My family and I recently returned home from our trip to Sunnyvale, California where we became the official patients of someone I have the utmost respect for, Dr. Vikki Petersen D.C., C.C.N., and her amazing team at HealthNOW Medical Center, including Dr. Vikki’s husband, Dr. Rick Petersen D.C., C.C.N., Dr. Carrie Mousseau, M.D. and Dr. Preeti Kulkarni, N.D..
The moment I walked into the clinic, an overwhelming sense of peace overcame me. I was about to meet Dr. Vikki Petersen, my “Wizard of OZ,” someone who I wholeheartedly believe can help me find my way ‘home,’ a place I’ve never truly been before, and to a person I’ve never actually met…the healthy me.
Prior to embarking on our trip, we were sent several lab test kits that would help give us an understanding of what’s really going on inside. I will share each of our tests (and the results) over the course of several different blog posts (also see: Healing a Leaky Gut Part 2: Parasites, Pathogenic Bacteria and Fungi/Yeast and Hello Flora, How You Doin’?) because I’d like to go in-depth for each test (so bare with me on the length of these posts).
One of the tests that I took was called the Adrenal Stress Profile.
In case you are unfamiliar (as I was) about the role of the adrenal glands and how gluten sensitivity can affect their performance, Dr. Vikki writes about this extensively in her book The Gluten Effect, and she also goes into great detail during her lecture on the 2010 Celiac and Gluten Sensitivity Forum DVD. For the purposes of explaining this test and my results, I will share a couple of quotes from The Gluten Effect:
“The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit just above your kidneys. They are immediately adjacent to some of your major blood vessels so that they can release hormones into the bloodstream and, likewise, respond to feedback information from other hormones and chemicals.”
“In addition to the immune effects triggered by gluten in sensitive people, gluten also causes many symptoms through direct stress exerted on the adrenal gland. Gluten imparts an inflammatory reaction and an immune response at the intestinal level in individuals who are gluten sensitive. The body’s reaction to this is stress, a response from our hormonal system.“
Celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity can be one sneaky chameleon of a condition…it can be as elusive as the Holy Grail!
Now knowing how long I was unwittingly consuming poison (decades), it’s no wonder to me why my body is rebelling against itself. Decades of stress and inflammation will eventually catch up with you, it’s kind of like finding yourself digging a hole. If you want to get out of the hole, the first thing you must do is put the shovel down and STOP digging. But in order to do that, you need to know that you’re still digging that darned hole!
This is where the 2010 Celiac and Gluten Sensitivity Forum DVD had a major impact on me. To quote Dr. Tom O’Bryan (re: what he teaches in his lectures to physicians), “You cannot put a celiac patient on a gluten-free diet and walk away…because many of them will die.”
You have to heal the gut, and in order to do that, you need to know about any obstacles that are in the way so you can remove them (we have several) and begin the road to complete recovery. If you don’t, you may continue a downward progression until you find yourself with a host of other health issues, like additional autoimmune diseases (I have 4), or even worse, cancer. It’s the c-word that scares me most, after watching my beloved uncle pass away from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2007…only 9 days after he was diagnosed with it.
Inflammation is part of the complex biological response of vascular tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants. Inflammation is a protective attempt by the organism to remove the injurious stimuli and to initiate the healing process. Without inflammation, wounds and infections would never heal. Similarly, progressive destruction of the tissue would compromise the survival of the organism. However, chronic inflammation can also lead to a host of diseases, such as hay fever, atherosclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. It is for that reason that inflammation is normally closely regulated by the body.
As Dr. Vikki said, “Gluten imparts an inflammatory reaction and an immune response at the intestinal level in individuals who are gluten sensitive. The body’s reaction to this is stress, a response from our hormonal system” (a.k.a. our adrenal glands).
The following list of symptoms for adrenal fatigue is taken directly from information provided to me by HealthNOW Medical Center:
- Fatigue: One of the most common symptoms due to the lack of adrenaline.
- Immune System Weakness: bacterial, viral and fungal infections can easily occur, as well as poor wound healing.
- Low Blood Sugar: A person can experience symptoms of low blood sugar (light-headedness, fatigue, confusion, weakness, easily upset, headache and visual changes). This usually occurs one to two hours after a meal or it may occur after eating refined sugar products (candy, soda, etc.), or it may occur if a meal is delayed and a person is hungry.
