Autoimmunity, Inflammation and Adrenal Function

Written by Erik Bakker, ND. Republished with permission from Dr. James Wilson and


Many people see inflammation as a disease process, but inflammation is a natural response of the body’s immune system—a process that brings the necessary resources required to a specific area to fight an infection or heal an injury. However, 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 & Chronic Inflammation

Acute inflammation can occur under a variety of 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. As soon as any adrenal weakness occurs, the body becomes increasingly susceptible to inflammatory responses. With each reduction in the output of cortisol, the 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 proliferate unopposed, causing inflammation to surge as immunity worsens.

Controlling Inflammation

“Wonder drugs” such as prednisone and hydrocortisone are commonly prescribed to suppress autoimmune responses. While patients may experience 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 the 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 the 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 the body to always have access to cortisol as required, and as you can imagine, this form of subtle control over cortisol does not occur when patients are taking synthetic prednisone or hydrocortisone.

When it comes to inflammation, it’s in your best interest to improve your patient’s adrenal function to its maximum potential. 


3 Key Strategies for Improving Adrenal Function

1) Diet and Lifestyle

One of the best ways to reduce inflammation in the more immediate sense is to change diet and lifestyle. It’s best for patients to follow a low-inflammatory diet for some time. The pro-inflammatory foods to avoid are alcohol, sodas, candy, red meat, take-out foods, potato chips, deep fried foods, and processed foods in general. You may like to acquaint yourself with the diet outlined in Dr. Wilson’s book, Adrenal Fatigue, The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. Dr. Wilson has 42 pages on diet and nutrition in the book and I’d recommend you read this section.

Many patients in my clinical experience were found to have added toxic exposure from household cleaners and detergents, various drugs including non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), steroids and antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides, personal care products, petrochemicals, and many more potential toxins. I have found that liver and bowel detoxification is often necessary in most cases when patients show chronic low-grade inflammation. Detoxification allows your body to reduce its toxic burden, reducing the load on an already overburdened immune system.

Any diet high in pro-inflammatory foods, coupled with a lifestyle high in stress and chemical exposure, will most always set the scene for leaky gut syndrome (LGS), and LGS will often pave the way for inflammation and set the stage for autoimmunity, a disease of “no known cause.” This is why Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue Program has a strong focus on diet and lifestyle modifications. (NOTE: Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue Protocols are INCLUDED in the Power2Practice EMR platform.) Lifestyle recommendations most always include stress-reduction recommendations specific to the patient. Many patients in our clinic have benefited tremendously from the advice this book contains.

2) Be on the Lookout for Focal Infections

The second point is to be on the lookout for any hidden or focal infections. Many patients I have seen have dead or diseased teeth (root canals), mercury toxicity, or a low-grade infection or inflammatory response involving the ileocaecal valve, bowel pockets, candidiasis, SIBO (small bowel overgrowth), low grade infection of the tonsils, appendix or gum issues in the mouth. If in doubt, check it out!


3) Treat Adrenal Fatigue

Third, I suspect and treat adrenal fatigue in any patient who has low grade or a chronic inflammation. But before you consider adrenal treatment, I’d like you to seriously consider using the protocols that were formulated by the doctor who coined the phrase “adrenal fatigue” and who has devoted his entire professional life to clinical adrenal fatigue practice and research. Since its inception in early 2007, Dr. Wilson’s adrenal fatigue program has set the standard how countless healthcare professionals now treat patients in their clinics both throughout Australia, New Zealand as well in many countries throughout the world since the early 1990’s. My clinic has now treated almost 6,000 patients utilizing Dr. Wilson’s unique protocols, and we have seen many remarkable outcomes in many autoimmune patients, and in many cases even an actual cessation of steroidal drugs.
Original blogs (2) can be found at, here and here.

Dr. James Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue Protocols are now integrated into the Power2Practice EMR platform.

Schedule your online demo to learn what Power2Practice can do for you, your practice and your patients!

About the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom., is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 25 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specializes in candida yeast infections, adrenal fatigue, and thyroid disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. Dr. Bakker’s Blog:


Dr James Wilson

James L. Wilson, DC, ND, PhD, received his PhD in Human Nutrition from the University of Arizona, with minors in Immunology, Microbiology, Pharmacology and Toxicology, and research in Cellular Immunology. His doctorates in Chiropractic Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine are from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College and the Ontario College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM).

As one of the 14 founding members of CCNM, now the largest Naturopathic College in the world, Dr. Wilson has long been on the forefront of alternative medicine. For over twenty-five years, he was in private practice in Canada and the United States. In 1998, Dr. Wilson coined the term ‘adrenal fatigue’ to identify below optimal adrenal function resulting from stress and distinguish it from Addison’s disease.

With a researcher’s grasp of science and a clinician’s understanding of its human impact, Dr. Wilson has helped many physicians understand the physiology behind and treatment of various health conditions. He is acknowledged as an expert on alternative medicine, especially in the area of stress and adrenal function. Dr. Wilson is a respected and sought after lecturer and consultant in the medical and alternative healthcare communities in the United States and abroad.