The Adrenal glands are small organs located above each kidney. The Adrenal gland is responsible for the production of many important hormones in the body. Many of you are familiar with the term adrenaline and understand that this is our body’s acute stress response hormone, or the fight or flight mechanism of the body. Obvious in its name is the fact that adrenaline is produced by the adrenal gland. This is not, however, the only hormone that it secretes. There are several others. One of the most important of which is cortisol. Cortisol is multi-functional in the body. It provides the foundation of your wake-up or get-up-and-go energy on a day to day basis, as well as working together with melatonin to create balance between your wake and sleep cycles. In addition to the baseline daily production of cortisol, we also see periods of prolonged stress causing increasing production of cortisol to help the body adapt to difficulties. The challenge comes when this elevation in cortisol production becomes chronic. The adrenal gland is not built to sustain chronically elevated cortisol or adrenaline production and your body systems are similarly not meant to be chronically stimulated by these hormones. Dysregulation in cortisol production can impact your physiology on many levels, including: energy production, muscle and joint pain, bone health, immune health, sleep quality, skin healing and repair, thyroid function, blood sugar regulation, allergies and autoimmunity and mood balance.
Because of the diffuse impact of cortisol on many body systems, having a way to assess cortisol levels in the body over a 24 hour period becomes clinically very important to your naturopathic physician. The Adrenal Stress Index (ASI) is a comprehensive test of levels of cortisol detected in saliva throughout the day. This allows your practitioner to have an idea of whether your adrenal gland is under or over producing cortisol, and when it may be doing so. The ASI test will also assess your reserve levels of building block hormones that are used to produce cortisol. This is a way to quantify your adrenal reserves. In other words, how much resilience do you have in the bank? Has stress in your life over the years impacted your physical health? Has it depleted your body? Is it contributing to your health concerns in any of the above mentioned body systems? Are you feeling like you manage stress well, but silently your adrenal reserves are dwindling? The ASI also includes a screen of insulin levels in response to a carbohydrate challenge in the diet. Due to the role that chronic over-secretion of cortisol can play in the development of insulin resistance and pre-diabetes, this becomes an important piece of information.
The Adrenal Stress Index test is commonly recommended as a diagnostic tool for patients who are experiencing symptoms such as: fatigue, chronic sleep disruption, thyroid imbalances, abdominal weight gain, anxiety, allergies and hives, etc…
If you are experiencing any of the above mentioned symptoms or have health concerns with body systems that can be affected by adrenal imbalances, consider the Adrenal Stress Index. Even if you are currently symptom free and living with chronic stress, it may be time for you to check if your self-care and stress management are actually getting the job done. When we invest in our adrenal reserves we preserve the resilience of our bodies over time, even in the face of the stressors of life.