- Sugar Cravings: A desire for sugar can occur throughout the day whenever the blood sugar drops. This is an attempt to balance the blood sugar artificially with the use of refined sugar.
- Weight Gain: Adrenal exhaustion can create excessive weight gain throughout the body and often increases fat deposits around the midsection.
- Thyroid Problems: Normal thyroid function is inhibited when the body is experiencing a chronic stress response associated with adrenal exhaustion.
- Depression, Mood Swings: Neurotransmittors such as serotonin are altered by the abnormal stress response that occurs with adrenal exhaustion, this can result in depression or altered moods.
- Hormone Imbalance: The adrenal gland produces the precursor hormones necessary to make testosterone, progesterone and estrogen. Weak adrenal function can result in severe PMS and menopause symptoms, as well as other hormone related difficulties (such as lack of sex drive).
- Sensitivity to Bright Light: The pupils remain dilated, which makes the eyes very sensitive to sunlight/bright lights.
- Ligament Weakness: Joints of the body become irritated easily because ligaments become weak. A person will complain of various pains throughout the body, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and pain in the spine. Chronic vertebral subluxation (misalignment) is common.
- Difficulty Going to Sleep or Staying Asleep: The adrenaline imbalance can cause excess adrenaline production at night, resulting in difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep.
- Difficulty Waking Up: Waking up in the morning can become very difficult and many times a person feels they “need” to have a stimulant such as coffee in order to really be alert.
- Low Blood Pressure/Faint Feeling when Rapidly Standing Up: Low blood pressure can result from functional hypoadrenia (adrenal exhaustion). A faint feeling occurs when standing up rapidly after sitting or laying down. This occurs because blood rushes rapidly from the head when standing due to poor adrenal function.
- Increased Inflammation due to Lack of Natural Cortisone: Inflammatory reactions can easily occur in the body that can result in such things as rheumatoid arthritis (swollen joints), “sensitive” skin, allergic rhinitis (swollen nasal passages), colitis, gastric ulcers and other inflammatory disorders.
- Poor Dilation of Bronchioles: Bronchioles do not dilate effeciently and asthma-like symptoms may result.
- Allergies: Respiratory allergic reactions occur easily and hayfever or sinus symptoms result. Food allergies very commonly occur with adrenal weakness and can result in not only digestive symptoms but also many other often-unexplained symptoms.
I was checking so many boxes, my pen ran out of ink!
**Since I am simply a patient and not a doctor (nor do I have any other credentials that qualify me to explain this), the following was taken directly from the BioHealth Diagnostics website (the lab that ran the test for us). I linked to definitions of some of the bigger words for folks like me who don’t inherently understand all the medical jargon.
Cortisol, which is best known for stimulating gluconeogenesis, is essential for normal glycogenolysis. Cortisol affects the heart, vasculature, blood pressure, water excretion, and electrolyte balance. It mobilizes protein stores in all tissues except the liver; it mobilizes fatty acids from adipose; it is the precursor of cortisone and acts as an anti-inflammatory; and it is the primary hormone directing immune function. Cortisol can stimulate or inhibit gene transcription, promote apoptosis, and affect bone metabolism and calcium dynamics.
It affects behavior, mood, neural activity, and a variety of central nervous system biochemical processes. Cortisol affects the eyes, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive function, and the production and clearance of other classes of hormones. It is a major marker of the complex control loops regulating the sex hormones. The general effect of excess cortisol is usually stimulatory and catabolic; a deficiency of cortisol usually results in a slowing of physiology.
In the presence of stressors, the body almost immediately attempts to increase cortisol levels. This increase is associated with both endocrine and autonomic responses in preparing the body to defend itself normally. However, elevated cortisol levels for extended periods negatively affect virtually every aspect of physiology. For example, it becomes more difficult to maintain proper blood sugar levels; to slow down for rest, recovery, and repair; to get good quality sleep; to balance other hormones; to maintain mucosal immune integrity; to maintain bone mass, to produce effective general immune function; to effectively regulate inflammatory processes; or to detoxify the body. Without proper intervention, continued high adrenal stimulation can lead to adrenal exhaustion and lowered cortisol levels. Eventually adrenal or cardiac failure can occur.
