<b>The Three Pillars of Health—The Basic Foundation of Your Overall Health</b>
Let’s begin with a discussion of your health in the context of the three main body systems:
– the hormonal/immune system,
– the digestive system,
– and the detoxification system.
These three systems are your “pillars of health” because the health of your other body systems—such as the cardiovascular and nervous systems—depend on the strength of these three key systems.
<b>The First Pillar of True Functional Health: Your Hormone and Immune System</b>
Anyone wanting to assess overall health using a functional diagnostic medicine approach can begin with a simple, inexpensive saliva test that measures adrenal gland function.
Because the adrenal glands are among the first organs to show signs of stress, a 24-hour saliva test will measure how stress may be impacting your immune system by detecting changes in hormone production and balance. The samples of saliva you submit to a functional laboratory are put through a sophisticated hormonal analysis to measure levels of cortisol and DHEA. The levels of these two hormones, produced by the adrenal glands, decrease when your body is under stress.
Saliva testing measures the free, bio-available hormone activity, which determines how hormones actually do their job at the cell level. In addition, saliva hormone testing more accurately reflects how effective your tissues and cells are accepting the hormones you have in your body as well as those you may be taking through your skin (in creams, gels, or patches) or by mouth. Because most blood tests do not measure “bio-available” hormone levels, they significantly underestimate hormones that are delivered topically and orally. Urine testing results in the same limitation. If you rely on hormone levels measured by blood and urine testing, you could have too much cortisol and DHEA in your system and not know it.
<b>Many Causes of Adrenal Stress and Adrenal Exhaustion</b>
Adrenal stress is a collection of signs and symptoms that results when the adrenal glands fail to function effectively. Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, it can lead to adrenal exhaustion. The term “adrenal exhaustion” refers to fatigue that’s not relieved by sleep. With adrenal exhaustion, you may not have any obvious signs of physical illness, yet you live with a general sense of sickness, tiredness, or “gray” feelings. People suffering from adrenal exhaustion often have to use coffee, colas, and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to keep themselves going during the day.
This syndrome has been known by many other names in the past, such as non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, sub-clinical hypoadrenia, neurasthenia, adrenal neurasthenia, adrenal apathy and adrenal fatigue. Although adrenal exhaustion affects millions of people in the U.S. and around the world, conventional medicine does not yet recognize it as a distinct syndrome. After all, it’s not a readily identifiable entity like chicken pox or a mole on your arm.
Adrenal stress can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially those of the digestive and respiratory systems (e.g., bacterial overgrowth from undigested foods and invasive yeast and fungal infections of the intestines, candida antibodies, food antigens, celiac or gluten-sensitive enteropathies, or mucosal barrier function). Common respiratory infections include influenza, bronchitis, and pneumonia
<b>What Causes Adrenal Exhaustion?</b>
Adrenal exhaustion results when your adrenal glands cannot adequately meet the demands of stress. The adrenal glands mobilize your body’s response to every kind of stress (whether it’s physical, emotional or psychological) through hormones that regulate energy production and storage, heart rate, muscle tone, and other processes that enable you to cope with the stress. Whether you have an emotional crisis such as the death of a loved one, a physical crisis such as major surgery, or any type of repeated or constant stress in your life such as work deadlines, family or financial stress, your adrenals have to respond. If they don’t—or if their response is inadequate—you’ll experience some degree of adrenal exhaustion.
Adrenal exhaustion can wreak havoc with your life. In serious cases, the activity of the adrenal glands becomes so diminished that you may have difficulty getting out of bed for more than a few hours a day. With each reduction in adrenal function, every organ and system in your body gets affected more profoundly. Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and even sex drive. To compensate for the decrease in adrenal hormones that occurs, many other alterations take place at the biochemical and cellular levels. Fortunately, your body does its best to make up for under functioning adrenal glands, but it does so at a price.
<b>Do You Have Symptoms of Adrenal Stress?</b>
The most commonly experienced symptoms of adrenal stress—and ultimately adrenal exhaustion—include fatigue, depression, inability to lose weight, cravings for sweets, decreased sex drive, insomnia, poor memory, anxiety, PMS, weakened immune response, recurrent infections, unexplained nervousness or irritability, and joint or muscle pain. As these symptoms become obvious to you, the inside of your body begins to make profound physiological changes.
To help you understand the significance of how adrenal stress may be affecting you, take this simple quiz to determine if you might be in a state of adrenal stress.
