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Stress: The Great Accelerator of Aging



"Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older."  -  Hans Selye 

 The adrenal glands may be the Rodney Dangerfield of the body, "they get no respect" ..until one suffers from debilitating fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, depression, and many other serious symptoms and conditions associated with adrenal exhaustion.

The adrenals, walnut-sized glands, located on top of each kidney, are known as 'the stress glands.'  When a person senses danger, the adrenals rush all of their resources into meeting the perceived stress.  Surgeons are very aware the body cannot survive the stress of surgery unless there is a massive output of cortisol from the adrenal glands. The adrenals are critically important for the production of many of the body's stress hormones: cortisol, DHEA, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine.

In contemporary culture, unlike our ancestors, most Americans live under constant stress and pressure - the body, however, was never designed to handle such a load.

Every challenge to the mind and body creates a cumulative demand on the adrenal glands: lack of sleep, perfectionism, financial pressures, emotional stress, smoking, reliance on stimulants like caffeine and countless others.  The result is, the adrenals are constantly on high alert.

Sustained high cortisol levels: increase waist size, destroy healthy muscle and bone, slow down healing and normal cell proliferation, re-direct biochemicals needed to make other essential hormones, harm digestion and mental function, and weaken the immune system.

 Adrenal fatigue may also be a factor in fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, premature menopause and acne to hair loss.

When the adrenals are chronically overworked, they lose the capacity to produce sufficient DHEA for optimal health. DHEA is a precursor hormone to estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.  Insufficient DHEA contributes to: premature aging, fatigue, bone loss, loss of muscle mass and increasing abdominal fat, depression, aching joints, decreased sex drive, and impaired immune function.

Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar
  • Light-headed when standing up quickly
  • Continuing fatigue not relieved by sleep
  • Increased effort to do every day tasks
  • Sugar craving
  • Burned out feeling
  • Increased recovery time from illness
  • Less enjoyment with life
  • Increased PMS
  • Allergies
  • Body wakes up at 10 am, afternoon low between 3-4 pm, feel better after evening meal about 6:00 pm
  • Decreased productivity

A growing number of natural healthcare practitioners are using saliva as the preferred medium for testing cortisol and DHEA hormone levels, instead of serum.  If you experience any or some of the above symptoms or signs, it is advisable to check your cortisol and DHEA levels, taken at 4 points throughout the day, since healthy cortisol levels start at highest level in the morning from 6-8 am, and decline as the day progresses.


Dr. Dennis Godby, Doctor of Naturopathy, Sutter Medical Foundation.

He may be reached online or at his Sacramento Office (916) 446-2591.



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