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HEALTH CONCERN? BioHealth Health Concerns

Adrenal Hormone Imbalance

Contributing Author: Tranchitella, Tracy N.D.

TracyTracy Tranchitella, N.D. is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine who specializes in providing nutritional and homeopathic consultations, lifestyle counseling, botanical medicine and women's health assessments and detoxification programs. She graduated in 1998 from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM) in Tempe, Arizona. Currently, she lives and practices in Temecula, California. Dr. Tranchitella is licensed in the State of California and a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the California Association of Naturopathic Physicians (CANP).

» Website: Sunrise Medical


Adrenal hormone assessment has become a popular avenue for health practitioners to evaluate hormone imbalances, symptoms of fatigue, lethargy, and other issues of ill health. Many health conditions, such as chronic fatigue, PMS, insomnia, frequent illness, etc., are now recognized to be related to imbalanced adrenal hormone output and reserve.

The adrenal gland has many functions. It helps regulate electrolyte balance, blood pressure, energy production, immune system control, inflammation, blood sugar balance, and sleep regulation. Cortisol is a major component of adrenal hormone output, and its ability to have an impact on the majority of body systems has made it an ideal hormone to measure as an indicator of adrenal gland function. Generally, high cortisol levels indicate an overactive adrenal gland while low cortisol levels indicate an underactive adrenal gland.

DHEA (dihydroepiandrosterone) is another adrenal hormone that produces testosterone and the three estrogens (estradiol, estrone, and estriol). A balance between DHEA and cortisol is essential to maintaining a balance of adrenal hormone production, and imbalances indicate that the body is compensating for underlying stress. This stress is not always emotionally or mentally induced; instead, it could indicate poor blood sugar control, digestive inflammation, chronic infections, poor diet, and environmental toxins. The deviation from normal is a warning that your body is not handling stress very effectively.

For many individuals, this adrenal hormone imbalance can be quite severe. Examples of this are women with irregular menses, PMS, early menopause, infertility, or other health issues related to female hormones. The reason for these problems is a lack of adequate production of sex hormone, i.e., estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone, resulting from the need to keep up with the increased demand of adrenal hormones. Stress drives the process and the body compensates by using hormone precursors for cortisol production rather than sex hormone production.

All sex hormone, adrenal hormone, and kidney hormone (aldosterone) production comes from cholesterol. Cholesterol, an essential chemical in our body, provides the necessary cofactors for a hormone called pregnenolone. Pregnenolone converts to DHEA. DHEA is then converted to either testosterone or the three different estrogens (estradiol, estriol, or estrone) depending on the body's demand. Some of the pregnenolone turns into progesterone, which will convert to cortisol as needed. Cortisol is then free to carry out its biological activities as discussed above. Estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone produced in normal amounts indicate a healthy and balanced hormonal system. However, in our fast-paced, stress-filled society, this normal scenario very rarely occurs, leading the way for hormonal imbalances and a predisposition to ill health.


When our body is in stressful situations, it responds by producing various stress hormones, such as adrenaline (epinephrine, norepinephrine) and cortisol. This demand for the production of stress hormone is a normal response to help prepare our body for action, achieve the necessary physiologic function, and protect our body from damage. In an acute event, such as a traumatic injury, stress hormones mobilize to stimulate muscular activity, blood sugar for brain and muscle fuel, inflammation control, and to increase heart and lung function, all necessary for dealing with the situation at hand. After the stressful event has subsided, these hormones should return to the levels they were at before the stressful event. Unfortunately, our lives have become an ongoing stimulus of perceived stress, leading to persistent demands on our adrenal reserves for ongoing energy production.

When our body is under stress, we tend to produce more and more cortisol. Over time, we enter a phase called "pregnenolone steal" in which our body steals pregnenolone from its normal hormone production in preference of cortisol. Eventually, the stimulus on our adrenal gland for stress hormone production (cortisol) is so great that our adrenal gland begins to weaken. Over time, this scenario leads to adrenal fatigue and eventually adrenal exhaustion. In the adrenal exhaustion phase, we have lost our ability to compensate for acute stressful events and are left fatigued, lethargic, and susceptible to chronic illness.

Chronic stress comes in many patterns and phases, depending on an individual's lifestyle, diet, sleep habits, genetic, and hereditary factors. We all have stress, but the people who deal with stress in a positive and balanced fashion both emotionally and mentally, remain the healthiest with regard to their adrenal hormone function. However, stress is a multi-factorial issue and its causes are a multitude of varying emotional, dietary, and lifestyle factors. Injuries, chemical toxicity, disturbed sleeping patterns, drugs, infections, electromagnetic exposure, psychological stressors such as doubt, lack of self worth, fear, and anxiety all lead to demands on your adrenal reserves. Early menopause, PMS, irregular menses, emotional liability, chronic pain, insomnia, immune system dysfunction, osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancer can all be attributed to a breakdown of our adrenal reserves.

If your adrenals are weak and overstressed, then the cause for this stress needs to be determined. Many times, this cause is multi-factorial and indicates the need for further diagnostic testing and lifestyle modification. Just like the engine warning light in your car, the adrenal glands and their corresponding hormonal production do not exist in isolation from the rest of our body. Its imbalanced function is a signal of deeper stress and maintaining normal output and production becomes imperative for a happy and healthy life.

Find a doctor to get started with lab testing for adrenal health.