosis, “Jill” also had chronic lower extremity swelling and pain, heavy menses with iron deficiency anemia, weekly headaches, hemorrhoids, and acne for the past 10 years. “Jill” often was in a frequent state of anxiety and having poor energy. 

After determining “Jill” had long-standing severe leaky gut with a high level of inflammation and dysregulation of her nervous system, we began a gut healing protocol.  Through dietary changes and supplements, “Jill”’s digestive symptoms resolved after one month and her energy level began to increase. “Jill” coincidentally noticed her facial skin was less oily. 

Yet, her progress was incomplete. 

“Jill” had become disconnected by what her acute and chronic stressors were. This led to frequent bouts of leg swelling,anxiety spikes, and inability for her digestive system to begin repairing even when “Jill” was relaxing.  We soon learned “Jill’s” biggest fear stemmed from her father suddenly dying of cancer at the young age of 55.   

“Jill’s” stress was essentially overriding her body’s ability to heal.  It was preventing repair of long-standing damage to her leaky gut.  

In order for “Jill” to see how stress was wreaking havoc on her body, she decided to get a Thermography scan done at Advanced Health. The thermogram results showed:

What can you do for a patient whose all-day excess cortisol production leads to excessive wear-and-tear of the body? It takes a multi-faceted approach.   

The thermogram report helped “Jill” realize her damaged nervous system had been sending constant stress signals throughout her body.  It had eventually led to organs not functioning properly and gradually becoming damaged. “Jill’s” severe adrenal fatigue was killing her.

At this point, we had “Jill” see osteopath Julie Duggan and yoga therapist Elaine Oyang for additional assistance.  “Jill’s” experienced a tremendous decrease in her pain.  Since we were still hitting a wall, “Jill” began microcirculation therapy every day at home for one month.  It dramatically helped decrease “Jill’s” leg swelling and stress. She finally began to feel more energy and able to begin dealing with getting rid of the deeply rooted emotional stressors which had been weighing “Jill” down for many years.    

For “Jill,” many critical shifts in diet, medication, and ways of living were necessary to first understand the root cause of her adrenal exhaustion. By stopping the chronic harm “Jill” was subconsciously causing and instead invest in better supporting cellular health and the parasympathic nervous system, “Jill” finally began to feel consistently better.  She began to move away from deeply rooted fears and instead developed the strength to finally leave her dissatisfied job, move to her dream home, and start trying to have a family with her supportive husband.  

Dr. Bhandari and the Advanced Health Team Are Here to Support Your Health.

Our expert team of integrative holistic practitioners work with patients suffering from chronic health concern.  We help our patients reverse disease by better understanding how the body optimally functions and providing personalized treatment plan.  To learn more and book an appointment, contact Advanced Health or call 1-415-506-9393.

Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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