Though there is no scientific proof to say adrenal fatigue is a true medical condition in pets, mounting evidence suggests it’s real, and we are misdiagnosing the symptoms and warning signs.
Adrenal fatigue is not a widely recognized condition in pets, although it affects 10% to 15% of the human population in developed countries.1 Extrapolating information known about adrenal fatigue in humans suggests that veterinarians are probably missing the early warning signs of this condition in pets, consequently misdiagnosing the symptoms as other disorders.
FOLLOW THE CORTISOL
Anything that raises cortisol levels, whether as a result of stressor the use of prescription medications, creates a risk for blood sugar imbalances, high inflammation, hormone imbalances, weight gain, low energy and poor vitality. High cortisol contributes to fat breakdown, reduced bone formation, insulin resistance, decreased amino acid uptake by the muscles, metabolic acidosis, impaired lymphatic function and the generation of more glucose from the liver. High cortisol also leads to leaky gut, which allows molecules to enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract. These foreign invaders are carried by the blood stream to the liver where they trigger an inflammatory response. The cycle becomes perpetual unless cortisol levels are reduced and the leaky gut is repaired.
CHRONIC INFLAMMATION IS THE ROOT CAUSE OF ALL “DIS-EASE”
Early warning signs of adrenal fatigue in pets mimic “allergy” symptoms such as sneezing, itching, excessive eye tearing or paw licking. Instead of addressing the root cause of the “allergies”, veterinarians often treat these pets symptomatically with steroids, Apoquel or Cytopoint.2 Other symptoms of adrenal fatigue may include waxing and waning gastrointestinal signs, a finicky appetite, an inappropriate response to stressors and generalized lethargy. Practitioners see these symptoms often, but again, the Western practitioner tends to address the symptoms but not the underlying “dis-ease”. The pet improves — until the next episode. Eventually, the pet relapses or the condition worsens into a chronic degenerative disease or autoimmune condition.3
THE ADRENAL GLANDS
The adrenal glands regulate the body’s ability to respond to stress and maintain other essential life functions. Adrenal fatigue, more accurately termed Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA Axis) dysfunction, is characterized by chronically low cortisol levels.
Veterinarians are trained to recognize two major adrenal dysfunctions once they have advanced past the early adrenal dysfunction stage:4
Hyperadrenalcortism (also called Cushing’s disease) results from an excess production of cortisol. This may occur due to a tumor in the pituitary or adrenal gland, or the over usage of exogenous steroids (Iatrogenic). Chronic cortisol elevation leads to blood sugar imbalances, one of the most insidious robbers of health. Blood sugar imbalance increases inflammation, which puts more stress on the adrenals and begins a vicious cycle as they continue to make each other worse. Whatever the cause of chronically increased cortisol, it marks the start of adrenal dysfunction.5
Adrenal insufficiency (also called Addisons disease or Hypoadrenalcortism) is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the outer layers of the adrenal glands. This leads to a deficiency in key hormones (e.g. cortisol, which is a glucocorticoid necessary for the stress response; and aldosterone, a mineralocorticoid needed to maintain water and electrolyte balance). Other causes of adrenal tissue destruction include metastatic tumors, hemorrhage, infarctions, granulomatous diseases, and adrenolytic agents like Miototane or Trilostane which inhibit adrenal enzymes. Regardless of the cause, the adrenals have lost the ability to produce the hormones necessary to respond to stress and maintain body functions.7
THE AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM (ANS)
The ANS has two branches: sympathetic and parasympathetic. As information comes into the brain (through sight, sound, feel, taste and smell), it is processed through the amygdala, an area that contributes to emotional processing. Depending on how the message is received and interpreted, one of the two branches of the autonomic nervous system will be activated.
If the message is “danger”, a distress signal is sent to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the ANS to activate the sympathetic branch for a fight or flight response. When the sympathetic branch is activated, it sends a signal to the adrenal gland.
Cortisol and adrenaline are released, increased energy and blood supply go to the muscles, stored sugars are released into the blood for immediate energy, and the fight/flight response takes over (run away from the danger or fight to survive).
High sympathetic tone shuts down the parasympathetic branch of the ANS. The parasympathetic branch regulates rest, repair, digestion, reproduction and detoxification. As the initial surge of adrenaline (also called epinephrine)subsides, the hypothalamus activates the second component of the stress response system, the HPA axis, which relies on a series of hormonal signals to keep the sympathetic nervous system activated.
OUR MODERN WORLD
The brain does not distinguish between real and perceived threats. In today’s modern world, humans experience nonstop “perceived threats”. The “lion” is the S.A.D. Day(Standard American Day), though of course stressors don’t just exist in America. People are sleep-deprived, have financial concerns, eat processed, nutrient-deficient foods, are exposed to thousands of toxins, and are bathed in EMF pollution. Many also live in a state of FEAR (Future Events Appearing Real). The S.A.D Day includes the S.A.D.Diet (Standard American Diet).
This perpetual state of high alert, high sympathetic tone, and high cortisol release contributes to adrenal fatigue in people.
MEASURING STRESS AND HEART RATE VARIABILITY (HRV)
Whether real or perceived, stress increases heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. When the threat is over, the body relaxes, the heart rate, breathing and blood pressure reduce, and there is a return to a resting state. Heart rate variability (a measure of the variability between heartbeats) is a metric of how the body is recovering from stresses throughout the day, and is an evaluator of overall fitness. Low heart rate variability is considered a sign of current or future health problems because it shows the body is less resilient and struggles to handle changing situations. Low HRV maybe an early indicator of adrenal fatigue.8
THE HPA AXIS
The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis is a collaboration of the adrenal and pituitary glands, and the hypothalamus. Their joint activities help control the body’s reactions to stress, (physical or psychological). They also help regulate digestion, the immune system, and energy usage.
