Balancing Organ Systems
RULE 4 – How are we going to balance the rest of the organ systems? When a person has any long-standing illness, there will be other organs that have paid the price. The barrier systems of the gut and brain are most assuredly compromised; the hormones, adrenals, pituitary, and thyroid are strained; and other systems like liver detox pathways and kidneys need support.
We MUST investigate all these systems with SPECIFIC functional testing and then develop appropriate protocols to support and re-charge the cellular batteries.
Our nervous system is made up of two basic components, a voluntary nervous system and an involuntary nervous system. The involuntary nervous system (the autonomic nervous system or one might say an automatic nervous system) is made up of two separate components that work in harmony and balance. They are the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system and the parasympathetic part. The sympathetic part may be best termed as the fight, flight, or freeze mechanism; the parasympathetic part has to do our metabolism, digestion, and the calming aspect of the autonomic nervous system. Both need to be in balance. If a person is hyper-sympathetic or is functioning in a very high stress situation for extended periods of time their adrenal glands are in a state of hyperfunction and can end up burning out. We weren't meant to live in a society where we're constantly running away from a grisly bear.
Burning the candle at both ends tends to cause a high degree of hyper-sympathetic nervous system function, which relates to greater adrenal output and adrenal stress. Prolonged stress leads to adrenal fatigue and exhaustion, not to mention exhaustion to the other parts of the brain that are the stimulators of the adrenal and the pituitary output. A lifestyle issue may have been an initiator for this, but adrenal fatigue is a negative cycle that will drive the autoimmune patient into the ground if not concurrently addressed.
“Bill and I have been married for fourteen years since I was 22 years old. I had just graduated for college and even though Bill was ready for a family right away, I wanted to wait a few years to make some money and get some of my student loans paid. When I turned 28, I thought I’d better listen to my mother regarding my ‘biological clock’. I was ready to start a family so I got off the pill. After a year of trying and nothing was happening, we made an appointment with my regular doctor. He did a bunch of tests on both Bill and I and I only remember him saying that there was no reason that I couldn’t get pregnant, so we just kept trying. Another year passed and we were both starting to get a little worried. My doctor referred me to a fertility specialist and we went through a lot of expensive testing to be offered even more expensive procedures that had no guarantee. A friend referred me to her doctor, a chiropractic neurologist who specialized in autoimmune diseases and fertility problems. I thought, “you’re kidding right?’ I could not, for the life of me, think that he was going to be able to do anything for me! Well, I gave it a shot, he offered a 100% guaranteed plan and Bill said we had nothing to lose. Bill was wrong; I lost my infertility! I was pregnant in 6 months and have a beautiful baby girl. It turned out that I had Hashimoto’s disease, which is an autoimmune problem with the thyroid. That is why I couldn’t get pregnant. None of my other doctors caught it.”
The adrenal cortex also makes some of our sex hormones and a very important percentage of them in the postmenopausal female. The ability of the adrenal glands to secrete these reproductive hormones postmenopausal has a very important impact on the intensity of menopausal symptoms. If a woman is going through hot flashes and sweating, anger issues, and an inability to handle stress, it has to do with the fluctuations of estrogen from a fatigued adrenal system. The adrenal glands are suppose to regulate the estrodiol levels in the blood as the ovaries are down-regulated with age, giving the woman a smooth, symptom-less transaction into menopause.
When a woman becomes perimenopausal, the pituitary is decreasing its production of follicle-stimulating hormone, the hormone that functions in release of estradiol. The adrenals take over at this point to balance the decreased production. If the adrenals are exhausted, they don't make up that balance in estradiol and the women has strict, strong fluctuations in estradiol levels, and end up with huge swings in energy, hot flashes, sweating, etc., that go with perimenopausal symptoms.
Cortisol is the primary glucocorticoid secreted by the adrenal cortex and increases the blood glucose concentration. A person in a high-stress situation will release more cortisol, and that cortisol increases the blood glucose. This makes a lot of sense from a sympathetic, fight or flight mechanism; when a giant grisly bear jumps on our path, we need a lot of glucose in our bloodstream for muscle cells to make ATP, so we can run away from our predator. But it doesn't make a lot of sense when our job is just extremely stressful causing our adrenals to put out vast amounts of cortisol on a daily basis. Our sympathetic nervous system can’t tell the difference between a real grisly bear encounter and stock market crash; the results will be the same. The real or perceived exogenous stress source causing a hyper-adrenal output causes a hyper-cortisolemia leading to a hyper-glucose reaction and a hyper-insulinemia. This is what we call a negative cycle; it spins us downward towards greater sickness and death.
High adrenal output causes a lot of damage to other tissues and may, in itself, be a source for an autoimmune response. It certainly is a component in the autoimmune system and, again, an absolute must in treating concurrently with an autoimmune disease. Treatment is aimed at supporting the organ with chemicals called adaptogens, herbal formulas that are known to balance high and low adrenal outputs. We also use a compound called phosphatidylserine, which has a balancing affect on the hippocampal formation, the part of the brain that senses these stressful situations. It's this hippocampal-hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal link that we want to calm down.
Common signs and symptoms of adrenal problems are going to be fatigue, headaches, and multiple allergies. Because a person’s stress response is constantly firing, it fatigues their immune system. Stomach ulcers are also common as is cravings for sweets or caffeine. They'll have addictions to food, alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes. Other signs and symptoms can be dizziness, asthma issues, varicose veins, blood disorders, and blood pressure issues.
Adrenal dysfunction is also tied to the midbrain and the frontal lobes which can lead to anxiety and depression which may be the chief symptom that brings the patient to the office. We see a high number of patients today that are on brain-altering, mind-changing medication due to stress issues that are really adrenal issues affecting the frontal lobes; all these could be addressed from a functional medicine perspective, if you address all the systems that are tied together. By the time the person has symptoms that bring them into a doctor's office, whether it's a medical doctor or an alternative practitioner, there has been down regulation of multiple systems.
Though it's impossible to discuss every system and the cellular response necessary to thoroughly analyze a patient with autoimmune disease in this book, we would be amiss if we didn't discuss the gastrointestinal component because it always exists in autoimmune disorders and is essential for us getting the nutrients in order to regulate all the systems.