1. Do you experience problems falling asleep? Yes or No
2. Do you experience problems staying asleep? Yes or No
3. Do you feel tired when awaking in the morning? Yes or No
4. Do you awaken in the middle of the night? Yes or No
5. Do you frequently have nightmares? Yes or No
6. Do you feel tired much of the day? Yes or No
7. Do you suffer from depression? Yes or No 8. Do you suffer from pain? Yes or No
9. Do you feel mentally and emotionally stressed? Yes or No
10. Do you suffer from low blood sugar? Yes or No
11. Do you eat later than within 1 hour of awaking? Yes or No
12. Do you eat less than 3 to 5 balanced meals throughout the day? Yes or No
13. Do you frequently skip meals? Yes or No
14. Do you need caffeine to get you going in the morning? Yes or No
15. Do loud noises bother you? Yes or No
16. Do you get startled easily? Yes or No
17. Do you suffer from allergies? Yes or No
18. Do you suffer from recurrent or chronic allergies? Yes or No
19. Do you take thyroid hormone medications? Yes or No
20. Do you take any hormones whether by mouth or from a gel or cream on the skin? Yes or No
22. Do you suffer from mental confusion? Yes or No
22. Do you suffer from chronic headaches? Yes or No
23. Do you suffer from frequent light-headedness? Yes or No
24. Do you have a recent history of fainting? Yes or No
25. Do you get easily upset? Yes or No
26. Do you take any sleeping medications? Yes or No
27. Do you take any antidepressant medications? Yes or No
28. Do you exercise less than 30 minutes 5 days a week? Yes or No
29. Do you feel worse after exercising? Yes or No
30. Do you frequently get a “second wind” (high energy) late at night? Yes or No
31. Do you spend less than 20 minutes outdoors every day? Yes or No
32. Do you find that sunlight bothers your eyes? Yes or No
33. Do you have high blood pressure? Yes or No
If you answered “yes” to at least four of these questions, you may be suffering from adrenal stress or adrenal exhaustion and would benefit by getting your adrenal glands tested.
<b>Stage 1 of Adrenal Exhaustion</b>
Whatever the source of stress—whether from physical illness, nutritional deficiencies, or emotional stress at home or work—your body’s initial reaction is the same: The adrenal glands make more of the stress hormones called cortisol and DHEA.
This first stage of adrenal exhaustion is called hyperadrenia, or over-activity of the adrenal glands. It is the body’s attempt to keep up with the demands placed on it by stress. Normally, when the stress dissipates, the glands have time to recondition and prepare for the next stressful event. However, if your stress levels remain high due to challenges such as a chronic illness or a deadline at work, your body will remain locked in Stage 1 of adrenal stress. If your stress hormone levels remain elevated for an extended period of time, the ability of your adrenal glands to recover and replenish its production of cortisol and DHEA is diminished.
Another way to look at this is to think of your adrenal gland reserve of hormones as a savings account. If you continually withdraw money from savings and don’t replace it, eventually you won’t be able to recover financially. Fatigue and other adrenal stress symptoms are signs that your body’s reserve has been overdrawn and your adrenal glands are becoming exhausted. If the stress continues, your high levels of cortisol and DHEA begin to drop and you’ll then enter into Stage 2 of adrenal exhaustion. A good example of someone under constant stress may be a young mother and wife who has a lot of responsibilities in a day. She has to rise earlier than anyone else to prepare breakfast and lunch for the kids (and perhaps for herself and her husband). She has to be showered and dressed in time to drive the kids to school. When she finally gets them there, she heads off to her work. While at work, she has deadlines and a boss to respond to; all the while, she’s looking at the clock. Three o’clock comes around and she wraps things up at the office, then heads out to pick up the kids and go home. At home, it’s time to prepare snacks, help with homework, and prepare dinner. Six o’clock and her husband walks into the house feeling angry because of a situation at work and grumbles at her and the kids. After having a rushed and aggravated dinner, she cleans up the kitchen, helps the kids finish their homework, gives them their baths, tucks them into bed, and so on. Her own bedtime comes not soon enough. She falls on the bed and, before long, it’s time to do it all over again. No wonder she feels exhausted. She’s had no time to recover from the stress of this day before another day of the same comes at her.
<b>Stage 2 of Adrenal Exhaustion</b>
You may have genetically strong adrenal glands and be able to maintain high levels of stress for many years. Or you may enter into Stage 2 more quickly when you are physically and emotionally drained, day after day. Eventually, if you continue to experience excessive stress, you enter into Stage 2 of adrenal exhaustion. As a transition period, it usually takes between 6 and 18 months to move from stage 1 to stage 2. During that time, the stress response of your adrenal glands is gradually weakened and compromised. Under such chronic stress, your adrenal glands eventually “burn out.” At this point, they become so fatigued, you can no longer sustain an adequate response to stress. You fall asleep exhausted but can’t sleep through the night. You get up in the morning exhausted and can’t wait for your first cup of coffee, a double espresso. Lunch time comes and the food you think will give you more energy only leads to the 2 o’clock zombies. You get home late at night and all you want to do is go to sleep. If you continue on this course of activity, you will move to Stage 3 of adrenal exhaustion—hypoadrenalism.