If the brain continues to perceive something as dangerous, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone(CRH), which travels to the pituitary gland, triggering the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone travels to the adrenal glands, prompting them to release cortisol. This process allows the body to stay in high alert.
Once the danger passes, cortisol levels drop, and the vagus nerve stimulates the parasympathetic branch of the ANS, signaling that rest, repair, digestion and detoxification can begin.
ANS BALANCE IS THE KEY TO THRIVING
The ability to appropriately respond to danger and then recover(by moving into a parasympathetic state) through rest, repair and detoxification is imperative for a healthy immune system. Nature demonstrates ANS balance beautifully. A herd of gazelle graze peacefully (but alertly) until chased by a predator(like a lion). They shift immediately into sympathetic tone and run for their lives. The lion (who was in high sympathetic tone while chasing the herd) shifts into parasympathetic while eating his kill. The herd of gazelle settle back down into parasympathetic and return to grazing, even though the lion is still nearby, because the threat has passed.
RISK FACTORS LEADING TO ADRENAL FATIGUE IN PETS
- Species-inappropriate diets (highly processed, enzymatically dead, nutrient-deficient and loaded with carbohydrates and toxins) contribute to metabolic stress.
- Non-structured tap water (loaded with heavy metals, insecticides, pesticides, fluoride, pharmaceuticals, glyphosate and more) adds to the toxic burden, plus the body has to re-structure the water in order to absorb it intracellularly. This extra work increases metabolic stress.
- Environmental toxins such as hormone disrupters, mold, volatile organic compounds and electromagnetic pollution (EMF) create massive stress on the body.
- The pet’s “stress” can be their own (physiologic or psychological) but can also be entrained from their stressed-out owners.
- Steroids and other drugs used to control symptoms of “dis-ease” are not addressing the root cause of the problem. Their misuse may further suppress the individual, driving the “dis-ease” further into the body.
- Exogenous steroids are the most overused and abused drugs in the conventional veterinarian’s pharmacy.
The consequences of chronic low-level adrenal stimulation are multifold:
- An increased load on the heart may lead to heart failure.
- Chronic excess blood glucose may lead to diabetes mellitus.
- Persistent stimulation of the adrenals may lead to adrenal fatigue or ultimately to adrenal failure(Addison’s disease)
ADDRESSING THE ROOT CAUSE
Because the solutions for pets are intertwined with their owners’ behavior, modifying human behavior as well as the animal’s lifestyle is important.
Our modern world has many more stressors than in the past, but our bodies see the stress and respond the same way they did when the lions were in pursuit of us.
The goal is to mitigate as many factors as possible that are contributing to high cortisol and a leaky gut.
- Feed a species-appropriate grass fed/finished, free-range balanced raw diet with the appropriate proportions of meat, fat, organs and bone.
- Provide highly filtered structured water.
- Provide essential vitamins/minerals and fatty acids in plant-based bioavailable organic form.
- Clean with organic products, essential oils or other natural cleaners.
- Use organic personal body care products.
- All laundry and personal care products should be natural and organic.
- Check indoor air quality for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and mold.
- Mitigate EMF. Hard-wire when possible, increase distance from EMF, turn off routers, avoid smart appliances, and use EMF mitigating products.
- Create mindfulness practices. Meditate, focus on gratitude, go outside and do grounding exercises with pets.
- Deep belly breathing puts the body in a para-sympathetic state, which pets will entrain to.
- Exercise and move daily for mental and lymphatic health.
- Detoxify the six organs of elimination (kidneys, colon, lungs, liver, skin and lymphatics).
- Heal leaky gut. After stopping the behaviors leading to the condition, heal with bone broth, licorice root and humic supplements.
- Support the microbiome and its diversity with organic, raw fermented foods.
- Incorporate hormetic stressors (rectal ozone, intermittent fasting, temperature extremes) to improve HRV and resilience.
- Use adaptogenic herbs such as astragalus and ashwaganda.
- Frequency therapy, using very low frequency in the Pica Tesla ranges, restores normal cellular frequency.
- Be open to learning. For more info, visit my website (www.DrMarleneSiegel) It has resources and biohacking tools that work with sound, light and vibration to restore balance to the ANS and improve HRV.
THE CHOICE TO HEAL IS OURS
Though there is no scientific proof to support adrenal fatigue as a true medical condition in pets, mounting evidence suggests that it is real, and we are misdiagnosing the symptoms and warning signs.9Integrative veterinarians are leading the movement to addressing the root cause of “dis-ease” and support the body’s innate ability to heal. Stress and the ability to adapt are predictors of health and longevity. As we focus more on creating lifestyles that support ANS balance, we will have the greatest impact on our patients.
- American Holistic Medical Association Conference.https://www.avma.org/Events/Calendar/Pages/event.aspx?EventID=46482016. 2016.
- Husebye, E. S., Allolio, B., Arlt, W., Badenhoop, K., Bensing, S., Betterle, C., … Pearce, S. H. (2014). Consensus statement on the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of patients with primary adrenal insufficiency. Journal ofInternal Medicine, 275(2), 104–115. PMID: 24330030
- Goldstein M. The Nature of Animal Healing: The Definitive Holistic Medicine Guide to Caring for Your Dog andCat. Ballantine Books; New York, NY: 2009.