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Thursday, December 1, 2011

10: Adrenals Amok

When I first wrote about Anxiety and the Iodine Intervention (blog, May 19), I did not mean to imply that this was the one and only breakthrough I’ve ever had with anxiety over the years, neither did I presume that it was to be the last battle on this front. What caught me by surprise, though, was the tremendous irony of having an unbearable onslaught of this infirmity in the weeks immediately after writing that article. It often happens that when we testify of help and healing, we will be sorely tested again.

Having “bragged” about my new mental health (thanks to iodine) in my first newspaper article, it suddenly seemed to crumble. Sitting at my computer, writing, I became so chronically wrought up that I couldn’t handle it. I asked God what the problem was; what my body was lacking, and this is what I heard: You know enough about nutrition now, as far as how it relates to anxiety. You need to learn how to live in a relaxed state.

This sounded good to me, but I had no idea how to proceed. I couldn’t relax, especially once I started working at anything. I continued on my wrought-up way, sitting at my desk like a car in neutral with its accelerator stuck to the floor. Adrenaline and cortisol coursed uncontrollably through my veins. It scared me; I knew it was wreaking havoc on my body, but I couldn’t stop it.

A month or two later I absolutely crashed. My husband and I had headed out for a walk early one lovely Sunday morning, and I just couldn’t do it. I was so exhausted I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, never mind pull off a brisk walk. And the five-pound weights that I frequently carry to work out my upper body while I walk—well, they hung there in my hands, dangling at the end of my arms while I surveyed them as though they were some foreign and impossible challenge. They might as well have been 30 pounds apiece.

Within a few days, I’d found an opening with a naturopath. He diagnosed what I’d guessed: my adrenal glands were exhausted. (This is not a problem that is generally recognized in mainstream medicine. Unless you get to the point where you are producing no cortisol at all (Addison’s disease), your adrenals are not considered to be in trouble.) I learned from the naturopath some of things that cause my adrenaline and cortisol levels to shoot up: the adrenals are stimulated by different kinds of bodily and emotional stressors. Because my anxiety this time was not connected to any emotional issue or concern, I will look here at only bodily stressors:

If I don’t breathe properly, if I don’t eat right or on time, if I am sleep deprived, my adrenals are going to try to compensate. If in addition to being sleep deprived, hungry, and/or oxygen deprived, I continue to work hard mentally or physically, these factors tax the adrenal glands all the more. (If I also were to ingest caffeine, nicotine, and/or refined sugars—and thank God, I do not!—I would be that much worse off.)

Having the naturopath explain these factors to me made me realize that I have some very unhealthy habits. Hypoglycaemic yet failing most of the time to eat when I should, I get involved with my work at the computer and hours slip by unnoticed. I’m nearly always short on sleep, because I frequently wake up hours before I should, and my response has been to just buckle down and force myself to work until it’s a respectable time for a nap. And my breathing habits, I have come to realize, are the worst ever. When I’m concentrating intensely, I breathe very shallowly or even hold my breath. I’ve not realized I was doing this, and I’ve had no idea how hard it was on my body.

I also got an explanation as to why I so often wake up in the night: the adrenals are so fatigued by my daily abuse that when I sleep is the only time they can recover. They get a bit of a rest and after a few hours they rally and produce their two “fight or flight” hormones—just when I don’t need it.
The naturopath said that it’ll take a year for these glands to recover. He’s put me on a couple of supplements to nourish and support them, but the greatest help has been a simple tip he gave me that is changing my life. That’ll have to wait for another time.


  1. Nancy, Thankyou so much for putting this in terms I can understand! I was told years ago that my adrenals were depleted but never given a solution to this problem except to hear that I was to stressed. I had no idea of how it affected me or the consequence of ignoring it. I knew that I was continually exhausted and continue to be. In fact around 6:00 p.m.,I crash most evenings to the point I feel a little nauseated. I can muster up if I need to which I done for a few years now. Again, thank you Nancy for your research and willingness to help others. I can't wait to hear 'The Rest of the Story"

  2. Dear Nancy,
    I so appreciate your research and articles to help us all with our health. PLEASE! finish the article on Adrenals Amok. Been waiting awhile now for answers.
    Merry Christmas and a huge thanks for all you're caring and hard work

  3. Another fascinating article! I went through this some years ago - it was 1998. The same kind of thing as you - exhaustion, burn-out, stress etc. You've heard of project management - well, what I had was project mania! So I stopped drinking coffee (I had a bad habit), took some supplements (including guarana I think it was), and that was when I started doing yoga. The yoga made a big difference, I learned to switch off in a yoga session, and then I was able to transfer that to elsewhere. By the way I did mention 'adrenal gland burn-out' to the endocrinologist who is my diabetes consultant, and all he would say was a clipped 'Maybe'! So a slight acknowledgment there.
    Now I'm not doing so much yoga and I do have the odd coffee. But my project mania days are gone for good, I just don't get worked up about these things any more. And now I am working for myself, I decide when things get done, rather than other people. (I should watch what I say, I could suddenly get a bunch of demanding clients!) But anyway my perspective now is that my health comes first - if I do not have my health then nothing else matters.
    Anyway glad you are getting to grips with it - I look forward to the next story!