<b>Stage 3 of Adrenal Exhaustion</b>
In Stage 3, your adrenal glands have been depleted of their ability to produce cortisol and DHEA in sufficient amounts. Now it becomes increasingly more difficult for your body to recover and replenish the adequate levels of cortisol and DHEA needed to sustain any reasonable level of function in your body. Because cortisol maintains your mood as well as your energy levels, constant fatigue and low-level depression start to show up. As cortisol and DHEA levels drop, you experience depressed mental function; poor memory and mental confusion. Without intervention at this adrenal exhaustion stage, you may eventually experience adrenal failure.
<b>Can Adrenal Exhaustion Affect Your Sex Hormones?</b>
Because all of your hormones are linked by biochemical pathways, stress-induced cortisol and DHEA depletion directly impacts the female hormones, progesterone and estrogen. The predominant male hormone, testosterone, is affected as well. Female hormonal symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, sweet cravings, headaches, menstrual cramping, and infertility can be related to the inability of the adrenal glands to adapt to stress. Menopausal symptoms of night sweats and hot flashes can also be related to the health of the adrenal glands. Many women feel they are on an emotional rollercoaster with their female hormones, yet few healthcare providers fully understand the role the adrenal glands play in female hormone production and balance.
Testosterone levels in men also suffer as a result of weak adrenal gland output of cortisol and DHEA. Because sex hormone levels drop as cortisol and DHEA levels drop, the sex drive for both men and women diminishes.
<b>Bone Loss, Pain, and Inflammation</b>
When you r cortisol levels are abnormal due to chronic stress and adrenal exhaustion, bone loss can occur as well. This is because excessive cortisol blocks mineral absorption. If you take calcium supplements to help protect you from bone loss and your cortisol is elevated, your body doesn’t easily absorb the calcium. It can then precipitate or excrete out of your bones and deposit in your joints. This can cause arthritis or deposits in the blood vessels; it can increase your risk for hardening of the arteries. Furthermore, because cortisol is required to reduce
The following diagram demonstrates the three stages of adrenal exhaustion. It shows that, with continued over stimulation of the adrenal glands (constant stress), your body moves further into various stages of adrenal exhaustion until you end up in adrenal failure.
<b>The Role of Digestive Enzymes</b>
Digestive enzymes are protein molecules found in the digestive tract. They break down components of food so they can be used by your body for energy and cell reproduction. The main sites of digestive enzyme production are the oral cavity (your mouth), the stomach, and the small intestines. Enzymes are secreted by different glands: the salivary glands in the mouth, the glands in the stomach, the pancreas, and the glands in the small intestine.
An inability to digest dietary protein is one example of a deficiency of dietary enzymes that stems from unhealthy diets. Without sufficient enzymes, your body can’t break down the food you eat for use in the manufacturing of energy or other processes needed by your body to sustain life.
If you have low levels of digestive enzymes, you won’t be able to completely use the food you eat. Any foods you don’t digest because of insufficient enzymes become toxic to your body. These partially digested foods provide a fuel supply for harmful microorganisms like yeast, bacteria, and parasites. Health-sustaining enzymes are abundant in raw and lightly cooked vegetables and fruits, and should become part of your daily food intake.
Digestive enzymes are present in many of the foods you eat—raw fruits and vegetables, for example. When you cook fruits and vegetables, many of these enzymes get destroyed in the process of heating and help to deplete your body’s own production of digestive enzymes. When they decrease, other enzymes needed for proper immune function and more than 4000 other biochemical reactions can get pulled from the blood stream back into the digestive system. This leads to depletion of enzyme reserves not directly related to digestion.
If you’ve depleted your reserve of digestive enzymes through poor eating habits, you can boost them by increasing your intake of raw fruits and vegetables or the use of the right dietary supplements. They will help keep you in an anabolic or rebuilding state. Supplemental enzymes will help you properly digest the protein, fats, and carbohydrates that are essential to maintaining stable blood sugar and overall health. Consult your functional diagnostic healthcare practitioner about proper diets and supplements that will bring your digestion back to health.
Do you see how enzymes are involved in every process in your body? Depleting your enzymes depletes you of your optimal health!
