Stress is a constant in contemporary life. Regardless if this is caused by pressing deadlines, work or family pressures, social obligations, or overwhelming responsibilities, stress seriously affects the body by engaging the adrenal glands. Numerous health professionals approximate that nearly 80% of the population is experiencing some degree of adrenal dysfunction.
Our adrenals are integral to the body’s stress response. If they become overworked due to constant activation, or are incapable of producing sufficient hormones to appropriately respond to stress, the result is rippling dysfunction and inflammation throughout the body.
Unfortunately, even though high stress is considered normal in our society, many are unaware of adrenal issues or do not respect the serious impact they have on the body. Often people only act to resolve adrenal fatigue when the situation becomes unbearable. The two extremes of adrenal function are known as Addison’s disease, where the adrenals cannot produce necessary hormones, and Cushing’s disease, understood as excess production of adrenal hormones. Acting only when one’s condition has reached its upper or lower limit means that the body has been unnecessarily suffering for an extended period. Through early recognition and better understanding of adrenal fatigue we can improve our daily lives and overall health.
The adrenals are located just above the kidneys and are responsible for producing over 150 different hormones. Many of these hormones are used to maintain and regulate different functions in the body including blood sugar levels, anti-inflammatory responses, immune system function, and blood pressure. Other hormones produced by the adrenals that you may recognize are adrenaline, estrogen, and progesterone. Because it plays a role in so many bodily functions it is important that the adrenals are given proper care.
Perhaps the most prominent function of the adrenals is its influence on stress. Cortisol, sometimes referred to as the stress hormone or the “fight or flight” hormone, is the primary anti-stress hormone produced by the adrenals. When we experience stress, real or imagined, cortisol is secreted to trigger our natural stress response. Chronic or continuous stress causes the adrenals to constantly release cortisol, which keeps the body in a state of alertness. Furthermore, persistent stress puts a lot of pressure on the adrenals to continually produce, which ultimately causes fatigue and become unable to provide hormones needed for other bodily processes.
Cortisol is also a key component in motivating the body in the morning. As we awaken, the body releases cortisol to activate the body and mind to make us alert and ready to face the day. In the presence of adrenal dysfunction, one may lose out on the morning release of cortisol to get them going. Alternatively, one may experience a cortisol high in the evening that keeps them from falling asleep. Both scenarios inhibit the body’s ability to achieve quality rest, which negatively impacts the entire body.
Recognizing Adrenal Fatigue
Identifying adrenal fatigue can be difficult because the symptoms often sneak into our lives and progressively get worse. For example, if one notices that their sleep cycle is slightly off but decides to simply adapt to it rather than investigate the possibility of adrenal stress, they become accustomed to it and begin living with unnecessary hardship. Many of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue begin small but continue to increase in severity when left unanswered. If you experience multiple of the following symptoms, it is beneficial to investigate the presence of adrenal fatigue. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Decreased sex drive
- Poor cognitive function or “brain fog”
- Reduced ability to handle stress or extreme responses to stress
- Chronic fatigue not resolved by rest
- Muscle weakness or stiffness
- Weight loss and/or loss of appetite
- Recurring infections
- Difficulty getting up in the morning
- Shaking and/or trembling
- Craving salty foods
- Needing caffeinated or sugary drinks to stay awake (coffee, energy drinks etc.)
Perhaps the most common identifier of adrenal fatigue is feeling wide awake but physically exhausted. When one feels overly tired and goes to bed just to be met with a racing mind and inability to sleep, it is likely due to adrenal fatigue. Fatigue-related symptoms, like those listed above, coupled with sleep difficulties is a major signal that the body is experiencing adrenal fatigue. Realizing that one has a dysfunction is only the first step. One must also identify the source of their stressors.
Why Am I Stressed?
Anything that brings undue stress to the adrenals can inhibit its function. Some may be unaware of how much stress their body experiences daily. There are numerous stressors that occur throughout our lives that can induce a temporary spike in adrenal function or cause long-lasting chronic stress. Some of the most common stressors that increase one’s risk for adrenal failure include:
- Ongoing illness, such as respiratory, bacterial, or viral infections
- Chronic insomnia or insufficient sleep
- Acute life stress, such as death of a loved one, divorce, and job loss
- Prolonged emotional stress
- Substance abuse
- Poor eating habits and nutrient deficiencies
- Hormone imbalances
- Surgeries or accidents
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia
- Perimenopause or menopause
Although the source of many of the above stressors are out of one’s direct control, there are ways to improve the body’s response to them.
Resolving Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue can be difficult to manage because there are numerous possible causes. Speaking with a physician to identify your stressors can help you formulate the proper treatment approach. Their insight into clinical triggers such as chronic infection, mitochondrial dysfunction, abnormal immune responses, and thyroid health, may be instrumental in restoring adrenal function.
Engaging in healthy exercise is essential for adrenal restoration and health. Although, it is important not to overly exhaust the body when being active as that places extra stress on the body. Furthermore, one may not be able to do strenuous exercise if adrenal fatigue has reached severe levels. However, low intensity exercise can be beneficial. In addition to getting the body moving, walking and yoga promote calming sensations and can improve adrenal function.
Now that you are acquainted with the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and the stressors that can induce it, you are better equipped to recognize it in yourself and others. When you see signs of adrenal dysfunction don’t be complacent and accept it as a part of your stressful life. Seek out proper treatment and act to resolve adrenal dysfunction to regain your health!