If I asked you to pick which organ was most crucial to your daily health, well-being, and ability to resist disease, what would your answer be?
You might suggest heart, lungs, or even brain—but chances are, you would not even think of answering adrenal glands.
Yet the adrenals are the “x” factor involved in just about every one of our illnesses and symptoms, not to mention those days when we simply feel suboptimal.
The adrenal glands are two small organs that sit on top of our kidneys. Whenever we perceive any type of threat—whether a physical threat such a car accident, or an emotional threat, such as a work deadline—our adrenal glands are cued by our brain to set off a primal stress response.
This complicated chemical cascade releases several different stress hormones, chiefly cortisol. Cortisol is critical for our health and well-being. It has a tremendous effect on just about every system in our bodies, most immediately our hormones, digestion, immune system, and nervous system.
Cortisol affects our thyroid, pancreas (learn more by listening to my recent radio show interview with Dr. Philippa Cheetham by clicking here), as well as ovaries for women and testes for men. It helps to determine our blood sugar levels and our insulin function. It also has a profound effect on the brain chemicals that determine mood, sleep, energy, and focus.
We need cortisol, but when we are stressed continually, then the adrenal glands either adapt in a healthy way, or they mal-adapt, leading to cortisol levels that are too high or too low.
Accordingly, imbalanced cortisol levels play a huge role in weight gain, mental clarity, anxiety and depression, motivation, and overall feelings of vitality or fatigue. Cortisol also affects our skin and hair, our blood pressure and circulation, and our lungs, muscles, and bones.
Our adrenal health helps to determine our cortisol levels—and our cortisol levels help determine how we feel.
When our cortisol levels are optimal, we feel terrific. When our cortisol levels are less than optimal, we feel “off”—foggy, irritable, tired, unmotivated, and, frequently, plagued with symptoms: acne, weight gain, frequent colds and/or infections, allergies, sexual dysfunction, difficulties with the menstrual cycle and/or menopause, indigestion, sleep problems, fatigue, mood issues, mental fog, anxiety, and depression.
These symptoms in turn can become the harbingers of such serious conditions as auto-immune disorders, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and cancer.
Cortisol is central to just about every health problem we face, which makes sense when we remember that stress is the primary condition of life, and cortisol is the stress hormone.
Cortisol is literally the medium through which stress affects us—and cortisol levels are individualized. We can’t guess our cortisol levels—which is what my research found. The only way to know how your adrenals are responding to stress is to measure your cortisol levels in your saliva.
This is why, as a practitioner, my first step in treating virtually every patient I see is to determine whether cortisol levels have varied from their optimal levels and, if so, to use herbs and nutrients to optimize those levels.
I know that until we have restored our cortisol levels back to their optimal state, health problems of some type will certainly continue.
Optimizing cortisol levels is my first step—by supporting the adrenals to have a healthy stress response and recovery. The good news is that once we can optimize our cortisol levels and heal our adrenals, good health will surely follow.
If you haven’t yet had your salivary cortisol levels measured, make sure you do! I consider it essential to your health.