<b>Dysbiosis and Hidden Digestive Problems</b>
Dysbiosis is an imbalance in healthy organisms or “good” bacteria that inhabit your digestive and intestinal tract. A positive result on the indican test can point to dysbiosis as well as digestive enzyme deficiencies.
Dysbiosis can be caused by parasitic infections, bacterial overgrowth, or invasive yeast referred to as Candida. Hidden or subclinical inflammatory conditions can also interfere with digestion and cause a positive reading on the indican test. Subclinical refers to subtle problems that are frequently missed because they don’t cause obvious symptoms until months or possibly years later.
Many causes of chronic health problems such as digestive upset are subclinical (hidden) and require sophisticated functional diagnostic testing to reveal them. Food intolerances are a common cause of hidden inflammation in the gastrointestinal digestive tract. For example, some people are sensitive to grains that contain gluten molecules found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Other people react to lactose present in dairy products or even sugar. These types of hidden food reactions are frequently seen in people with chronic digestive symptoms. Symptoms such as gas, bloating, nausea, and stomach cramping are good examples of reactions caused by specific food intolerances.
A health practitioner not trained in diagnosing subtle digestive problems may suggest taking an antacid to treat the symptom instead of looking for the cause of the disturbance, removing the offending substance, or recommending enzyme therapy. Convenient salivary tests are now available to determine these types of food reactions. Parasitic infections are another example of commonly undiagnosed gastrointestinal problems; these can be identified by stool testing done at home and then sent to a laboratory for analysis.
<b>Those Nasty Parasites</b>
Parasitic infections are not only found in third-world countries. Many people think of parasites as a problem that’s been eliminated in the industrialized world. But as more people travel to and from other countries, the world shrinks. And with that travel, parasites emerge everywhere. Fortunately, recent improvements in diagnostic testing methods enable healthcare practitioners to determine high levels of parasite infections using a simple take-home stool test.
Parasites are usually acquired by self-inoculation, meaning they are most often spread from your hand to your mouth. This can occur from eating at restaurants in which the staff has poor hygiene and you consume contaminated food, or from salad bars and buffets where food is left sitting out long enough to attract bacteria from the air and from other patrons. Handling money, shaking hands with people, and using public restrooms are all ways you can be exposed to potential parasitic infections. The key to reducing your risk of infections is washing your hands frequently—especially before and after you eat and use the restroom.
When several people are exposed to the same pathogen, or infectious organism, one person may be able to fight it off while another may become infected. This has been widely seen with various bacterial organisms, most notably E. coli outbreaks. The E. coli bacteria, found most often in beef products and fresh produce, has caused severe digestive illness and has, in rare cases, been fatal. While many people are exposed to the same tainted meat or produce, some react more severely than others. This difference in susceptibility is a reflection of SIgA, your body’s first-line mucosal immune defense discussed earlier.
When you have strong mucosal immunity (normal SIgA), the mucosal lining of your gastrointestinal tract is able to defend you from invading pathogens. Research studies have shown that if you have lowered mucosal immunity, you will have a decreased ability to successfully fight pathogens. For instance, an autoimmune disease you may have makes it difficult for your body to fight off simple bacteria or viruses that you’re exposed to every day. It can leave you more likely to have a severe reaction to the common cold. In some cases, this may lead to a life threatening pneumonia.
<b>Detecting Infectious Organisms</b>
To combat weakened immunity and parasitic infections, it’s useful to know about new technologies and tests that have been created to detect infectious organisms. One new test is called a stool antigen test. It is highly effective in determining acute and chronic parasitic infections previously undetected with outdated testing methods. Bacterial overgrowth from undigested foods and invasive yeast and fungal infections of the intestines are also frequent causes of digestive stress. These too may require additional testing such as a yeast culture, Candida antibodies, food antigens, celiac or gluten-sensitive enteropathies, or mucosal barrier function
Digestive tract infections are very common and can be either clinical (symptomatic) or sub-clinical (without symptoms). Many patients who seek care from a functional diagnostic healthcare practitioner have one or more gastrointestinal (GI) infections. Some have active GI symptoms; others show up with general complaints such as fatigue, body pain, headaches, cognitive problems, light headedness, brain fog, and/or general malaise.
Even more ominous than having a primary GI infection is the tendency of invading microorganisms to metamorphose into various stages of their life cycle, and to migrate to tissues and organs sometimes distant from the GI tract. For example Cryptosporidium Parvum can sometimes be found in the lungs and conjunctiva (white part) of the eyes and Helicobacter pylori has been located in the oral cavity and even the prostate gland. Such stages, including cysts, can remain dormant within tissues, and can be difficult to detect. That is why it is extremely important to test for GI infections using both microbiology and immunological assays.