When we think about hormones and aging, many of us focus on estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, and the changes that occur as we move into middle age. However, these are just three of many hormones metabolized by our bodies; hormones which also change as we age. Hormones are natural chemicals produced in one location, released into the bloodstream, and used by other target organs and systems. In fact, aging is comprised of a whole variety of “symptoms”, functional signs and body composition changes that occur over time. Let’s review a few of them to determine what happens to our metabolism
Stress is practically unavoidable in our high paced culture. Chronic stress triggers a hormonal cascade that places excessive demands on the body’s nutrient and vitamin stores which can have serious health consequences. The main organ and hormonal system that is imbalanced during chronic stress are the adrenal gland. The adrenals produce key hormones including cortisol, DHEAs, and mineralocorticoids, which regulate many functions in our body. High demand on the adrenal gland during times of stress may cause adrenal fatigue.
It’s important to understand that adrenal hormones are essential for our survival but the trouble is that chronic stress causes them to be over produced without any chance to rest and recover. Considering how prevalent stress is in our lives there is a large need to support healthy adrenal function with nutrients in.
Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is one of the most well-known and widely used vitamins for the promotion of health. In the 1920s, Albert von Szent Györgyi, discovered that vitamin C is the factor that could prevent and cure scurvy. He later went on to win the Nobel Prize for his research on the function of vitamin C in human metabolism.1 Vitamin C plays a pivotal role in activating enzymes that produce collagen, a key structural protein in blood vessels, skins and other tissues. It’s also is required for the activation of neurotransmitters and carnitine for energy production. Hence, the symptoms of scurvy include fatigue, neurological dysfunction, and, more commonly, bleeding gums and easy bruising due to blood vessel fragility.1
In addition, vitamin C has a broad spectrum antioxidant function with the ability to protect cell structures and DNA from free radical damage.1 This makes it particularly important in situations of increased stress, since there often is an increased amount of free radical damage, cellular repair, energy production and the production of important neurotransmitters. Vitamin C also has the ability to regenerate and optimize other key antioxidants such as vitamin E.2
Humans are one of the few mammals that are not able to produce vitamin C. We rely on dietary or supplemental intake to maintain stores. Guinea pigs and other primates also do not have the ability to produce vitamin C, which explains why much of the research studies as models of human metabolism. While scurvy rarely occurs in North America, many people with low dietary intakes of fruits and vegetables have suboptimal levels of vitamin C. This can limit the body’s ability to respond adequately to stress.
Vitamin C is essential for adrenal stress hormone (cortisol) normalization in times of stress adaption. 3 Here, it is also used as a co factor to produce epinephrine and steroid hormones. So it makes sense that the adrenal gland has the highest concentration of vitamin C in the body. During times of stress, the demand to produce these hormones increases, so the body naturally has a higher demand for vitamin C. This causes vitamin C stores to be rapidly depleted in stressful situations leading to a higher chance of adrenal fatigue. It also plays a key role in the formation of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and brain function.3 One randomized, placebo-controlled trial looked at 120 healthy adults and if vitamin C supplementation had any effect of their ability to handle stress. The results showed that those people that took 3 grams of the vitamin daily had lower blood pressure, their cortisol levels recovery quicker, and felt less “stressed.”3
One of the most powerful tools to heal adrenal fatigue is supplementation with adrenal glandular extracts. These extracts have been used extensively by naturopathic physicians and other health care practitioners with great success and safety over the last century.5 Historically, “organotherapy” was the term used to describe the administration of extracts of glandular tissue. The first experiments were conducted using extracts of thyroid tissue and now glandular thyroid is used in conventional medical treatment of hypothyroidism.
Example of Organotherapy used in Medicine
Liver is a rich source of iron and other vitamins which can help rebuild red blood cells in conditions such as anemia
A specific freeze dried form of crushed bone that has been clinically proven in over 30 years of randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trials to be the best calcium source for bone building and maintenance, and has been proven to halt and even reverse bone loss attributable to osteoporosis
An extract of bovine thyroid contains the natural ratios of the active thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) along with other cofactors and hormones
Traditionally glandular preparations contained traces of active hormones but this is largely regulated by health and safety bodies such a Health Canada. In order to be licensed as natural health products, adrenal glandular extract must be free from adrenal hormones such as epinephrine, DHEA and cortisol. The obvious question is, how can supplementing with glandulars have a positive health effect without the hormones present? The adrenal glandular extract still is useful because they contain the precursors and peptides required to stimulate function of the glands. For example, adrenal cortex, where stress hormones are produced is ideal in “kick starting” adrenals that have been depleted because of chronic stress. This translates into a powerful nutritive and healing effect on the patient’s own adrenal glands.
Unfortunately, since adrenal glandulars are a food based extract which is poorly understood outside of Naturopathic medicine there are practically no recent clinical studies using this substance. Despite the lack of rigorous trials using adrenal glandular, the clinical results are impressive. Naturopathic doctors report that using adrenal glandulars is one of the most effective ways to address adrenal fatigue especially in the more exhaustive phase.
Ideally the glandulars are lyophilized (freeze dried), which means the material is immediately frozen, then subjected to a high vacuum that vaporizes moisture directly from the solid state. Since this process retains the different tissues naturally found from the source material it is very important to ensure high quality of source materials. As such, look for glandular material obtained from countries with high standards for animal husbandry regulations are among the strictest in the world, and which prohibit the feeding practices that have caused problems in other countries. A porcine source is used to avoid the risk of mad cow disease can be present in a bovine source.
Simple interventions such as vitamin C and adrenal glandulars are an effective and safe options for adrenal exhaustion when someone may be sensitive to herbal options. They should be considered in all cases particularly in the advanced stages of adrenal fatigue where there is a deficiency in adrenal hormone production.Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if a high dose glandular extract is for you.
1) De Tullio, M. C. (2010) The Mystery of Vitamin C. Nature Education 3(9):48
2) González MJ, Miranda-Massari JR, Mora EM, Guzmán A, Riordan NH, Riordan HD, Casciari JJ, Jackson JA, Román-Franco A. Orthomolecular oncology review: ascorbic acid and cancer 25 years later. Integr Cancer Ther. 2005 Mar;4(1):32-44.
3) Brody S, Preut R, Schommer K, Schürmeyer TH. A randomized controlled trial of high dose ascorbic acid for reduction of blood pressure, cortisol, and subjective responses to psychological stress. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2002 Jan;159(3):319-24. Epub 2001 Nov 20.
4). Liakakos D, Doulas NL, Ikkos D, et al. Inhibitory effect of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) on cortisol secretion following adrenal stimulation in children. Clin Chim Acta
5) Wellwood C and Rardin S. Adrenal and Thyroid Supplementation Outperforms Nutritional Supplementation and Medications for Autoimmune Thyroiditis. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2014 Jun;13(3):41-7.