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Stressed and Exhausted: An Introduction to Adrenal Fatigue

Almost all of us have experienced the negative effects of stress. But when feeling stressed-out starts to affect your quality of life and wellness, it may be time to consider adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is a health disorder, largely unrecognized by the conventional medical community, which results from over-stressed adrenal glands. Also termed non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms known as a “syndrome”. Beyond the hallmark symptom of fatigue, people also describe feeling tired for no reason, having trouble getting up in the morning, needing caffeine or snacks (salty or sweet) to keep going, or feeling run down. Left untreated, this syndrome can progress to frequent respiratory infections, allergies, rhinitis, asthma, frequent colds, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypoglycemia, adult onset diabetes, auto-immune disorders, and alcoholism. According to Dr. James L. Wilson, author of Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, it is estimated that up to 80% of American adults suffer some degree of adrenal fatigue in their lifetime.

The adrenal glands, also known as the suprarenal glands, are the triangular-shaped endocrine glands that sit on top of the kidneys. They are known as the “glands of stress” and enable your body to cope with stress through production of the body’s four major stress hormones. These are epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine, cortisol, and DHEA. Stress can come in a variety of physical, emotional, environmental, and /or psychological sources. When the adrenals get tired from too much stress, there is a decreased output of the adrenal hormones, especially cortisol. They will still make enough stress hormones for baseline health but cannot produce enough to meet the increased demand from a stressful situation. This leads to the various symptoms of adrenal fatigues including fatigue, lethargy, weakness, dizziness, low blood pressure, headaches, memory problems, food cravings, allergies, recurrent infections, and blood sugar imbalances. There are also changes at the biochemical and cellular levels, including transformation of your body shape. Cortisol is involved in carbohydrate metabolism and blood sugar balance. This is why cortisol is now a new target for many weight loss products.

If you suspect you might have tired adrenals, it is imperative to address it right away. In addition to a healthy stress response, the adrenal glands are extremely important to a healthy immune system and necessary for proper thyroid function. Start by modifying lifestyle factors that are within your control such as rest and sleep, food choices, use of stimulants, and the amount of nourishing and rejuvenating activities. Be mindful of the situations you put yourself in and how you view yourself. Feeling in a position of powerlessness or constantly driving yourself can also take its toll. The effects of stress are cumulative, so do not underestimate the impact of an individual source of stress. Your body will give you signals when it needs a break. Ultimately, it is up to you to listen and take action to support your adrenals, so they can continue supporting you in times of stress. Even though the specific diagnosis of adrenal fatigue is still controversial to some, most practitioners will agree that stress can have serious long-term consequences on health and wellness. The adrenal glands are certainly worthy of some care and attention.
Natural Ways to Support Your Adrenal Glands

– Take positive action to decrease stress in your life.

– Get some sleep. This means going to bed every night by 10 p.m. Make this a priority!

– Get regular, moderate exercise (30 minutes most days of the week) to stimulate the adrenals and for stress relief.

– Eat clean animal or vegetarian protein foods, fresh fruits and vegetables (green, leafy), nuts, legumes, beans and whole grains. Make sure to get your fiber.

– Reduce bad fats (saturated and trans), refined sugar, white flour, sodas and highly processed foods. Remember that garbage in equals garbage out!

– Avoid alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and other stimulants.

– Drink plenty of fresh filtered water every day.

– Holy basil is an adaptogen herb to balance the damage in every system of the body caused by stress. It improves insulin resistance by decreasing stress hormones. It reduces stress and cortisol, promotes a healthy inflammation response, and increases physical and emotional endurance.

– Other herbs to consider include astragalus, echinacea, milk thistle, Siberian ginseng, and ashwagandha. Discuss your situation with a qualified practitioner before starting any dietary supplements.

-Dr. Christine Gonzalez (Integrative PharmD, CHC)