Firstly, I’ll introduce myself. My name is Brenda Rogers and I’m a women’s health coach. I live in the Hills with my partner and step-daughter. And I’m all about educating people so they can take better care of their health and the health of their families.
So, adrenal fatigue!
What is it exactly? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about in this article.
Over the next few blog posts I want to share with you:
- What is adrenal fatigue?
- What are the symptoms?
- What causes it?
- Stress, adrenal fatigue, the brain and ageing
- Adrenal fatigue and weight gain
- What you can do about it?
Firstly let me ask you a question;
Do you ever wake up feeling like you’ve haven’t slept at all? Are you regularly wide-eyed at 3am? Are your energy levels at zero? What does it all mean?
It could be your adrenals are exhausted, like your battery is flat!
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal exhaustion or adrenal fatigue is a 21st century stress syndrome. It has been estimated that 80% of adults (and goodness knows how many children) suffer some sort of adrenal fatigue however it is one of the most under diagnosed illnesses in our society. Adrenal fatigue has other names and is more accurately named HPA Axis dysfunction where HPA stands for
- Hypothalamus – This is a region of your forebrain that connects the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system with the pituitary gland. Your hypothalamus is important in maintaining bodily homeostasis – through regulating sleep, emotions, body temperature, hunger, thirst, and more.
- Pituitary gland – This pea-sized gland is found at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland is considered the master gland because it regulates other endocrine glands.
- Adrenal glands – Your adrenal glands sit on the top of your kidneys and produce important hormones such as adrenaline, DHEA and cortisol.
What are the symptoms?
The most common signs of adrenal fatigue include: ongoing fatigue, poor sleep especially with the 3am wake up call!, trouble getting out of bed, sugar and/or salt cravings, lack of energy, increased effort to do everyday tasks, decreased sex drive, irritable bowel syndrome, decreased ability to handle stress, light headed when standing up, low body temperature, more prone to colds and flu, depression, poor memory and less tolerance.
As a result of poorly regulated adrenal hormones people with adrenal fatigue frequently also have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels), high cholesterol, allergies, arthritic pain and low immune response. Both women and men with it also have increased difficulty with fertility, and then PMS and menopause for women or “menopause” for men!
Phew! It has a big impact on people’s lives and all because of how we manage our stress!
So, what I really want to talk to you about is the effects of stress on the body.
What we can tell from the above list of symptoms is that stress and adrenal fatigue can affect moods, thyroid function, immunity, the digestive system, the reproductive system and the cardiovascular system. It can also have a BIG impact on the brain but we’ll get to that in a while.
Now I’m a natural medicine practitioner so of course I love the traditional ways of healing such as herbal medicine, nutrition and home remedies. But, I’m also a fan of scientific curiosity particularly biochemistry and how all the systems of the body work in harmony so beautifully for us. So let’s have a look at…
What are the Adrenals and what do they do?
No bigger than a walnut and weighing less than a grape, each of your two adrenal glands sits like a tiny pyramid on top of a kidney (“ad” “renal” means “over” the “kidneys”). But don’t let their size fool you; these powerful little endocrine glands manufacture and secrete steroid hormones such as cortisol, estrogen and testosterone that are essential for life, health and vitality.
They modulate the functioning of every tissue, organ and gland in your body to maintain homeostasis [explain] during stress and keep you alive. They also have important effects on the way you think and feel.
The main purpose of your adrenals is to enable your body to deal with stress from every possible source, ranging from injury and disease to work and relationship problems.
They largely determine the energy of your body’s responses to every change in your internal and external environment, like temperature and safety. Whether they signal attack, retreat or surrender, every cell responds accordingly, and you feel the results just think of that tingling feeling you get as your heart jumps into your throat when you have a near miss while driving! It is through the actions of the adrenal hormones that your body is able to mobilise its resources to escape or fight off danger (stress) and survive.
Rest & Digest
But once the stress if over, we really want to go back to a naturally relaxed neutral state and this is where people can get into trouble. We need to return to a Rest & Digest state so we can recover.
In a more primitive society that flight or fight response would mean being able to run away quickly, fight or pursue an enemy, endure long periods of physical challenge and deprivation, and store up physical reserves when they were available.
In modern society, these same responses are triggered by such circumstances as a difficult boss, air pollution, family quarrels, financial problems, not enough sleep, infections and overindulgence in or sensitivities to food or substance abuse.
If your adrenal function is low, as it is in adrenal fatigue, your body has difficulty responding and adapting properly to these stressors. This can lead to a variety of physical and psychological health problems that are themselves a further source of stress! It’s a vicious circle!
Being depleted can be a real problem because we also need our stress response for our immune function. For example, when you have swelling and inflammation in situations like allergies or autoimmune disorders cortisol has the protective activity of being anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. So poor immunity can be a result of too much stress in our lives.
Heard about Cortisol?
A normal functioning adrenal gland produces a whole array of hormones but of particular interest is cortisol. The adrenal glands of a healthy person produce about 20mg of cortisol each day which can increase to 200mg a day during periods of stress.
Let’s have a look at what cortisol does:
Normal cortisol levels are responsible for maintaining normal blood sugar levels, it mobilizes fat and protein stores for more energy, it is anti-inflammatory, controls and modifies most blood cells that participate in immune and/or inflammatory reactions, effects blood vessels and therefore blood pressure, and electrolyte levels in the heart tissue, heart beat, as well as influencing the central nervous system controlling mood and behaviour.
Also, after mid-life (menopause in women and andropause/menopause in men!), the adrenal glands gradually become the major source of the sex hormones ie estrogen, testosterone and progesterone, circulating throughout the body in both men and women.
These hormones have a whole host of physical, emotional and psychological effects, from the level of your sex drive to the tendency to gain weight. Every athlete knows that steroids (adrenal hormones) affect muscular strength and stamina.
Even your tendency to develop certain kinds of diseases and your ability to respond to chronic illness is influenced significantly by the adrenal glands and HPA axis. The more long term the illness, the more critical the adrenal response becomes. You cannot live without your adrenal hormones and, as you can see from this brief overview, how well you live depends a great deal on how well your adrenal glands function.
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