DHEA is the major precursor of testosterone and the estrogens. It becomes active at puberty. In this profile, the more stable, sulfated form of DHEA, DHEA-S is measured, providing a more reliable measure of DHEA levels than measuring DHEA directly. DHEA is an important modulator of many physiological processes. It promotes the growth and repair of protein tissue (especially muscle), and acts as a counter-regulatory agent to cortisol, negating many of the harmful effects of continued excess cortisol. When increased demand for cortisol is prolonged, DHEA levels decline. DHEA then is no longer able to balance the negative effects of excess cortisol. Depressed DHEA levels serve as an early warning of potential adrenal exhaustion. In fact, adrenal exhaustion is evidenced by an elevated ratio of the sum of the four cortisol measurements to the DHEA-S average. (The ideal level of the aforementioned ratio is 5 or 6:1)
A chronic imbalance between adrenal stimulation and cortisol and/or DHEA output is associated with a multitude of both clinical and subclinical systemic disorders. Chronically depressed DHEA output results in an imbalance in sex hormones. Abnormal cortisol and/or DHEA values (either elevated or depressed) result in a decrease in the activity of the immunocytes that produce secretory IgA (sIgA). SIgA provides a mucosal first-line immune defense against virtually every pathogen, including parasites, protozoa, yeasts, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. SIgA also provides a normal immune response to regularly encountered food proteins. Dysfunctional mucosal immunity is associated with an increased risk of infections and of adverse food reactions.
Essentially, adrenal fatigue is the disregulation of cortisol levels (either too high or too low).
My Total Cortisol/DHEA-S ratio was a little low at a 4.6 (the normal reference range is 5 – 6).
More importantly, my DHEA-S average is on the lower end of the normal reference range, at a 4.53 (normal reference range 2 – 10, but the ‘ideal’ range is 7 – 8), so I need to work on increasing that number, especially after reading this article on DHEA by Timothy J. Smith, M.D.
Research has pinpointed low DHEA levels as a marker for many degenerative diseases and accelerated aging. The hormone has been implicated as a contributing factor in a host of health problems, including Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disease and other immunological disorders, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, memory problems, obesity, osteoporosis, and stress disorders.
My cortisol sum was below normal at 20.8 (the normal reference range of 23 – 42, but the ‘ideal’ range is 36 – 38), so my cortisol levels are pretty low. Check out the following article for a better understanding of what that means: What are the Effects of Low Cortisol Levels?
The following is a video I found on how the adrenal glands work:
So, DHEA is necessary to make our sex hormones, and my DHEA is fairly low…I now have a pretty good understanding of why, in 2009, my gynecologist told me that my hormone levels were low enough that I was technically in the beginning stages of menopause. At age 35.
After my upcoming surgery on Friday, I will start taking some supplements to increase my pregnenolone and DHEA levels. Dr. Rick is also rechecking my hormone levels and if they are even lower, he might add some bioidentical hormones to my treatment plan down the road (but only after I have a complete gynecological checkup and a baseline mammogram due to the fact that my mother is a breast cancer survivor).
As for my low cortisol, I will reiterate a quote (from above):
Abnormal cortisol and/or DHEA values (either elevated or depressed) result in a decrease in the activity of the immunocytes that produce secretory IgA (sIgA). SIgA provides a mucosal first-line immune defense against virtually every pathogen, including parasites, protozoa, yeasts, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. SIgA also provides a normal immune response to regularly encountered food proteins. Dysfunctional mucosal immunity is associated with an increased risk of infections and of adverse food reactions.
Articles on Adrenal Fatigue by Dr. Vikki Petersen:
Answers from a Gluten Doctor - Part 10 Gluten Intolerance and Exhaustion (a guest post Dr. Vikki did on my friend Carol Kicinski’s website, Simply Gluten Free).
Before I announce the five EIGHT winners (thank you Dr. Vikki for adding 3 additional copies for this giveaway!!) for the 2010 Celiac and Gluten Sensitivity Forum DVD, I would like to say thank you to everyone for sharing your heartfelt stories. I read each and everyone of them even though I didn’t respond individually (it was kind of busy for us last week), and all I can say is that we all have to continue to take control of our own health. Changes are hard to make sometimes and we often lack the support we need (sometimes even from our own doctors), but I can assure you that if you arm yourself with the information contained in this DVD (and find some of the corresponding research), you will not regret the $20 expense. I will be doing this giveaway again in the future, so if you want to wait and try again you’ll have another chance, but I encourage everyone who doesn’t win to dig the spare change out of their sofa and order one.
As usual, I used the random number generator to pick the winners and they are:
#37 Amy W.
#58 Nikki J.
#79 Pam Hernandez
Congratulations ladies! I will be emailing each of you for your shipping information.
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