A quick look at adrenal fatigue, and how it might be affecting you....
How are you this morning? Did you wake naturally, get some daylight in your eyes and get on with your morning? ....Or was getting up a real struggle, and you didn't feel ready to face the day until you were 2 cups of coffee down the line?
We don't pay them much heed, our little adrenal glands. There they sit above the kidneys working away, day in and day out (they're the red bits above the kidneys in the pic below). They're regulated by the HPA axis - the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, a feedback loop. But if we place too many demands on them, they start to tire, and boy, do we know about it.
So the adrenals are endocrine (hormone) glands that secrete the "stress" hormones
adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. (They also produce aldosterone, the hormone that regulates blood pressure, and precursors to the sex hormones). You may have heard of the autonomic nervous system - it operates all those things that happen in the background that we don't need to think about (breathing, digestion, the beating of your heart, all the metabolic processes, etc). When we are in the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, commonly known as "fight or flight" then adrenaline, noradrenaline and later cortisol rule the day. You know this feeling...your heart beats faster, your pupils dilate, you may need to run to the bathroom, you're agitated and unable to relax. In the caveman world that our bodies think we still inhabit, you'd be fighting off the sabre tooth tiger or chasing the woolly mammoth down for dinner....exactly what these hormones programme you to do - fight or flight. But in modern life we don't do this, and these stress hormones keep on being pumped out and hanging around in our bodies.
Conversely, when we feel safe and secure, our bodies switch to the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, or "rest and digest". As its name suggests it's when we are in this mode that we can relax, digest, heal and assimilate all the nutrients from our food into our cells, where they are needed to to the millions of different jobs our bodies do.
In this 21st century world it is all too easy to spend too much time on the fight/flight side of the wire. The adrenals unfortunately are not invincible, they too tire. We need cortisol for other processes - it's a really important part of the circadian rhythm. Have you heard of the CAR, or cortisol awakening response? Briefly, around the time you wake up, night time melatonin levels should be dropping right away to be replaced by a nice healthy rise in cortisol levels, to get you up, about and on with your day. This is your CAR. So if you have been pushing those adrenals for all they're worth, you might be suffering from the "21st century disease" of adrenal fatigue. It's characterised by:
difficulty getting up and waking up in the morning
continuous, ongoing fatigue; lethargy; having to put in increased effort to do everyday tasks
craving for salt
decreased ability to handle stress or overwhelm
increased time to recover from colds or injury; a tendency to catch a lot of respiratory infections
feeling lightheaded when moving from lying down or sitting to standing
depression; lack of enjoyment of life
increased reliance on coffee, cola drinks, sugar
increased PMS symptoms
mind fog, fuzzy-headedness; memory issues
reduced tolerance levels (getting grumpy at the way your husband is breathing, for example)
an energy surge in the late evening, post 10pm[i]
Any of this sound familiar? Or starting to sound familiar? If so, please don't just ignore these symptoms. There is lots you can do to address and turn around adrenal fatigue. There are also functional medicine tests to assess how your adrenals are performing. A really inexpensive test is the hair tissue mineral analysis, which looks at macro and micro mineral levels (as well as toxic elements and how well you are detoxing). It also gives an indication of how well your adrenals and your thyroid are doing (these 2 endocrine glands play a sort of ball game between themselves - one will often pick up the strain if the other is having a hard time...). The DUTCH test Plus uses saliva samples at different points throughout the day to assess cortisol levels (and will give you a straight up, clear as a bell picture of your cortisol awakening response...or lack of).
There are lots of nutritional and lifestyle measures you can take to help your adrenals; also herbs, traditional remedies and supplements you can add in to help them along. If the above checklist looks like you, book a session or a discovery call today and let's see if we can get your adrenals up and running again.
[i] From “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome” by Dr James L. Wilson