The adrenals are two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys. Their job is to produce key hormones that run the sleep-wake cycle and allow us to respond to stress.
In a healthy body, the main adrenal hormones cortisol and DHEA are produced in balance, and in a regular pattern through the day. The levels of these hormones should be high in the morning when you wake up and gradually decrease through the day to reaching their lowest point at bedtime.
Cortisol is the main stress hormone produced by the adrenals. It helps us to wake up in the morning and to respond to challenging situations. It is also a potent anti-inflammatory hormone. However, cortisol can suppress immune function, raise blood sugar and inhibit thyroid function if levels are too high for too long.
DHEA helps to protect the body from the negative effects of cortisol. It is a very powerful anti-ageing hormone. Low levels of DHEA are associated with a higher risk of many chronic diseases. Since cortisol and DHEA have opposing effects, they should be viewed together.
In short term stress, cortisol and DHEA are produced in balance so there is only a little negative impact on health. In medium-term stress, DHEA production can become compromised leaving cortisol running riot. This is called adrenal dysfunction and can lead to poor immune function, inflammation, central weight gain, blood sugar problems, poor detoxification, reduced bone density, memory problems and hormone imbalances.
Stress can also result in cortisol being produced in a disordered pattern. This can lead to disturbances in the sleep-wake cycle such as morning exhaustion, nighttime alertness, and difficulties sleeping.
If stress persists long term it’s possible that the body becomes unable to output sufficient levels of cortisol or DHEA. This is sometimes referred to as adrenal exhaustion and results in extreme fatigue, trouble getting to sleep and waking up, cravings for salt and sugar, reliance on caffeine and stimulants, and complete lack of energy and motivation.
The best way to test cortisol and DHEA is through the saliva. Blood levels of adrenal hormones are less accurate because these hormones are bound to proteins in the blood. Saliva testing is preferred over blood because it allows us to measure the levels of free hormones. These are the ones that will actually have an action on receptors.
Saliva samples are taken at four key time-points through the day to allow assessment of the pattern of adrenal hormone production.
The comprehensive version of this test also includes a measurement of secretory IgA. This is an important immune protein which can be measured to determine how stress has been affecting the immune system.
Building a complete picture of the balance of cortisol and DHEA, the rhythm of their production and the impact on immunity is vital for creating a targeted stress support protocol.
This test is recommended for people who:
- Have experienced high levels of stress.
- Suffer from the signs and symptoms of adrenal dysfunction or adrenal exhaustion.
- Experience trouble getting up in the morning or getting to sleep at night.
- Have unexplained fatigue
- Suffer from a chronic immune or inflammatory health condition