Stress: everyone has felt it at some point. That feeling of being so overwhelmed and overworked that you can’t eat or sleep. Unfortunately, stress has become ingrained in our culture. We associate it with hard work and success, assuming that we can’t have one without the other. Though some stress is necessary, we often bite off more than we can chew. We fail to realize that the more stressed we are, the less efficient we are, and we choose to ignore the negative effects stress has on our bodies. Unnecessary stress can lead to a multitude of symptoms including: adrenal fatigue, exhaustion, anxiety and sleep disturbances.
What Are Adrenal Glands and What Do They Do?
The adrenal glands (also known as suprarenal glands) are the triangle-shaped endocrine glands that sit on top of your kidneys. Similar to ovaries, testicles and the thyroid, the adrenal glands are hormone producing glands. In a sense, they are the regulators of your body. They’re responsible for regulating stress responses and play an important role in the maintenance of a healthy immune system. They are also key contributors to proper thyroid function, the balance of hormones, maintaining one’s ideal weight, stabilizing emotions, and controlling cravings. Multiple studies have proven that the health of the adrenal glands will dictate the health and recovery of many types of chronic illnesses. Since chronic stress is the main cause of overactive adrenals it is important that one finds a way to control and eliminate stress. Moreover, proper nutrition, adequate rest, and exercise is also very important. Unfortunately, an astounding amount of people suffer from adrenal fatigue due to lifestyle factors that are often overlooked.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a common side effect of stress.
It has three phases: the alarm phase (when the body is acknowledging stress), the resistance phase (when the body is trying to fight stress) and the exhaustion phase (when the adrenals become tapped out). Depending on what phase a person is in, the levels of cortisol (produced by the adrenals) will range from high or low at different points in the day. Cortisol levels should be at their peak in the morning, so we wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go. Alternatively, they should be at their lowest at night when it’s time to go to bed. Any variation of these levels will affect a person’s well-being, especially if stress is experienced for long periods of time, hence the last phase being exhaustion.
Other than exhaustion, additional symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
Dark circles under the eyes
Cravings for salt
Low blood pressure
Low blood sugar
Lack of libido
Sleep disturbance (typically waking up between 2-4 am)
Are Your Adrenals Fatigued?
I see the following scenario regularly in my practice: A busy mom with a demanding career comes in complaining of “hot flashes”, insomnia, fatigue, loss of libido, inability to lose weight and feeling low. For the last 15 years she has been dealing with work deadlines, kid’s sports, homework, cooking, and cleaning; she goes from morning to night with little sleep. Her adrenals are tired but she pushes through the chronic fatigue and insomnia, while noticing other symptoms such as headaches,inability to lose weight, and mood swings. This common scenario is what many natural health professionals refer to as, “adrenal steal”. Unable to function properly due to years of stress, the adrenals are forced to steal key hormonal building blocks from other hormones (like progesterone, DHEA, estrogen and testosterone), contributing to hormonal imbalances and the slew of side effects that come with them. Keeping the adrenal glands in check is the best way for women to avoid fatigue and keep their hormones happy.
How to Fight Adrenal Fatigue
So what can you do? There are numerous natural ways to support the adrenals: See a Chiropractor. Chiropractic care plays a crucial role in adrenal health. Physical, chemical or emotional stressors can cause stress on the spine and nervous system. The goal of chiropractic care is to balance and optimize the entire nervous system contributing to healthy adrenal function, and a multitude of other health benefits. Go to Bed Early. You should be sleeping 7 to 8 hours and preferably going to bed before midnight. Make sure you allow some time to wind down and relax to help your cortisol level lower before bed. Find Ways to Manage Your Stress. As cliche as it may sound, try to decrease your stress. Do you have too much on your plate? Have you been trying to be supermen or superwomen and ignoring the symptoms your body is given you? Schedule some YOU time. Meditation and yoga are excellent ways to calm your overactive adrenals down. Eat Clean. Avoid processed foods and sugar and focus on good fats, moderate protein, and tons of veggies that are phytonutrient rich. You are what you eat, so feed your body the right fuel. Take an Adrenal Support Supplement. Consuming whole, organic foods rich in phytonutrients is great for adrenal support but supplementation is sometime needed to support proper adrenal function. Supplements like B complex, vitamin C, vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids can be of great benefit. Also beneficial are botanical adaptogens that can be taken to help support the adrenal glands throughout the stress response process like Ashwagandha root, Rhodiola rosea extract, Suma and Schisandra chinensis berry extract. Exercise. Regular exercise is known to combat stress, which helps to improve adrenal function. But be aware that if your adrenals are exhausted, intense exercise may be more detrimental than beneficial in helping your adrenals get healthy again. Get Tested! Measuring cortisol levels can help determine adrenal health. The Cortisol Saliva Test also know as the Adrenal Stress Test, has become the prefered way of evaluating cortisol levels. A newer test, the DUTCH test, is another method one can use. The test involves a urine steroid hormone profile, which measures hormones and hormone metabolites (called conjugates) in a dried sample. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) technology used by chiropractors is another way to evaluate stress. It measures and tracks a patient’s autonomic nervous system state. Think your adrenals are suffering from adrenal fatigue? Start by taking an inventory of your life stressors and see which ones you can kick to the curb following the 7 tips above.