When thinking about the state of your health, when was the last time you thought about the health of your adrenals? As a practicing physician, when I think about health, I think about cardiovascular health, immune health, digestive health, blood sugar management, joints – the list goes on and on. And you’ll see huge sections in health food stores dedicated to these specific categories. However, adrenal health is largely overlooked. And I cannot remember the last time I saw a meaningful area in a health food store dedicated to adrenal health.
Your adrenal glands are the two walnut-sized endocrine glands on top of each kidney. They may not seem significant, but they play an incredibly important role in your health. They secrete nearly 50 hormones, including ones you have heard of before – adrenalin, cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone. These hormones help to regulate the body’s response to stress, among other things. The challenge with the adrenals is that so many people are over extended by work and family, which means these people are under stress virtually all the time. Thus, our adrenals rarely get a break. Over time, the exposure to chronic stress, which is more often the norm rather than the exception, wears the adrenals out, leading to adrenal fatigue. This leads to a collection of symptoms that result when your adrenals are no longer functioning the way they should.
Although there are no recent statistics available, according to AdrenalFatigue.org, John Tinterra, an MD who specialized in low adrenal function, said in 1969 that he estimated approximately 16% of the public could be classified as having severe adrenal fatigue. However, if all indications of low cortisol were included, the percentage would be closer to 66%. And this was before the extreme stress of living in the 21st century, ISIS, and the ever changing economic conditions.
Note: In this article, I am not discussing extreme adrenal fatigue that sends a patient to an Urgent Care center or the E.R. Rather, I focus on mild adrenal fatigue that has become so common in our hectic world that it is virtually the “new norm” in terms of how the average adrenal gland is functioning.
Cortisol: A Complex Hormone
As previously mentioned, normal functioning adrenal glands produce a wide range of hormones. But cortisol is especially noteworthy. The adrenal glands of a healthy person produce about 20 milligrams of cortisol daily. This may increase to 200 milligrams daily during periods of stress. This increase is the body’s coping response when under stress. Cortisol is a complex hormone responsible for:
- Maintaining normal blood sugar levels
- Immobilizing fat and protein stores for increased energy
- Producing an anti-inflammatory response
- Controlling and modifying most blood cells that participate in immune and/or inflammatory reactions
- Impacting blood pressure
- Impacting electrolyte levels in the heart muscle
- Impacting the heart beat
- Influencing mood
During early stages of adrenal fatigue, cortisol levels are usually high which promotes weight gain and an increase in cholesterol and blood pressure. Additionally, adrenal stress will alter brain chemistry causing depression and anxiety, insulin resistance, disruption of thyroid metabolism, as well as negatively impact bone density, among other conditions.
Signs of Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal health cannot be understated and plays an incredibly important role in overall health and quality of life. According to robbwolf.com, the following symptoms are indicators of an altered adrenal profile:
- Inability to recover appropriately from exercise (you should feel tired post-workout for 20-30 minutes maximum).
- Headaches associated with physical or mental stress
- Compromised immune function
- Slow in the morning
- Afternoon headaches
- Full or bloated feeling
- Craving sweets, caffeine or cigarettes
- Blurred vision
- Unstable behavior
- Becoming shaky or light-headed if meals are missed or delayed
- Disrupted sleeping patterns
- Periodic mild dizziness
- Varicose veins
As previously mentioned, Cortisol helps keep blood sugar at a healthy level. When the adrenals are fatigued, not enough cortisol is produced, and blood sugar levels can become low. Because of this, those suffering from adrenal fatigue may have to be particularly careful with their dietary choices in order to control their blood sugar. Eating small, frequent meals and consuming protein and fat with all meals is very important. Furthermore, people struggling with adrenal fatigue should avoid consuming all forms of sugar in an effort to control blood sugar, not an easy undertaking in this day and age of processed foods.
Many of the vitamins and minerals found in whole grains, healthy meats, fruits and vegetables are beneficial to the adrenal glands. Moreover, the following supplements, among others, are essential for promoting healthy adrenal function:
- B Vitamins: All B vitamins are critical for the entire adrenal cascade. Lower the amount as adrenal health improves. Eventually, consume a combination of supplements and foods to get your B complex.
- Vitamin C: This potent antioxidant not only offers cellular protection and immune support, but it promotes adrenal support as well. The adrenals store the highest concentration of Vitamin C in the body. The more cortisol that is produced by the body equates to a need for increased Vitamin C. And the more stress you have, the more Vitamin C you need. Vitamin C is water soluble and gets used up quickly by the body. Dietary Vitamin C is vital. However, most people do not consume enough. To bridge this gap, it is critical to supplement, especially if you live a stressful life.
- DMAE: Can boost energy levels, which can be beneficial for those suffering from adrenal burnout.
- Fish Oil: Supports the fight against inflammation associated with adrenal fatigue and also significantly impacts blood sugar.
- Pantothenic Acid: An essential B vitamin needed to release energy from carbohydrates, protein, and fat in food. Pantothenic Acid provides vitamin B5 which is a key nutrient utilized by your adrenal glands
Additionally, traditional healing systems, both Eastern and Western, advise the use of adaptogenic herbs that help the body to relax and rebuild. These herbs help the body to adapt to stress and are often referred to as adaptogens. Examples of adaptogens include, but are not limited to:
- Eleuthero root
- Gingko Biloba
- Glycyrrhiza Glabra Root
Today’s world is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations, and demands on a wide range of fronts. And these challenges seem to increase as life becomes more complex. For so many of us, stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. However, it is important to remember that stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure, stay alert late at night, and motivate you. But when stress is a constant state, your mind and body pay a huge price. If you are continuously seeking natural solutions for stress, it’s time to take more concerted and informed action! Help protect yourself against adrenal fatigue by understanding how to recognize specific signs of stress as it relates to adrenal health. Then adjust your diet and supplement regimen accordingly!
- Life Extension, Reducing the Risks of High Cortisol, September 2011
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