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Stress and Adrenal Gland Function:

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When our bodies are exposed to different stresses physically or mentally, they first increase the cortisol level to cope with the stress. If the condition continues for a long time, the cortisol level starts to drop. When the cortisol level is low, the body has a tendency to develop inflammation in different kinds of tissues. If this happens in joints, it will cause rheumatoid arthritis; if it happens in the nervous system, it will cause multiple sclerosis, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or neuropathy; if it happens in blood vessels, it will cause vasculitis, migraines, or cardiovascular disease; if it happens in the bladder’s connective tissues, it will cause interstitial cystitis of the urinary bladder; and if it happens in intestinal tissues, it will cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


In Chinese herbal medicine, we think that inflammation is associated with either internal or external heat toxins, which we can clear using herbs and acupuncture. Dr. Andrew Weil of Mayo Clinic suggests that inflammation is always associated with heat, redness, swelling, and pain in the local area. He also thinks that heat toxins are the root causes of inflammation from a Western medical point of view. If you always feel hot, comparing other people, you may tend to develop inflammation. You need to cut down or avoid the following: spicy food, alcohol, too much simple sugar, and too much greasy food. In order to clear the heat, you need to smooth the energy flow by doing acupuncture, Qi Gong, Yoga, meditation or Tai Chi. Once your stress level is lowered, your adrenal gland can produce the optimized level of cortisol to cope with the daily stress. Using coffee to stimulate your adrenal gland to produce more adrenaline to make you feel energetic temporarily can deplete your adrenal gland further, leading to adrenal fatigue or even adrenal insufficiency. The research shows that when the adrenal gland is removed from animals, they can survive in a very stable environment without big temperature or humidity changes, hunger or other kinds of stressful situation. But once the living environment is dramatically changed, they become very sick.


The insufficient adrenal gland function can make you prone to chronic inflammation, depression, osteoporosis, and fluctuation of blood pressure, itchy skin, allergies, low energy and low endurance to any kind of physical or mental stress. If you want to feel calm and energetic instead of hyperactive with caffeine, which is more counter productive, you need to sleep well and exercise regularly. If one cup of coffee makes you feel good without interrupting your sleep, please do not take two cups. Because caffeine stimulates your brain to bring some kind of pleasure and alertness, people tend to drink more than they need, then it interrupts their sleep, thus they deplete their adrenal gland. Acupuncture and herbs can bring more vital energy to your adrenal gland to nourish it instead of depleting it, and your body can produce more cortisol to cope with the daily stress but not too much to damage your tissue.


Remember balance is always the key to optimal health.


Author name: Li Zheng, email:, mailing address: 475 Hillside avenue, Needham, MA 02494. Phone: 617-817-1910.


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