Not only is exhaustion a major complaint for many people but it seems like weight gain, cravings, PMS, hot flashes, allergies, depression and loss of libido also accompany this problem.
It's called adrenal fatigue or exhaustion as a result of stress and poor diet. It's commonly overlooked by mainstream medicine, but it's so much more than simply stress and cortisol. It's the adrenal glands and the duties they have to perform.
The adrenal glands, we have two of them, are commonly known for producing our stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. But they produce other hormones that are responsible for so much more. They help regulate our metabolism, mood, heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, immune, reproductive and digestive system. They connect with so many other bodily systems that when they get out of balance – it's like the first domino dropping. They affect other systems, which is why so many people who struggle with adrenal fatigue may also have many other general complaints.
The adrenal glands, like the thyroid and reproductive organs are part of the autonomic nervous system. They regulate everything without us having to worry about them. The problem is that constant stress triggers the continual production of cortisol and adrenaline. The body is designed to handle short term stress, NOT prolonged, continual stress. Cortisol and adrenaline are not bad hormones, as many infomercials would like us to believe. It's the continual production of those hormones telling the body to "fight or flight." When the body is in that "fight or flight" mode all day – it doesn't allow the other system, called the "Resting Digesting" mode to turn on. This will throw off your metabolism because cortisol and adrenaline will burn calories from carbohydrates and protein instead of stored body fats.
This is why so many people have a hard time losing weight and keeping it off. Learn more about adrenal fatigue and weight loss in "To Burn or Not to Burn, Fat is the Question" (Brown Books) Yes, their body is burning calories, but they are NOT burning calories from stored body fats, which is also why they struggle with cravings, mood swings, lightheadedness, lack of concentration and focus. Elevated cortisol will:
o Interfere with your thyroid hormones and throw off your metabolism, which contributes to fatigue, weight gain, mood swings and depression.
o Decrease the level of progesterone and disturb the ratio of estrogen to progesterone, because progesterone is needed to make cortisol. Decreased progesterone is associated with PMS, hot flashes, night sweats, infertility, osteoporosis and heart disease
o Erode the intestinal lining and weaken your digestive system. This leads to food allergies, indigestion, heartburn, reflux and other irritable bowel problems.
o Cause your cells to become resistant to insulin. This causes the body to produce more insulin, which causes the body to store fats. This contributes to blood sugar problems, hypoglycemia, diabetes, as well as obesity, high blood pressure and triglycerides.
o Trigger a decrease production of serotonin, which is associated with depression, anxiety and mood swings. Lack of serotonin hampers the production of melatonin, which is released while we sleep and helps the body rebuild.
o Over-stimulate our immune response and confuse our immune system that could lead to allergies and possible auto-immune disorders.
o The constant production of adrenaline and norepinephrine will cause the heart to beat faster and your arteries to constrict, which leads to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems.
The constant demand to produce more cortisol and adrenaline can directly affect the production of DHEA and aldosterone.
Dhea is known as the anti-aging hormone and is needed to make testosterone and estrogen. We know that the more DHEA one has as they age – the fewer health complaints they have. Lack of Dhea and its ability to make testosterone could be associated with loss of libido and inability to build lean muscle – even though you are exercising. Aldosterone regulates sodium and potassium, which are integral in regulating our blood pressure.
Why is it overlooked?
Mainstream medicine doesn't address the cause – they merely address the symptoms. They don't recognize that the adrenal glands…just like our thyroid, ovaries and testes can be a little over-or-underactive. In short, there is not a medication to prescribe if their adrenals are a little sluggish, like they do for the thyroid, ovaries or testes. Besides that most traditional doctors rely on blood tests, but the best test to determine how well the adrenal glands are function is a 24-hour saliva test that measures cortisol four times during the day and DHEA. NASA uses that test.
It's more than just cortisol….
Infomercial have the general public thinking everyone is making too much cortisol, but the constant demand of stress coupled with the wrong diet will deplete the adrenal glands and their ability to make adequate levels of cortisol and adrenaline. This is when our health problems become more dire. Your body becomes too exhausted to "fight or flight." Figuratively speaking the "saber tooth tiger" caught up with you and your body is breaking down.
When the adrenal glands are exhausted, we don't produce enough cortisol to activate our immune system, release our growth hormones, reduce inflammation, rebuild our digestive system, etc. This is why people with adrenal exhaustion have so many additional complaints besides fatigue and weight gain. These are the people who also suffer from fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, depression, chemical imbalances and many other degenerative and chronic health problems that aren't getting better. It's not always too much cortisol – many patients aren't making enough, which is why proper testing is invaluable.
Overcoming Adrenal Fatigue
Overcoming adrenal fatigue is a two-pronged process. It's a lot like financial debt…where you have to cut your spending and increase your earnings. The same is true with adrenal fatigue and health in general. Stop or reduce the things that are making you unhealthy, while at the same time nourish and strengthen your adrenal glands with the proper diet and supplementation. First identify where your stress is coming from and reduce it.
o Is it mental, emotional stress such as worry, fear or anger?
o Physical stress from too much exercise, not enough sleep, being overweight, aches and pain from inflammation?
o Chemical stress from air or water pollution, prescription or over-the-counter meds, artificial sweeteners, colors, preservatives, insecticides, antibiotics or hormones in our foods?
o Dietary stress due to low blood sugar from skipped meals, processed, refined foods?
o Digestive distress associated with a bloating, indigestion, heartburn, reflux, etc? Stress is anything that causes your adrenal glands to work more. There are different types of stress and stress is cumulative. We need to reduce the demand we place on our adrenal glands in order to overcome adrenal fatigue. Use our "online health quizzes" to help Identify your stress.
Next we need to nourish and strengthen our adrenal glands. Stress depletes the body of specific nutrients, so we need to add vitamin C, B and zinc to our diet. A typical multivitamin will have these nutrients, but not in the quantity the body may need for the amount of stress you are under.
We also need to support our adrenal glands with specific "adaptogenic" herbs such as ashwaghandee, rhodiola, cordyceps, and ginseng. These herbs help balance out the adrenal glands. It they are too active – they can bring them back down. If they are too low – they can help stimulate them. These adaptogenic herbs are also known to help resynchronize the whole brain-hormone connection.
Don't expect to see big or even moderate results if you only want to swallow a handful of supplements without making some changes in your life. Overcoming adrenal fatigue is a process. There is not a magic pill, nor is there a drug to address the cause. But if you want to address the cause of your problem, not the symptoms, overcome many of the health issues you are facing – it can be done, and it can all be done naturally.