In last month's issue of Applied Metabolics, I discussed in detail how the adrenal steroid hormone, cortisol, affects health and fitness. A major point of that article was to expose many of the myths often associated with cortisol that have engendered such a bad reputation for the hormone. In truth, cortisol is required for life. Without adequate cortisol activity, exposure to stress can prove fatal. But this raises the obvious question of what happens to the adrenal glands, where cortisol is produced if stress is continuous and unmitigated? One way to consider the extended effects of stress, which could entail psychological or physical sources, is the look at a scale of how the body adapts to imposed stress. Such as scale was developed by scientist Hans Selye, which he called the General Adaptation Syndrome or GAS. This syndrome is a phase-based response to stress that is undertaken by the body. The first phase, called the "Alarm phase," involves exposure to stress, followed by the initiation of various body responses to deal with the stress. This includes the release of hormones known as "stress hormones." The stress hormones are secreted from the adrenal glands, which lie just above the kidneys. The adrenal hormones released in response to early stress exposure include the catecholamines, epinephrine, and norepinephrine; cortisol; and aldosterone. In the second stage of the GAS, cortisol release dominates as it prepares the body to deal with stress. Cortisol boosts blood glucose levels, mobilizes body fat for use as energy; raises blood pressure to prevent shock, and blunts immune response by interfering with the function of lymphocytes. The third stage of the GAS can go in either of two directions. Either the body effectively compensates for the imposed stress, thanks to the activity of the "Fight or Flight" catecholamines and the effects of cortisol, which is known as "recovery," or the stress overwhelms the body defenses, which results in "exhaustion." If exhaustion ensues, it sets the stage for a long list of possible stress-related diseases, such as ulcers, cardiovascular disease, and a possible increase in the risk of diabetes.
But what causes this exhaustion phase? According to a popular theory, a major cause is known as Adrenal Fatigue (AF). Adrenal fatigue is interesting because if you do a search for it in medical databases, such as the National Library of Medicine or "PubMed," you will come up virtually empty. How could such an obvious effect of unrelenting stress have so little medical research published about it? After all, in this modern, high-stress society who isn't exposed to constant stress in one form or the other? Just eating a poorly balanced diet that lacks essential nutrients is a form of stress. By that measure alone, millions of people are exposed to stress every day. So why is so little written about adrenal fatigue in the medical literature? For one, adrenal fatigue is not a recognized . . .