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Endocrine-Immune Imbalance

I debated including the following information in the Absorption Issues section, since it does pertain to malabsorption, but this information is so unique that I felt it deserved it’s own section.


I was wondering if pets, like humans, can suffer from adrenal fatigue.  Then I remembered a book I had read several years ago when I was trying to find something to help Sweetie Girl.  The book, by Alfred J. Plechner, DVM, is called “Pets at Risk:  From Allergies to Cancer, Remedies for an Unsuspected Epidemic.”  Dr. Plechner discovered an endocrine-immune imbalance in pets that caused problems including allergies, aggression, separation anxiety, lowered resistance to viruses, bacteria, and fungus, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, auto-immune diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis), kidney disease, liver disease, epilepsy, urinary tract infections, vaccine reactions, and vaccine failure (to confer immunity).


Using specific blood tests, he discovered that animals with below-normal cortisol levels also had high total estrogen and low antibodies.  The high estrogen existed whether the animals had been spayed/neutered or were intact (the adrenal glands also produce estrogen, not just the ovaries).  By giving these animals a daily low dose of cortisol, their estrogen levels went down and the antibodies increased, resulting in improved immunity and better health.  As long as the animal remained on the program, their health was maintained.   Let me emphasize, these were very low doses of cortisol, based on the individual animal’s bloodwork, not the typical pharmaceutical doses your vet usually prescribes.   


Dr. Plechner treated thousands of pets this way, and these pets stayed on his program for life.  [He also discovered that most dogs also needed to be on thyroid medication in order to prevent the cortisol from building up in their system, but only hypothyroid or FIP cats needed thyroid medication.]


Seeing a treatment program (protocol) of giving low-dose cortisol for life might cause you or your vet to, for lack of a better word, freak.  It’s true that long-term use of high doses of cortisol can cause side effects, but remember, these are low doses, and when done correctly, they do not cause side effects.


Think of it like this:  if a person or pet has low thyroid (hypothyroid), they are given a synthetic or natural thyroid medication to raise their hormone level to the normal range.  Obviously, if you give an excessive dose, problems can result, but the appropriate dose brings the system into balance.


That’s all Dr. Plechner’s program does:  it uses bloodwork to determine if an endocrine-immune imbalance exists, and if so, the severity.  That information is then used to help the vet determine how much cortisol is needed to correct the imbalance.


You may ask, “What does this have to do with nutritional deficiencies?”  Good question.  The hormone imbalance can also cause malabsorption, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies.  “In some cases, the imbalances also affect the gut and cause malabsorption.”1  “Skewed hormones . . . Can disrupt immune function in the intestinal tract and create inflammation and malabsorption.”2


Dr. Plechner explains that one of the antibodies affected by this hormonal imbalance, IgA, is reduced by low cortisol.  “In animals, I routinely find a low IgA blood level associated with malabsorption and inflammation of the intestinal tract . . . “3  


“IgA concentrations are found in great abundance in mucous membranes, such as the lining of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and urinary tracts.  There these antibodies perform major sentry duty and keep undesirable microorganisms from reaching the deep tissues and organs of the body.”4  “IgA is the most abundant antibody and is especially important in mucosal immunity, an essential protective factor against infectious agents, allergens, and foreign proteins that enter the body via the mouth, nose, upper respiratory tracts, the intestines, and reproductive tract.”5  “ . . . The typical pattern of endocrine-immune dysfunction significantly weakens IgA antibodies that have a paramount protective role in the mucous membranes of the body, including the intestinal tract where food breakdown takes place.”6


In one case study, Dr. Plechner treated a cat that had digestive problems including burping and vomiting.  The cat, which was “severely underweight,” had “hormonal imbalances causing an IgA deficiency that disturbed the intestinal tract and normal digestion.”7  In such cases, he initially treats the animal using an intra-muscular injection of cortisol or an IV, and then switches to an oral medication.  If the animal shows signs that they’re not absorbing the medication, they are switched back to injections.


Not only can the imbalance cause the malabsorption, the reverse can also be true:  poor diet can cause the imbalance.  “Pets with healthy hormones can usually eat the same diet for a life-time without developing signs of [food] sensitivity.  However, an inferior diet of poor nutritional quality loaded with questionable chemical ingredients can certainly lead to a shorter, unhealthy life . . . There is also a possibility that impurities or deficiencies in such a diet could generate measurable endocrine and immune imbalances that trigger food reactions . . . These instances of acquired hormonal imbalances can usually be reversed with an improved diet.”8


While Dr. Plechner usually attributes this hormonal imbalance to genetics, specifically over-breeding, he also states that “sometimes stress, poor diet, exposure to toxic chemicals, and parasites such as fleas can aggravate, or even cause the imbalances.”9  “My clinical observations over many years suggest that indeed the adrenal cortex is a prime target for toxic damage, and specifically the zona fasciculate of the cortex where cortisol is produced.  I have seen many cases of cortisol deficiencies develop as an apparent result of exposure to environmental chemicals such as pesticides, anti-flea preparations, and anesthesia compounds.  Such exposures have caused both short-term and permanent imbalances.”10


On a personal note, I never used this protocol, because according to Dr. Plechner, it doesn’t work for food allergies, which is what I thought Sweetie Girl had.  But in my opinion, if you’ve removed the grains and improved the diet, and are still seeing health issues, it might be worth it to have these tests run on your pet.  If nothing else, it will rule out or confirm the imbalance.


For more information about this imbalance, please visit or read his book, “Pets at Risk.”  I personally found his book easy for a layperson to understand, and more helpful than the website, but his site is also very informative and includes the test information.




1  Plechner A Pets at Risk 2003; 140
2  Plechner A Pets at Risk 2003; 134
3  Plechner A Pets at Risk 2003; 161
4  Plechner A Pets at Risk 2003; 12
5  Plechner A Pets at Risk 2003; 161
6  Plechner A Pets at Risk 2003; 57
7  Plechner A Pets at Risk 2003; 141
8  Plechner A Pets at Risk 2003; 57-58
9  Plechner A Pets at Risk 2003; 4
10 Plechner A Pets at Risk 2003; 64

Itchy pet?  If you've removed the grains and they still have allergies, you may want to test for an endocrine-immune imbalance.

Low cortisol = high estrogen & low antibodies

                       (inflammation)    (reduced immunity)

Bringing cortisol levels back in balance can reduce inflammation and stabilize the immune system, so the body can better fight infection without attacking itself.

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