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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Sleep, Stress and Adrenal Fatigue Misconceptions: Addressing these contributing factors can provide more effective relief, says Liver Medic's Brendan Gaughran.

Jul 28, 2017 09:37AM ● By By Brendan Gaughran

There are those that have been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue because their stressful life has contributed to sleeping issues, or at the very least the symptoms seem to fit—energy levels have dropped off significantly over the years and it’s especially problematic during afternoons. The best remedy combines B-vitamins, magnesium, adaptogenic herbs and critical amino acids like GABA.

However, there is no such thing as adrenal fatigue. Unless someone has Addison's disease, their adrenal glands are working as intended. It’s the signaling upstream that is the problem. Adrenal glands don’t excessively secrete cortisol to the point where they can’t produce it unless damaged. This is the finding by the vast majority of scientific research. Yet adrenal fatigue support formulations work because they are resetting the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis just like the vitamins, minerals and herbs.

This distinction is important only if cortisol levels are tested and a patient gets a false negative for “adrenal fatigue” or worse. Then the patient is given cortisol that might exacerbate the situation. This is one more reason to always choose well-formulated, herbal-based supplements rather than synthetic stimulating or suppressing cortisol drugs.

Cortisol plays a critical role in sleep, stress and inflammation. Our cortisol levels should be highest when we first wake so we are alert, and then taper off quickly. When perceived stress or chronic inflammation occurs, cortisol secretion is initiated. During times of stress, it boosts our system in a threatening situation. Where there is chronic inflammation, cortisol reduces the inflammatory response to protect us from the aging process. Unfortunately, sleep is interrupted when cortisol is secreted any time other than early in the day.

There are four triggers causing HPA axis imbalance between these three glands, mistakenly referred to as, adrenal fatigue, according to Dr. Thomas Guilliams, an expert the field of molecular immunology:

  1. Perceived stress.
  2. Inflammation primarily in the gut, caused by small bacteria or Candida overgrowth.
  3. Sugar dysregulation.
  4. Circadian (sleep) dysregulation.

The important takeaway is that the HPA axis includes a set of neurotransmitters with self-regulating feedback loops. When the body isn’t in balance, the pathways either no longer result in cortisol secretion or the cells become cortisol insensitive, like a diabetic in the presence of too much insulin. This is the body’s system of checks and balances.

To address the four triggers, incorporate stress-reducing behaviors like meditation, yoga, essential oils and supplements. Begin with reducing inflammation in the gut by eating a healthy diet, reducing sugar and eliminating rancid vegetable oils. Try to get outside and take in natural light and stay away from the computer screen late at night.

Brendan GaughranBrendan Gaughran is the president of Liver Medic. For more information, visit

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