Feeling frequently stressed-out or generally lacking in the energy department? You may be suffering from what is frequently referred to as ‘Adrenal Fatigue’ – an all too common issue, due to the increasingly fast-paced lifestyles many of us lead.
Most of us accept that everyday stress is just a part of modern living. Job pressures, family arguments, financial pressures, study, and just ‘never having enough time’ are just a few of the stressors that most of us face daily. Fortunately, control mechanisms known as the ‘stress response’ in the body are geared towards counteracting the everyday stressors of life. The adrenal glands are a crucial part of the body’s stress response.
First up, you may be wondering what adrenal glands actually are or do! Fair question! The adrenal glands are small glands that produce hormones and they sit over the kidneys, where they play a significant role in the body’s functions. They secrete more than 50 hormones necessary for life, including epinephrine (adrenaline), cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), progesterone and testosterone. Notably, they’re responsible for regulating the stress response in the body, through the synthesis of cortisol and adrenaline.
When we are busy, stressed and anxious, our bodies pump out cortisol and adrenaline on a continual basis. You know that feeling when you’re suddenly frightened? Then you know what it feels like to have adrenaline surge through your body. Adrenaline is released from your adrenal glands when our body is under stress (real or perceived). Adrenaline’s original purpose was to give the body that extra energy boost required to escape from real danger (ie. an approaching tiger), but nowadays, the danger is usually less imminent, and more of a chronic state of stress. While adrenaline can most certainly help us to act faster and smarter in times of danger or real need, additional or excessive adrenaline regularly running around the body can also make us feel relentlessly stressed-out, anxious, and nervous. When we’re under such ongoing stress, our adrenal glands pump out loads of adrenalin and get fatigued, ironically – eventually actually sapping us of energy. It can be a vicious cycle. We simply aren’t meant to function under such ongoing pressure (adrenaline is designed to be helpful…butin short bursts). Contributing to the resulting adrenal fatigue can be a diet of sugary, processed foods and caffeine, all of which wear down the adrenal glands further.
Some common signs of adrenal fatigue include;
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Muscle twitches
- Low blood sugar
- Heart palpitations
- Sensitivity to light
- A craving for salt
- Low stamina for stress, and easily irritated
- Light-headedness on standing up
- Tired but wired feeling, poor sleep, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
- Cravings for sweets and carbohydrates
- Intolerance to alcohol
- Excessive sweating or perspiration from little activity
- Dry, unhealthy skin with excess pigmentation
- Lack of libido
- Poor concentration and fuzzy thinking
Some dietary and lifestyle changes to support your adrenal glands include:
- Ensure you get adequate sleep. 7-8 hours a night is ideal. Getting to bed by 10pm is ideal, as the hours between 10pm – 12pm are when our bodies do most of their healing.
- Eliminate or restrict the intake of caffeine – caffeine further stimulates the adrenal glands
- Avoid processed foods and all foods that create some stress on the system, such as artificial sweeteners, soft drinks, chocolate…(sorry!), fried foods, sugar and white flour.
- Avoid or restrict alcohol intake – alcohol produces a chemical stress on the body and also further increases adrenal hormone output, interferes with normal brain chemistry and disrupts normal sleep cycles.
- Schedule “me time” as part of your daily routine to de-stress, and make it a priority.
- Eliminate refined sugar and processed carbohydrates from your diet. Processed carbohydrates and sugar put a lot of stress on the adrenal glands. It’s important to try and cut (or at least, reduce consumption of) these items out of your diet to strengthen your adrenals. Adrenal glands help to regulate blood sugar levels.
- Kick any caffeine habits. Swap your caffeine fix for peppermint tea or dandelion and chicory root tea.
- Incorporate a natural, whole foods-based diet. Eat grass-fed animal protein, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.
- Incorporate stress-management techniques. Try techniques such as deep breathing, yoga and meditation to effectively manage your stress and take the burden off your adrenals.
Some natural supplements to support your adrenal glands include:
- Vitamin C – helps to make adrenal hormones.
- Magnesium – helps the body manage stress and associated symptoms.
- Essential fatty acids – provides healthy fats to ensure the correct functioning of the adrenal gland
- Vitamin B complex – B complex vitamins are anti-stress nutrients.
Nourishing our adrenal glands can go a long way towards our bodies appropriately managing everyday stressors in life. If you suspect that you may be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue, speak to a health professional to seek out the best treatment for you.If stress-related symptoms become chronic or you feel that you are having trouble coping with stress, please see your GP, call NZ’s mental health line on 1737 or call Lifeline on 0800 543 354.