The way you handle physical and emotional stress makes a big impact on your overall health. I have evaluated stacks of research showing that prolonged stress can have a very real effect on physical well-being. In healthy individuals, the body deals with that stress in part by producing the hormone, cortisol. In certain people, however, the ability to make cortisol becomes impaired resulting in a diagnosis of Addison’s Disease.
Addison’s Disease occurs when the adrenal glands are unable to produce enough of the hormone, cortisol, and sometimes the hormone, aldosterone. Though Addison’s is an autoimmune disease that affects roughly 1 in 100,000 people, it is a serious condition that can strike at any age and affects both genders equally.
Perhaps the most famous sufferer of Addison’s disease was President John F. Kennedy. As you can see from his example, it is possible to manage this illness and live an active life.
Addison’s Disease delivers a strong blow to the body because it prevents the production of cortisol. The hormone, cortisol, is crucial for normal functioning and important to nearly every organ. It aids the body in handling stress due to illness, injury, surgery or childbirth, as well as everyday physical and emotional stressors.
The hormone, aldosterone, helps regulate blood pressure and balances salt and water retention. Sufferers of Addison’s disease must take medication all their lives, which replaces these lost hormones.
Symptoms and Natural Stress Management
The symptoms associated with Addison’s Disease tend to arise slowly over time. The most common signs are fatigue and muscle weakness, extreme weight loss and loss of appetite. Other symptoms are vomiting, low blood pressure, fainting, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), dark patches on the skin (hyperpigmentation), chronic fever and digestive problems.
Critical for all Addison’s patients is diet management, especially where sodium is concerned. Most patients lose sodium quickly, and the risk is greater in hot, humid weather and during exercise. I advise people with Addison’s Disease to increase their intake of salt into their diets.
It is also important to monitor your weight at home. If you feel a decline in appetite, check your weight regularly to ensure that it remains stable. Blood pressure is another important indicator of trouble for Addison’s sufferers. High blood pressure could mean that medication needs to be adjusted and your physician should be notified.
As we discussed, the key problem for Addison’s patients is the unavailability of cortisol. Therefore, any physical or emotional stress can have a profound effect on health. Fortunately, there are many natural ways to manage stress. I encourage my patients to meditate regularly and try light physical activities that are known to relieve tension.
My favorites are gentle yoga and Tai Chi, a Chinese form of exercise that promotes longevity. Acupuncture is another alternative treatment that is known to relieve stress and support physical well-being.
Herbal and homeopathic medicines are also promising treatment avenues for Addison’s sufferers. Homeopathy involves stimulating the body’s natural healing response, and this treatment can be individually administered by practitioners called, homeopaths. Herbs that have been known to promote adrenal health and relieve stress include borage, Siberian ginseng, Huang Qi and licorice root. Ginger, in particular, is a potent stress reliever and is also an excellent treatment for nausea and vomiting, two symptoms typical to Addison’s Disease.
Addison’s Disease is indeed a serious condition, which highlights the profound effect that stress can have on the body. When one small system—in this case, the production of cortisol—is not functioning optimally, the whole body is subject to intense stress and disease. Managing stress naturally and wisely is the best way to promote good health and quality of life.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.