Adrenal Fatigue Defined
“Adrenal Fatigue” is trendy. Though true adrenal fatigue syndrome is rare. However, many of us are putting detrimental stress on our adrenal glands in our culture of “go-go-go”. From food allergies to toxins and lifestyle stress, our adrenals are put on high demand. Even if we do not have the full syndrome, many of us are experiencing similar symptoms:
- Trouble sleeping,
- Hormonal Imbalance
- Under-eye circles,
- Feelings of puffiness, soreness, and stiffness,
- Fatigue and a general feeling of overwhelm with life,
- Unwanted weight...
THE ADRENAL GLANDS
The adrenal glands are two glands above the kidneys that help balance our hormones.
The adrenal glands assist with:
- blood sugar regulation,
- thyroid health,
- sex hormone production,
- metabolizing proteins, fats, and carbohydrates,
- Producing DHEA and aldosterone (precursors for testosterone and other androgens (male hormones)).
- Regulating the amount of progesterone and estrogen in women.
When our adrenal glands are performing poorly so are these functions. We also experience unwanted body composition effects like lack of muscle development and storage of fat in around the stomach.
Many of my clients will say that they are not stressed, meaning that they do not feel stressed. We may not notice that we are in a sympathetic/high stress state, even when we are. Stress can be anything from our workout, a stressful conversation with our partner, pressure at work, poor digestion, negative thoughts, or physical illnesses.
When the body experiences a stressor, it goes into its sympathetic nervous system, or fight or flight mode. the adrenal glands pump out cortisol, which raises blood sugar and alerts the body to go into catabolism (breaking down muscle and other tissue for energy). This on its own is not a bad thing, in fact, this is a good thing when it occurs for a short period of time. This used to help us fight off threats, like running from a lion. In today’s world, our stressors are a little less physical, and a whole lot more chronic. The constant state of stress is causing havoc on our health and performance.
When the adrenals are put under excess stress, and encouraged to secrete stress hormones, the other hormones in our body will be reduced.
For example, progesterone is made from pregnenolone, which is made from cholesterol. Cortisol is made from progesterone. When we produce more cortisol, progesterone is decreased as the body uses it for cortisol. This can lead to estrogen dominance, infertility, bad PMS, and excess body fat. Cortisol also has an inverse relationship with testosterone (read more about that here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3880087/).
To sum this down – when we have more cortisol, we have less healthy hormone production – ladies this means more pms, trouble getting pregnant, unwanted body fat and more. Men, this means you too could be estrogen dominant. Man boobs anyone?
WHAT IS ADRENAL FATIGUE
Adrenal fatigue syndrome occurs when the adrenal glands are unable to produce adequate cortisol and other adrenocortical hormones. Adrenal Fatigue syndrome is a collection of symptoms that occur when the adrenals are under stress.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
- Allergies: new allergies or heightened old allergies
- Fatigue: sleepy during the day
- Insomnia/sleep problems: sleepy in the daytime but can’t sleep at night.
- Emotional Instability: feelings of incompetence, apathy, overwhelm and inability to handle stress
- GI Disorders: indigestions, gut disturbances, and salt cravings
- Paradoxical Pupil Light Reaction: pupils loose the ability to remain contracted in bright light.
OUTCOMES OF CHRONIC STRESS
- Damage to the brain, specifically hippocampus
- Impairment of the pituitary gland
- Lowered DHEA and hormones that depend on it
- Increased risk of depression
- Damage to the GI track
- Dysregulation of blood sugar
- Excess insulin being pumped from the pancreas (can lead to insulin resistance)
- Decreased levels of serotonin (+ feelings of happiness)
- Eventual damages the adrenal glands
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Even without adrenal fatigue syndrome, overworked adrenals, hypo or hypercortisolemia (excess cortisol), and imbalanced hormones can still prevent us from feeling and performing at our best.
In general, reducing stress is number one. Reducing coffee consumption and increasing quality carbohydrates is also important for regulating hormones and supporting the adrenal glands. There are several things we can do to in regard to lifestyle, food choices, supplements, and nutrients to reduce adrenal stress, lower levels of cortisol and get back to feeling energized.
For more lifestyle + diet support:
Key Nutrients & Botanicals for Adrenal Support
- Bauman, Ed. Therapeutic Nutrition. Part 1. Penngrove, CA. 2014.
- Galland, Leo. Md. Magnesium: The Stress Reliever. Healthy.net. Website. Accessed March 30, 2016.
- Medical Encyclopedia. Vitamin C. Medline plus. 2015. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002404.ht
- University of Maryland Medical Center. Stress. Umm.edu. 2016. Website. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/stress
- University of Maryland Medical Center. Vitamin B5. 2016. Website.