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Autoimmunity, Inflammation and Adrenal Function

Posted Jun 20, 2018

Many people see inflammation as a disease process, but inflammation is a natural response of our body’s immune system—a process that brings the necessary resources required to a specific area to fight an infection or heal an injury. But an unneeded inflammatory response can be very damaging and even destructive, and many now believe that out of control inflammatory responses form the basis of most chronic disease today, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Autoimmune disorders are among the leading causes of death among women under age 65, according to a study published in a public health journal in America in 2000. It is safe to assume that rates are similar in most developed countries around the world.

Acute inflammation can occur under different circumstances; for example, if you fall and injure your leg, inflammation occurs. You can also develop inflammation in response to a bacteria or a virus in your respiratory tract, along with symptoms like fever, nasal swelling, sneezing, discharge and congestion.

Chronic and ongoing inflammation is a response caused by an overacting immune system. Diseases like ulcerative colitis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or rheumatoid arthritis, like many autoimmune diseases, represent a spectrum of diseases in which white blood cells become highly overactive. Excessive production of the chemical messengers called cytokines in many autoimmune diseases lead to excessive inflammation, and an improperly functioning immune system will often reflect in chronic uncontrollable inflammation.

Particularly with chronic autoimmune disease, how much inflammation occurs will depend to a large degree on the hormone cortisol, which is produced by your adrenal glands. As soon as any adrenal weakness occurs, your body may become increasingly susceptible to any type of inflammatory response. With each reduction in the output of cortisol, your body’s inflammatory responses increase and inflammatory reactions such as pain, redness, heat, swelling and loss of function increase over time. Bacterial and viral toxins may eventually become unopposed, causing inflammation to surge as immunity worsens.

“Wonder drugs” such as prednisone and hydrocortisone are commonly prescribed by doctors to suppress such autoimmune responses. While you may experience a temporary relief of the symptoms of inflammation with these drugs, their effects are short-lived and repeated dosages are often required. Many and varied side effects can occur, and long-term use can lead to significant damage.

To ensure good control over inflammation, it is crucial for your body to have its own constant and regular supply of cortisol, and for this reason approximately 96% of serum cortisol is bound to serum proteins, including serum albumin and corticosteroid binding globulin (CBG). Free cortisol (only about 4%) passes easily through cellular membranes, where it binds to intracellular cortisol receptors. In this 3-way system, the body has ways of accessing cortisol either immediate, intermediate or in a delayed sense as the need arises.

With any immediate and short-term stress, serum cortisol is often sufficient to supply your body’s needs, and if you have a further minor injury or continued stress then you will have access to the cortisol bound to the albumin. However, with a more serious injury or prolonged chronic stress, the body has then access to the corticosteroid binding globulin. This clever innate system allows your body to always have access to cortisol when and as required, and as you can imagine, this form of subtle control over cortisol does not occur when you are taking synthetic prednisone or hydrocortisone.

With inflammation, it is in your best interest to improve your adrenal function to its maximum potential. Continue to Part 2 on Improving Adrenal Function