While everyone knows about adrenaline and the ‘fight or flight’ response, not so many know much about the hormone cortisol, the “other” stress hormone, or about how it contributes to Adrenal Fatigue. Both adrenaline and cortisol are produced in the adrenal glands but each performs a very different role.
Adrenalin is the hormone released when the body is in danger, It promotes quick reaction, throwing you into the best response to get you out of the dangerous situation. It is meant to be released, used quickly and then switched off.
Cortisol also plays a part in the stress response. It is essential for maintaining homeostasis in your body and actually regulates many of the changes in your body that are related to stress. It is released in high levels during periods of stress alongside adrenaline. As with adrenaline it is vital that the cortisol response then shuts off so levels can return to normal.
It is only when stress is ongoing and cortisol continues to be released into the body for prolonged periods that it becomes problematic. Under constant stress cortisol release never gets turned off and this has a negative effect on many body functions.
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle which is relentlessly stressful produces the perfect platform for the Stress Scenario.
Stress itself can be very addictive. It’s not uncommon for people to even be proud of the fact that they can juggle a high-power job, family and relationship on caffeine, nicotine and very little sleep. Often we actually applaud people who are able to do it all, and pull off the seemingly impossible.
But stress burns you out, it comes at a cost. And that cost is chronic illness. – diabetes, cancer, a whole gamut of autoimmune diseases, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or a host of others
When someone lives their life in a constant state of prolonged stress where stress hormones are continually released into the bloodstream, never getting switched off, further symptoms continue to develop until eventually the Adrenal glands themselves are affected.
Your adrenal glands simply can’t keep up with the amount of stress. They become overworked and can no longer match hormone production with demand. The production of cortisol plummets and that’s when Adrenal Fatigue kicks in. The Adrenal glands are no longer able to produce sufficient cortisol to release that extra boost of cortisol when an emergency situation arises.
WHAT IS ADRENAL FATIGUE?
Adrenal Fatigue is the umbrella term for the group of symptoms caused by this deficiency.
The primary symptom of Adrenal Fatigue is fatigue that is not improved by sleep. Those who suffer with this syndrome wake feeling exhausted, drag their feet with tiredness all day, only to find they get a second wind and wake up right at the time they should be going to sleep at night.
You can read more about Adrenal Fatigue at “Are You Suffering From 21st Century Syndrome?”
YOU DON”T NEED TO BE ANXIOUS TO BE STRESSED
It’s really important to understand that stress does not just refer to a state of anxiety. Living with a feeling of overwhelm, insufficient or poor quality sleep, eating a poor diet, worrying (about anything), unhappiness, or living with pain, are all situations that create a state of stress within the cells of your body, without you ever feeling anxious at all.
Stressful experiences like the death of a loved one or a divorce, undergoing surgery, financial hardship or job stress, bullying, even negative thinking can create adrenal fatigue just as easily as poor diet, lack of exercise or pollution and environmental toxins.
Many, many people spend their entire life in this state, and so live with raised levels of cortisol in their body all the time.
THE EFFECTS OF CORTISOL IMBALANCE
The effects of a cortisol imbalance fall into two groups.
The first group of symptoms occurs when circulating cortisol levels are too high and happens during prolonged stress. The second group of symptoms occurs later, once the Adrenal glands are no longer able to produce enough cortisol and circulating levels have dropped significantly, as happens with Adrenal Fatigue.
The negative effects of higher levels of circulating cortisol:
Suppressed or weakened immune system
Raised blood pressure
Increased blood sugar levels
Impaired cognitive performance
Hardening of the arteries
Increased fat storage, especially around the abdomen which is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, higher LDL and lower HDL cholesterol levels,
Lower growth hormone and testerone production
Hyperglycaemia (high blood sugars) and other blood sugar imbalances
Lowered thyroid function
Decreased bone density and osteoporosis
Inhibited protein synthesis
Loss of collagen in the skin and inhibition of the formation of more
Long periods of raised cortisol levels can also damage the brain and memory, reducing the ability to learn.
The negative effects of lower levels of circulating cortisol:
Brain fog, fuzzy-headedness
Blood sugar imbalances, hypoglycaemia (low blood sugars)
Fatigue, especially in the morning
Low blood pressure
Lowered immune function
Cravings for salty or sweet foods
Difficulty recovering from illness or stress
A feeling of being run down or unable to cope
Feeling awake and alert in the evening in spite of being tired all day
SUPPLEMENTS FOR ADRENAL FATIGUE
Natural Health modalities can help speed up your journey back from Adrenal Fatigue, which can otherwise be slow. But if you are also deficient in simple vitamins and minerals you lack the basic building blocks your body requires to build your health. Consulting a Natural Health practitioner will provide you with the advice and treatment you need, and replacing some of the deficiencies will also help.
These are just some of the vitamins and minerals that Adrenal Fatigue sufferers tend to lack, although not every person will need all these. Your Natural Health Practitioner can guide you best.
B5 contributes to cellular respiration and the breakdown of nutrients. Start with 100mg a day.
B6 helps create adrenal hormones. Take 50 mg a day to begin.
B12 helps with energy production, cell repair and red blood cell maintenance. Start with 100mcg a day.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant directly involved with the production of cortisol, and in addition offers many other benefits to your immune system and more. Start with 100mg of buffered Vitamin C a day and increase this gradually.
When Adrenal Fatigue affects the digestion, which it frequently does, probiotics play an important role as they contribute towards a better uptake of nutrients to assist the body on its healing journey.
As most of the population is thought to be deficient in magnesium supplementing is a great benefit. As well as causing depression and sleep problems deficiency can also lead to muscle cramps and stiffness. Start with 400mg a day.
There are a number of other supplements that I often like to include in the treatment of Adrenal Fatigue such as CoQ10, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Spirulina (although it is not strictly a supplement) and the herb Tulsi (Holy Basil).
I repeatedly find that Homeopathic medicine and Herbal Essences help provide good recovery in my clinic for cases of Adrenal Fatigue. Both these forms of Natural Medicine are effective on their own without the use of additional supplements. Best sustained results occur when Homeopathic medicines are individually prescribed according to Homeopathic prescribing guidelines, by an appropriately qualified practitioner.
Making lifestyle changes that assist in reducing the impact of Adrenal Fatigue is helpful. Walking, yoga, meditation, tai chai, and qi gong are all gentle forms of exercise that will not result in you crashing after providing an initial burst of energy, which often happens with more strenuous exercise.
Controlled breathing exercises and techniques are excellent and can be done through the day wherever you happen to be.
Modifying your sleep preparation rituals can help reduce insomnia and the impact caused by adrenal fatigue, to improve your sleep.
EATING FOR ADRENAL FATIGUE
Moderating your diet by reducing sugars, caffeine, and alcohol at the very least will also help support you to recovery.
If you must drink coffee or cola do it in the morning and then steer clear of it as it interferes with sleep and adrenal recovery.
Watch for hidden sugars and replace sugar with stevia where you can
Alcohol contains sugar and creates a boost and crash scenario, interfering with the sleep cycle and causing insomnia later in the night.
Hydrogenated oils lead to adrenal inflammation, Use good fats like coconut oil instead.
Processed foods or microwave foods contain many difficult to digest preservatives and fillers.
Have you experienced Adrenal Fatigue? Leave a reply below.
For more information and advice about how best to treat your symptoms contact your Natural Medicine Practitioner.
All information and opinions presented here are for information purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before following any of the treatment suggested on this site, particularly if you have an ongoing health issue.