We recently discussed what our adrenal glands are and how we can support them for optimal performance. This week, we want to dive into a condition called adrenal fatigue and see how it relates to stress as well as how we can use this knowledge to help our bodies heal. First, let’s look into what adrenal fatigue is.
Adrenal fatigue happens when the adrenal glands are taxed by stress to the point they can no longer produce cortisol levels needed for optimal functioning. Adrenal glands are the first to respond to stress and, therefore, are the first to suffer from increased stress levels as well. The stress involved can come from several factors including environmental and dietary, anxiety, grief and trauma, and even auto-immune diseases, which can all have a negative effect on your adrenal health.
Stress Adds Gas to the Fire
There is no shortage of stress in modern-day life. Taking a closer look at stress factors may give insight into just how overworked our adrenal glands are. Environmental stresses can include anything from a high-pressure workplace to mold and air pollutants in our homes. Dietary stressors can include eating foods we’re allergic to or intolerant of, forgetting to eat entirely, eating too close to bedtime, or eating a diet rich in highly-processed foods.
Mental and emotional stressors like anxiety and panic attacks send our system into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response. Unfortunately, that chemical contagion often struggles to differentiate between perceived or actual threats. Those with traumatic experiences often stay in this fear response state for years, and the effects can be detrimental. Auto-immune diseases happen when the body mistakenly sees itself as an invader and attacks accordingly. These conditions include Lupus, Hashimoto’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Celiac Disease and they all can negatively affect specific parts or functions of the body.
The symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be devastating to activities of daily living. Often, these symptoms sneak up on us and are confused with simply getting older or being a bit tired. The symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- fatigue, particularly upon waking, with intermittent “crashes” throughout the day
- poor stress response and mood regulation
- cognitive issues or “brain fog”
- increased energy levels in the evening
- cravings for salty and sweet foods
- overuse of caffeine and other stimulants
- a compromised immune system
Some less common symptoms can also include:
- frequent urination
- loss of muscle tone
- poor circulation
- weight gain
- decreased libido
Adrenal fatigue has the potential to impact every area of daily life. This is why it is so important to be aware of our mental and physical stress levels and take active steps to support our bodies. If you think you may be experiencing adrenal fatigue, talk to your functional medicine doctor about doing cortisol testing via urine or saliva. When talking to your practitioner, be honest about your daily stress. It’s absolutely possible to have seemingly normal cortisol levels, while still being exhausted and overwhelmed to the point of a potential crash. Once you have your test results, don’t wait to take action. Diet, supplementation, sleep, stress management, and low-intensity exercise are all important ways to give your adrenal glands the support they need to support you.
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