THE ADRENAL GLANDS
The purpose of your adrenal glands is to help your body cope with stress and survive another day. It is their job to enable your body to deal with stress from every possible source, ranging from injury and disease to work and relationship problems. Your resilience, energy, endurance and your very life all depend on proper adrenal function.
Adrenal fatigue refers to a collection of signs and symptoms relating to a decreased function of the adrenal glands. This is most commonly caused by excessive, prolonged or accumulative stress that is not met with the required rest or rejuvenation. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue range from excessive fatigue, to mental changes, blood sugar dysfunction and slow injury or illness recovery time. Supporting the adrenals is vital to healthy living.
Whilst emotional and mental stresses are important considerations of adrenal health, physical traumas can be just as wearing. Physical traumas or chronic illnesses cumulatively drain your adrenal reserves, particularly if you cannot or do not do what is necessary to recover between traumas.
Below is a list of lifestyle factors that can lead to an increased risk of adrenal fatigue.
- Lack of sleep
- Poor food choices
- Using foods and drinks as stimulants when tired
- Staying up late even though fatigued
- Being constantly in a position of powerlessness
- Constantly driving yourself
- Trying to be perfect
- Staying in double binds (no-win situations) over time
- Lack of enjoyable and rejuvenating activities
- Alternating shift work that requires the sleep pattern to be frequently adjusted
The symptoms of adrenal fatigue are noted below. While no one of these symptoms give a definitive diagnosis of adrenal fatigue, a person experiencing three of more of these symptoms should be further investigated and changes should be made to both cease any further damage and improve current health.
- Difficulty getting up in the morning. Three alarms and you still don’t feel awake enough to lift your head off the pillow
- Continued fatigue not relieved by sleep. Despite getting a good night’s sleep, you still feel tired when you wake up. Refreshed is a foreign word to people with adrenal fatigue
- Craving for salt or salty foods. You find yourself eating the whole bag of chips or adding salt to already salted foods.
- Lethargy (lack of energy). Everything seems like a chore, even the things you used to enjoy. Frequently, just getting up out of the chair requires too much energy.
- Increased effort to do everyday tasks. Everything seems to require ten times as much effort as it should.
- Decreased sex drive. The hottest movie star could be waiting in your bedroom and you would ask for a rain check. Sex is the last thing on your mind when you hardly have the energy to keep your head up.
- Decreased ability to handle stress. Little things that never used to bother you get to you. Road rage, constant anxiety, yelling at your kids and compulsive eating, smoking or drug use let you know your adrenals are crying out for help.
- Increased time to recover from illness, injury or trauma. The cold you got in October is still hanging around in November. The cut on your finger takes weeks to heal. Two years after your father died you are still incapacitated by grief.
- Light-headed when standing up quickly. Sometimes you feel like you are going to pass out when you get up from the bed or a chair.
- Mild depression. Why bother making an effort, it all seems so pointless?
- Less enjoyment or happiness with life. Not much seems to interest you anymore. Work and relationships feel empty and you almost never to something just for fun.
- Increased PMS. Bloated, tried, crabby, cramping and craving chocolate – does it get any worse than this?
- Symptoms increase if meals are skipped or inadequate. You have to drive yourself with snacks, colas and coffee just to keep from collapsing.
- Thoughts less focused, more fuzzy. You frequently lose track of your train of thought and it is harder and harder to make decisions, even about the little things like what to wear.
- Memory less accurate. You are so absentminded, you should be a professor.
- Decreased tolerance. People seem a lot more irritating than they used to.
- Decreased productivity. It takes you longer to complete tasks and it is harder to stay on task.
- Don’t really wake up until 10am.
- Afternoon low between 3-4pm. Around three to four in the afternoon you start to feel like you have been drugged with sleeping pills
- Feels better after evening meal. After 6pm and dinner, you start to feel alive again.
- Desire to sleep after a stressful event. Small disagreements or mildly stressful situations leave you exhausted and ready for bed.
Adrenal fatigue can occur suddenly or gradually, depending on the circumstances.
Whilst any illness with a chronic or long-term nature will drain adrenal health, there are a few diseases that particularly stand out as having an adrenal component. Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, alcoholism, ischemic heart disease, hypoglycaemia, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic and recurrent respiratory infections all usually involve decreased adrenal function. Treating or recognising the adrenal component can significantly aid a healthy recovery and prevent relapse.
THE THREE STAGES OF ADRENAL FUNCTION:
There are three main stages of adrenal function. Each stage is can progress to the next and as you are exposed to excess, prolonged or accumulative stress, your health further deteriorates. These three stages of adrenal function, if not recovered from appropriately, are the three levels of adrenal fatigue.
The alarm reaction; a ‘fight-or-flight’ response.
The initial response to the threat.
This is your body’s initial answer to any kind of challenge, danger or substantial stress. The body reacts with a complex chain of physical and biochemical changes brought about by the interaction of your brain, the nervous system and a variety of different hormones. The goal being to put your body into full alert mode. Instantly your response time, energy, performance and mental clarity are significantly increased to allow you to survive that stressor. For a brief few moments during the ‘fight-or-flight’ response you may experience nearly super-human power to deal with the situation. The alarm stage is generally short lived with the heightened response typically lasting a few minutes to a few hours. Subsequently a drop in adrenaline, cortisol and other adrenal hormones results as the stressors passes and the body exhausts. This drop can last a few hours to a few days, depending on the magnitude of the stress.
After the alarm reaction is over, your body goes through a temporary recovery phase that lasts 24-48hours. During this time there is less cortisol secreted, your body is less able to respond to stress and the mechanisms over-stimulated in the initial alarm phase become resistant to more stimulation. This recovery phase leaves you feeling more tired and sluggish, resulting in the overwhelming desire to rest. This recovery phase is essential to allowing the body to recuperate after the intense stress response, allowing the body to build back its vitality and endurance. If the recovery phase is avoided or reduced, any subsequent stress reactions to a threat are likely diminished.
This alarm reaction, or the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, is used as a survival mechanism. If used correctly and appropriately this response is a healthy survival mechanism. If this response is over used, or recuperation is not sufficient, adrenal fatigue is likely to develop.
The Resistance Reaction
After this initial stress, if there is additional stress or a series of stressors that does not warrant a fight-or-flight response, your body will go into a ‘phase of resistance’. This phase of resistance is similar to a chronic low to moderate grade stressor that is not significant or high enough to initiate the fight-or-flight response. Entering the resistance phase, or resistance reaction, allows the body to keep fighting a stressor long after the initial fight-or-flight response has worn off.
The adrenal hormone cortisol is largely responsible for all bodily reactions during this stage. Cortisol can help provide the necessary energy and circulatory changes that are needed to deal with the stress, so that you can cope with the emotional crisis, perform strenuous tasks and fight infections.
This phase of resistance can last months, or even up to 15-20 years. If there is no decrease in the amount of stress, or if there are suddenly new stresses, your body can go into a state of exhaustion.
In the exhaustion stage, there may be a total collapse of bodily function, or a collapse of specific organs or symptoms. This can be caused by a depletion of adrenal hormones such as cortisol. With this reduction of cortisol comes significant fatigue and lethargy, weak cellular function and significant blood glucose dysfunction. Uninterrupted, excessive stress eventually exhausts your adrenal glands and severely interrupts your lifestyle. Pharmaceutical medication may be needed to aid treatment.
If you feel you are suffering from a level of Adrenal Fatigue, and you would like some help to improve this, please contact us using the below enquiry form.