Are your adrenals tired?

These tiny glands do a great big job!

You have two adrenal glands; they’re about the size of your thumb and sit on top of each of your kidneys.

The adrenal glands play a large role in human physiology. They secrete more than 50 hormones, some of which are essential for life. They help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, help in protein and fat metabolism, support proper cardiovascular and gastrointestinal functioning and have a major responsibility in responding to stress.

When these tiny adrenal glands are subjected to a constant, even low level of stress, they can easily become overworked. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue (aka hypoadrenia) are non-specific; they are general in nature and are present in many conditions. There is no specific medical test for adrenal fatigue. That may be why adrenal fatigue is often overlooked until it has become severe. Doctors often do not acknowledge adrenal problems unless there is extremely little functioning (Addison’s disease) or way too much (Cushing’s disease).

Adrenal glands and the stress response

Adrenaline is quickly released by the adrenal glands in response to a perceived threat; this begins the “fight-or-flight” stress response. Another part of the glands releases hormones that reduce activity in non-essential functions (like digestion and immune response) and divert blood flow to the muscles and brain to prepare for action. They also release cortisol, the “stress hormone.”

Cortisol is necessary for life. But too much cortisol can contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain. Too little cortisol, on the other hand, may result in fatigue, hypoglycemia, moodiness, muscle aches and more. Cortisol has direct effects on the liver and gallbladder.

 How adrenal fatigue develops

The adrenal glands may become overworked when subjected to negative emotions (fear, guilt, anger, depression), excessive exercise, sleep deprivation, chronic inflammation or pain, excessive physical work or mental strain, surgery or trauma, light-cycle disruptions (like often going to sleep late, or working a night shift), severe allergies, nutritional deficiencies, or exposure to toxins.

Adrenal fatigue is on the rise. It’s been estimated that as much as 80% of the world’s population will experience adrenal fatigue at some point. All kinds of stress – physical, mental, emotional and environmental – are more prevalent and more constant in modern life. Both acute and chronic stress, along with excess caffeine and sugar intake may contribute to adrenal fatigue.

 Signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue

The most common symptom is, as the name suggests, fatigue. It’s hard to get up in the morning, even after a full night’s sleep, and you feel drowsy during the day. There is often a burst of energy about 6 pm followed by sleepiness around 9 or 10 pm. When this sleepiness is resisted, a “second wind” often occurs about 11 pm with the result that you may not be able to fall asleep until 1 am or later.

Other signs and symptoms include: muscle and bone loss; muscular weakness; increased allergies; a suppressed immune system and recurring infections; decreased ability to handle stress; and poor memory. There may also be increased anxiety and fear.

Testing salivary cortisol

There is no accepted medical test for adrenal fatigue. The usual tests for adrenal function measure ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) but only very high or very low levels are considered problematic. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue may be present even though ACTH is “normal.”

A salivary cortisol test, however, can uncover adrenal fatigue.

Cortisol levels rise and fall according to a daily pattern. Fluctuations in this pattern are caused by stress. Cortisol output is one of the more reliable indicators of how your adrenal glands are functioning and how well your body can deal with stress. While salivary cortisol tests can be purchased online and done at home, if you suspect you have adrenal fatigue please consult with a healthcare provider.

 Get help from diet and lifestyle

You can help support your adrenal glands through proper diet and lifestyle practices.

Avoid junk food and diets high in sugar and/or fat that contribute to adrenal insufficiency and problems with hormone production. Caffeine can help stimulate adrenal functioning but may also damage adrenal tissue. Hydrogenated oils contribute to inflammation which damages the glands. Cruciferous vegetables contain substances that may help protect against adrenal cancer. Fish oil can help the body deal with stress.

If you use supplements, consider adaptogens. These are herbs that reduce the effects of stress and can help exhausted adrenals recover. The best-known herbs in this class are ashwagandha, holy basil, eleuthero root, licorice root, ginseng and rhodiola. But use them with guidance from your healthcare professional; herbs can interact with some prescription medicines.

Develop stress management techniques: deep breathing, regular exercise, meditation, massage, and a regular sleep schedule all can help take the load off your adrenal glands.


DISCLAIMER: The information presented here is intended as an educational resource. It is not a substitute for medical advice. Before beginning any exercise program or if you have any concerns about your condition, consult the appropriate healthcare provider.



photo: via GraphicStock





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