Holistic Health Merced © 2015
Every day a variety of stressors signal our adrenal glands to produce stress hormones. A wide range of physical and psychological demands like a stressful job, family responsibilities, relationship dynamics, lack of sleep, financial concerns, dieting and emotional distress trigger our adrenals to provide relatively small blasts of strength in the form of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. From waking us up with a little burst of energy in the morning, to keeping us awake, alert, and focused throughout the rest of the day, our adrenals are crucial to our health.
When our adrenal glands are constantly required to sustain high cortisol levels, they eventually become impaired in their ability to respond appropriately. The resulting dysfunction not only affects our short-term response to stress, but it also impairs our adrenals’ ability to produce and balance other hormones which are important to our long-term health and well-being: DHEA, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Symptoms to look for:
Blood pressure: High or low blood pressure are signs to be aware of. Low blood pressure can often have the symptom of lightheadedness associated with it.
Food cravings and weight changes: Abnormal weight gain in the abdomen and thighs. Do you have cravings for salty or sugary foods, sometimes feeling uncontrollable?
Energy: Unable to stop, always on speed forward, ongoing fatigue, lack of stamina, feeling tired and wired much of the time. Lack of get up and go.
Emotions and coping ability: Inability to deal with day to day stress, feeling overwhelmed much of the time, struggling to get through the day, driven, having a very “short fuse”, anxiety attacks, and/or unable to reframe ones thinking.
Thinking: Mentally foggy, fuzzy thinking, inability to stay focused on one task, chronic racing thoughts.
Immune response: Frequent infections, taking a longer time than others to recover from illness or infections or trauma.
Sleep: Inability to fall asleep or falling asleep well but waking up nightly. Sleeping soundly but waking up exhausted.
Hormones/Libido: Worsening of perimenopausal symptoms, low libido, severe PMS.
Adrenal imbalance can however be a contributing factor in a wide range of medical conditions, many of which may seem unrelated, including the following:
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Depression and anxiety
IBS or chronic digestive problems
Chronic stress is a major culprit in women’s lives, contributing to ongoing cycles of fatigue, poor nutrition, waves of exhaustion, mood swings, and hormonal imbalance. When I ask my patients what they think is the reason for their symptoms, their answers have one common thread: too much responsibility that is impossible to manage. Trying to help themselves through each day, many women find themselves overloading on caffeine, sugary snacks, alcohol, and even sleep aids to manage stress, all of which can disrupt our body’s normal rhythms.
Research shows that when we experience chronic stress, our adrenal glands, or the tiny glands that moderate the stress response as well as regulate other hormones, will suffer. The adrenals, which are the size of walnuts, have an enormous job. They produce many hormones that regulate our body’s functioning, including cortisol, a hormone activated when our stress levels rise, signaling our body to enter a heightened state of emergency. But high cortisol levels are intended to be short term, not remain elevated. Since our adrenals do not know the difference between stressors, they can continue to work hard to do their jobs, whether we are stressed due to a true emergency or are simply stressed out.
When our cortisol levels stay elevated, it interferes with many functions in our body, including immune function, digestion, sleep, and even the ability to produce other essential hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and thyroid hormones. This can lead to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess abdominal fat, and inflammation. In the meantime, our health is compromised, along with our moods, and even our sex drive.
When the adrenal glands continue to be compromised long term, they have a decreased ability to produce cortisol, and instead produce extra adrenaline, causing us to feel irritable, shaky, lightheaded, and anxious. Adrenal fatigue is a syndrome that can, over time, cause low blood pressure, allergies, and pure exhaustion.
These issues, although very concerning, can also be relieved when adrenal dysfunction is healed. And the good news is, it can be healed. Along with decreasing chronic stress, adjusting our emotional responses to stressors, and changing what, when and how we eat, we can reverse adrenal fatigue. Let’s take a look at some of the dietary approaches we can utilize to not only support our adrenals, but also improve our energy and promote better sleep.
-Abnormal weight gain
-Lack of stamina
-Inability to deal with day to day stress
-Chronic racing thoughts