Your adrenal glands play a central role in your endocrine system when it comes to regulating and reacting to your body’s stress levels. When they aren’t functioning properly, average, day-to-day stresses can make you feel exhausted and out of control.
Why Am I So Tired?
It May Be Adrenal Fatigue
Our stress response system evolved a million years ago when we were an ancient people, living on the Serengeti plains, being chased by predators, running after our dinner and scavenging for daily food.
The major stressors were being eaten, infection or famine, so our stress system evolved to “fight or flight”, to alert the immune response, and to store fat for energy needs during periods of few calories. It wasn’t easy, yet we had plenty of down time to contemplate the sky, the stars, to rest and recuperate. Apart from proper down-time, we also had a completely different (much cleaner) diet, eating only what nature was providing us– in it’s most simple form.
Eating this unprocessed, high-antioxidant diet is what allowed our bodies to recoup from stress. Unfortunately, we were not evolved to have the chronic, continuous low grade stress that we have in our culture today – continuous over stimulation, stressful relationships, unfulfilling careers, sleep deprivation, and poor quality diets, with little rest during the day and not enough sleep. Poor gastrointestinal health is also another major source of chronic low grade stress hormones.
Despite the commonly used diagnosis called “Adrenal Fatigue”, it is really a misnomer. It’s not actually the adrenals that have problems producing the stress hormone cortisol, it’s actually the brain under stress that triggers the adrenal glands to over produce adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline causes your immediate “alarm” response: increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, rapid breathing and diversion of your blood circulation from the digestive tract to the limbs—so you can be prepared to “fight or flee” or “freeze”. Next, cortisol is produced right behind adrenaline. It is the “vigilance” hormone activating the body’s immune system and raising the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Glucose provides the energy needed by the muscles to run or fight.
Cortisol drives hunger for more sugar (carbohydrate cravings) and will store consumed sugar as fat if it is not immediately utilized for energy by the muscles i.e. if you’re not fleeing or fighting. No wonder we gain weight when stressed! The production of adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal gland is intricately tied to insulin production from the pancreas.
These three, adrenaline, cortisol and insulin, are considered the major hormones in the body, without which you cannot survive. The production of adrenaline, cortisol and insulin markedly influence the production and balance of all other minor hormones. Estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid are considered “minor” hormones, because you can actually live a long time without them.
You may feel drained and have other associated health problems related to not having enough, however their deficit won’t kill you. Insulin is utilized to allow glucose (sugar) to pass into individual cells, where it will be burned as a fuel for energy. Production of insulin in turn is related to how much sugar is consumed in the diet, and in what form.
When the body is under any kind of stress, whether external or internal, both adrenaline and cortisol production is markedly increased. Continuous low grade production of cortisol and adrenaline, combined with very high production during times of intense stress, as well as inadequate amounts of downtime for rest and repair, depletes our ability to appropriately respond and wears out the system.
This continuous stress can lead to adrenal insufficiency or (“adrenal fatigue”) in which prolonged periods of elevated cortisol are followed by the inability to produce enough. This is often reflected in low DHEA levels. DHEA is another adrenal hormone which can turn itself into cortisol as well as into testosterone. DHEA has many important immune system and cell building functions. As you can see, all of the hormonal systems are related to one another.
Creating balance in the body first requires addressing the health of the major hormones. We begin with measuring both major and minor hormones through a combination of blood and saliva testing. Addressing pain, leaky gut, diet, adequate rest, nutrients, gently exercise, lifestyle changes and using tools for managing stress are the keys to recovery from adrenal fatigue along with improving overall hormonal balance, well being, vitality and long term health.
Physical movement plays a key role. Since most of us can’t physically fight or flee from an irrational boss, an emotional upset, an unhealthy relationship, an argument with our adolescent kid, or the inevitable bad news coming across our TV screen– we can make the choice to move our bodies. Walk it off, run, bike, swim, or dance your way to better health.
Move that stressful energy so it doesn’t get stuck and stored as fat. Recovery means taking good care of yourself in the ways mentioned below. In addition to consuming high quality foods and utilizing targeted nutrient support, you will also need to make lifestyle and mindset changes, including daily meditation or prayer along with exercise and adequate sleep.
Adrenal Fatigue Recovery Principles
- NO alcohol, caffeine, sugar, refined flour products. These are major adrenal stressors. See tips to wean from caffeine, alcohol, and sugar
- Avoid foods you are sensitive to (particularly wheat and dairy products)
- Take vitamins daily, pharmaceutical quality multi with minerals, a methylated B-Complex, vitamin C 3000-5000 units/day
- Go to bed by 10 pm- otherwise you get the “second wind” effect
- Sleep in late when possible. If you are tired take a nap
- Laugh and keep a positive mindset
- No news or negative TV or heavy movies. Only positive, uplifting, funny reading/TV or movies
- Practice gratitude daily
- Use daily prayer, meditation, Tai Chi, or gentle yoga to calm the mind
- Avoid toxic people and relationships. Learn to set healthy boundaries
- Breathe deeply
- Do gentle, regular exercise
- Eat the foods your body needs (i.e. whole foods, especially greens, minimally processed, straight from nature, organic if possible, gluten-free whole grains, lots of vegetables of every color, etc.)
- Combine complex carbohydrates, good proteins, and healthy fats with every meal
- Between 2-4 pm, have vitamin C 1000mg a B complex, and a high-protein snack
- Read the book “Adrenal Fatigue: the 21st Century Stress Syndrome”, by James Wilson
- Observe regular self-care including, scheduling down time, taking rest when needed, taking naps, getting pampered with manicures, pedicures, or massage therapy, enjoy down-time with friends
- Use appropriate pharmaceutical quality adrenal support nutrients such as Ashwaganda, rhodiola, licorice root and/or extracts) but consult your practitioner first
Take The First Step On Your Journey Back To Health
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