The adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, support us through stressful events. They secrete hormones that make us resilient in times of difficulty, like a sleepless night, illness, surgery, stress at work, stress at home, loss of a loved one, meltdowns at the store with toddlers, financial pressure, etc. The challenges – whether they’re short-term, long-term, severe or relatively mild – can have a cumulative negative affect on adrenal function.
Some types of stress are hard to spot, but that makes them no less problematic. In his book, Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, Dr. James Wilson mentions a study which measured the stress hormones of a group of nurses. They weren’t aware of any particular stress in their lives, but their lab tests told a different story.
When our adrenals help us through stressful times, they need a recovery phase afterwards. Just like weight lifters need to take a break between workouts so their muscles can rebuild, the adrenals need rest to stay strong.
And now we all see the problem, right? Modern life is incredibly stressful, and most of us don’t get a lot of downtime. Over a course of years, this can weaken our adrenals, making us less able to adapt to stressful events, less productive and more easily irritated.
Though they can vary from person-to-person, you might have adrenal fatigue if you can say “yes” to some of these statements listed in Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome:
- My ability to handle stress or pressure has decreased.
- I seem to have decreased in cognitive ability. I don’t think as clearly as I used to.
- I tend to avoid emotional situations.
- I am chronically fatigued; a tiredness that is not usually relieved by sleep.
- I have decreased tolerance. People irritate me more.
- My thinking is confused when hurried or under pressure.
- I am frequently cold.
You can take one of my favorite adrenal fatigue quiz here. www.adrenalfatigue.org/take-the-adrenal-fatigue-quiz
Take The Test!If any of the statements from the adrenal fatigue checklist sound familiar, you’ll want to take the iris contraction test. Basically, it measures your body’s stamina in response to light stimulation. If your stamina is decreased, this test plus your overall symptoms may indicate that your adrenals are tired and are having difficulty supporting you through stressful events.
Now, here’s what you’ll need to take the test, which according to Dr. Wilson will detect moderate and severe adrenal fatigue, but not necessarily mild cases.
- Weak (not too bright) flashlight or pen light
- Stopwatch or watch with a second hand (I use a stopwatch app on my phone)
- Dark room
In a dark room, sit or stand in front of a mirror for about a minute to allow your eyes to adjust to the light. “Then shine a flashlight across one eye (not directly into it) from the side of your head. [Mommypotamus note: Some practitioners say to keep the light about six inches away] Keep the light shining steadily across one eye and watch in the mirror with the other. You should see your pupil (the dark circle in the center of the eye) contract immediately as the light hits your eye. This occurs because the iris, a tiny circular muscle composed of small muscle fibers, contracts and dilates the pupil in response to light. Just like any muscle, after it has been exercised beyond normal capacity, it likes to have a rest.
The pupil normally remains contracted in the increased light. But if you have some form of hypoadrenia [Mommypotamus note: This is the clinical term for adrenal fatigue], the pupil will not be able to hold its contraction and will dilate [open back up] despite the light shining on it. This dilation will take place within 2 minutes and will last for about 30-45 seconds before it recovers and contracts again. Time how long the dilation lasts with the second hand on the watch and record it along with the date. After you do this once, let the eye rest. If you have any difficulty doing this on yourself, do it with a friend. Have a friend shine the light across your eye while both of you watch the pupil size.
Retest monthly. If your eye indicates you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, this also serves as an indicator of recovery. As you recover from adrenal fatigue, the iris will hold its contraction and the pupil will remain small for longer.” (Source: Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome)
A quick note: Couple of things to keep in mind for people taking this test:
To address some above comments, in having tested quite a few people this year in NTP school, I find most people’s pupils pulse (release, contract, release, contract, rather quickly), rather than completely releasing for a prolonged period of time. What you’re looking for is a sustained, non-pulsing contraction for 30 seconds. The longer the sustained contraction, the better. Pulsing is better than fully releasing, and some people don’t contract at all, which would be a big indicator.
Secondly, this is an EARLY indicator of adrenal fatigue. Pupillary contraction is not nearly as high on the priority list for your adrenals as, say, blood sugar control or blood pressure maintenance. So not doing well on his test doesn’t mean you’re in dire straights and need major intervention. Having reactive hypoglycemia or scoring poorly on a postural hypotension test (blood pressure dropping when you stand up, getting dizzy/tunnel vision when you stand) are better indicators of real hypoadrenia.