You’ve heard that excessive stress can
take a toll on your body. But have you
heard the specifics of the effects it can have when it goes unchecked? Everything from trouble sleeping and
migraines to a general feeling of being unwell and difficult menstruation for
women can be part of a bigger problem caused by stress – adrenal fatigue.
When faced with a stressful situation,
your body has an immediate response that causes your adrenal glands to release
cortisol (a.k.a., the “stress hormone”).
Normally, your body has a regular cortisol rhythm. It should be highest
in the morning when you wake up, and gradually decline over the course of the
day so it’s at its low point when you’re preparing for sleep. When you’re under
physical or emotional stress, the body releases extra cortisol to help increase
blood sugar, which gives you a boost for getting through the stressful period.
The problem occurs when stress is chronic and overtaxes your adrenal glands
with chronic cortisol release. Ultimately, the glands become dysfunctional.
Once the adrenal glands can no longer
produce enough cortisol to keep up with your chronic stress, they fall off
their natural cycles, which will make you more likely to feel tired all the
time. And even though you’ve been sluggish all day, you may have trouble
falling asleep because extra cortisol is produced later in the day and it keeps
you awake. Improper or inadequate sleep
is the perfect start to another sluggish, stressful day, and the cycle
With a simple saliva test that shows
your cortisol levels, you can find out if adrenal fatigue is a health problem
you should be addressing. The same steps can be taken to both prevent adrenal
fatigue and give your body a chance to recover from it.
Slow down and cut stress. The first step in
giving your adrenal glands a chance to recover is to reduce stress in your
daily life. Easier said than done? It doesn’t take much. Only a few minutes of
meditation a day can dramatically improve your mental and physical responses to
stressful situations and normalize your cortisol levels. I recommend about 15
minutes a day. Adding in exercise 3-4 times a week can also cut stress. Plus,
learning to say “no” to taxing situations or asking for help at home and work
will lighten your stress load.
medicine. From an Eastern medicine perspective, the adrenal glands are strongly
linked to the kidneys. The word “adrenal” means “above the kidney” (the prefix
“ad” means “above”, and “renal” refers to “kidney”.) The Eastern medicine
diagnosis would be that there is a deficiency in the kidney’s qi, yin, and/or
yang. In addition to the saliva test, Eastern medicine practitioners use
indicators from the pulse, tongue color and texture, and ears to determine if
Kidney deficiency and other stressors are present.
By using acupuncture to harmonize the kidney’s function with an
improvement in oxygen and blood flow, the adrenal glands will in turn
experience positive effects. Herbal and whole food supplements can also be used
to balance and strengthen their function.
Working with a holistic practitioner can help with recognizing any
hidden stressors that could be keeping you in a constant state of elevated
stress, like unresolved injuries or health conditions, food allergies or
intolerances, leaky gut, environmental triggers, or bacterial or parasitic
Eat for your health. When you cut out sugars and processed foods,
everything changes. Your entire body, including your adrenal glands, can
operate at a higher level because they aren’t constantly living with low-level
inflammation that’s caused by your body’s immune response to unhealthy food
invaders. Eating fruits and vegetables in abundance, along with meats and
seafood that provide your body with the healthy cholesterol and fats needed to
produce an optimal level of cortisol will support your adrenal health. Also, eliminating caffeine is a good idea
because it stimulates the body to release cortisol, which further taxes the
Sleep more. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule
will help keep your circadian and cortisol rhythms in check. Going to bed at 10:00pm and waking at 6:00am
every day (even on the weekends) is ideal.
Trying to get as much sleep before midnight is crucial because one hour
of sleep before midnight is like two hours of rest for your adrenals. This is due to the changes in our stages of
sleep over the course of the night. The
earlier part of the night (11:00pm–3:00am) is when we go through deep non-REM
sleep cycles. The second half of the
night (3:00am-7:00am), we switch over to cycles that are comprised of more REM
sleep. Our bodies repair and rejuvenate
during the deep non-REM sleep stages, so if we aren’t getting as much rest
during that time, we can’t rejuvenate and heal. Another important way to get better sleep
is to eliminate caffeine and sugary “energy” drinks. At first it may be hard,
but after only a few days you’ll find that your sleep will be more restful and
effective, which will give you the energy you need to get through the day
without needing a caffeine or sugar boost.
Are you living with adrenal fatigue?
diagnosis, it’s impossible to tell if you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue. But
if you have any of the following symptoms, it’s worth looking into.
Also, if you’ve been diagnosed with a
thyroid imbalance, blood sugar regulation issue, or suffer from insomnia,
adrenal fatigue may be a contributing factor.
Finding out for sure if it’s affecting you is relatively easy.
With the few simple changes
outlined above, you can get on track to improving your adrenal health and