Many people who endure chronic stress may not realize that it puts additional strain on their adrenal glands by causing them to secrete extra hormones in the body, which in turn leads to all sorts of adverse conditions, said Dr. Karen Jensen, a naturopathic doctor and author with more than 25 years of clinical experience who specializes in the field of adrenal stress.
“Everyone’s heard of the fight or flight response in acute stress, but within 24 hours these hormones go back to normal,” Jenson said. She added, “our bodies are subject to all sorts of stresses, in both our working and personal lives, that put excessive demands on “these little wee organs that sit right on top of the kidneys that most people aren’t even aware they have.”
Jensen explained that the adrenal gland produces a variety of hormones, including cortisol which is a stimulating hormone. When it is under stress, it produces too much which fatigues the body and causes a cascade of health problems.
“There are a lot of common symptoms that people would have with adrenal stress,” Jensen said. “One of the big ones is fatigue. Anxiety is another one, as are depression, memory loss, the inability to concentrate, muscle weakness and a craving for stimulants.”
Jensen said that cortisol is normally produced at a higher rate in the day and lower at night, but someone who is under adrenal stress has elevated rates throughout the day which leads to sleeplessness.
“Insomnia is another big effect when the adrenals are secreting stress hormones like cortisol so the person can feel exhausted at night,” she said. “Of course, long-term stress can affect the immune system so people get a lot of colds and flus, so a lot of these things can be related to adrenal fatigue.”
Jensen became interested in the field even before she became a naturopathic doctor because she endured the problem herself as a young, single mother living in northern British Columbia with three children under three years of age.
“I went from doctor to doctor and they all said the same thing: ‘You’re depressed.’ I thought, I don’t have time to be depressed, or the inclination,” Jensen said. “Some friends of mine told me about a naturopath in my area. He introduced me to my adrenal glands and told me what they did. They help the body adapt to various stressors. He gave me some natural health products to help with that and in short enough order I was back up and running, never knowing that years down the road I would change careers and go into naturopathic medicine.”
During her time in practice, Jensen began recognizing signs of adrenal stress in patients during a time when no one was even talking about it or recognizing it. This led her to develop a herbal formula to treat adrenal stress that is sold today under the name AdrenaSense.
“When I was in practice, there weren’t that many people talking about adrenal fatigue and a few years in, I realized there was not much out there that I could recommend with confidence to my patients. So, I actually formulated this product years ago that people could use to help balance and regulate the adrenal glands.”
“It’s been on the market a really long time and even though there are lot more products out there now, people have found that AdrenaSense is tried and true.”
AdrenaSense’s ingredients include Siberian ginseng, also known as Eleutherococcus senticosus, which Jensen says is well studied in athletes and shown to support the body’s ability to adapt to adverse conditions and promotes mental performance.
It also contains Schisandra chinensis, which Jensen says has been studied considerably and supports emotional well-being and the immune system while inhibiting the biological changes that come from stress.
Another ingredient is Rhodiola rosea which Jensen says modulates the release of cortisol, which is one of the body’s main chronic stress hormones.
“All of the herbs in this product are what are called adaptogens which help the body maintain balance regardless of the condition,” Jensen said. “They help blood sugar, they help the immune system, stamina, endurance and help the adrenal and other areas of the brain that are involved in stress response from getting overstimulated.”
In addition to using a product like AdrenaSense, Jensen said that it’s critical for people to find the time to do things that they find relaxing to help calm the nervous system. For some people that might be yoga, taking a walk, meditating or even vigourous exercise.
“Each person has to find whatever helps their body step it down a notch from being over-revved all the time,” she said.
Jensen said that women seem to be more prone to stress-related conditions, but it’s a problem for both sexes and increasingly so for teenagers.
“When we start seeing anxiety and depression in young children and teens, we need to really look at that and recognize that it’s not just adults who experience stress-related conditions,” she said.
“For teens, who have been dubbed the most anxious generation, there are the pressures of social media, the lack of face-to-face communication with everybody on their cell phones all the time, and the pressures they put on themselves and that are put on them.”
Jensen has authored and co-authored several books in an effort to educate the public about stress and other health issues, including her latest book, Women’s Health Matters. One of the messages that readers get from her books is that dealing with stress is one of the most important things people can do to stay healthy.
“Stress is the underlying cause of most disease,” she said. “There are more and more studies coming out every day on how stress causes inflammation that leads to heart disease, dementia, other memory problems, respiratory problems, asthma, allergies, gut problems, on and on.”
“If we look at stress and inflammation and what we can do to deal with it, ideally preventatively, not only would it affect our quality of life, but also could prevent the development of chronic disease long term.”
Stressed? Learn about adrenal fatigue and take the adrenal stress test.