Surely if there’s an underlying cause of our widespread weariness, we should know about it? Dr Peter Dobie integrative GP and adrenal fatigue specialist, explains:
“The reason doctors don’t flag it is because they’re taught in medical school that the adrenal glands are either working perfectly well or not working at all, which is a condition called Addison’s disease. However, an increasing number of doctors, myself included, believe there’s a grey area or intermediate zone of adrenal function where the adrenals are working, but not as well as they should be.“
The adrenal glands produce around 50 different hormones, which influence everything from how we handle stress, to upsetting metabolism, and areas such as the inflammatory response, blood glucose levels, blood pressure and our fluid and electrolyte balance.
The more you can restore your adrenals to optimal function, the more you get your life back. You will then have the energy to fulfil your passion and purpose, and you become the healthy, empowered person you are meant to be.
The adrenal glands have fundamental functions in the body. If they become exhausted, this can initiate a domino effect where many other systems start to be impacted. Healthy adrenal function is essential to your immune system function, rour reproductive function and even your neurological systems, just to name a few.
Dr Sherrill Sellman naturopath and women’s natural health expert, is author of ‘Hormone Heresy: What Women Must Know About Their Hormones’, and ‘What Women MUST Know To Protect Their Daughters From Breast Cancer’ explains
“For instance, if the adrenals are overworked, they can impact hormones leading to high oestrogen, insulin and cortisol levels while lowering thyroid, progesterone and testosterone levels. These changes can, in turn, trigger hypoglycaemia, PMS and other hormonal imbalances, a compromised immune system, chronic inflammation, insomnia, anxiety, memory loss and increased belly fat.”
Clearly, keeping these influential glands in good nick is vital to overall health. And if you’re a woman over 40, balanced, properly functioning adrenals are crucial if you want to set yourself up for a smooth transition through menopause and beyond. “Heading into menopause, the adrenal glands start to take over the production of oestrogen as the ovaries’ production declines, but if your adrenals are exhausted, they won’t be up to the job of managing the oestrogen response, which can aggravate menopausal symptoms,”
Tha Ageing Factor
One more reason to care about your adrenal glands: they play a role in how well you age. “As people get older, levels of most hormones in the body drop, which contributes to the ageing process,” explains Dr Dobie.”If your cortisol levels are dropping more than normal as a result of poor adrenal function, it can lead to accelerated ageing.” Something none of us want!
The Cortisol Connection
While the adrenals secrete a range of hormones, the predominant stress hormone they produce-and the chief culprit behind adrenal fatigue-is cortisol. Dubbed the “stress hormone”, we need small bursts of cortisol to help us ride out stressful events, but on the flipside it’s important that cortisol levels subside after your stressor (whether it’s a sabre-toothed tiger or simply your demanding boss) has subsided. “Cortisol is all about balance-if it’s too high or too low, it deregulates other systems, so it has to be just right,” notes Sellman.
Problem is, for many of us, our nonstop, pressured lives mean we’re on a permanent cortisol jag. And over time, this can paradoxically lead to not enough of the stuff to meet our body’s needs. Enter the three stages of the stress response, a process deeply enmeshed with adrenal fatigue.
“The first stage is the Alarm response, also known as ‘fight and flight’, where cortisol elevates and we are predominantly pumping out adrenalin. That happens because we are geared for survival,”
explains Shannon McNeill, head naturopath at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in Queensland.
Back in hunter-gatherer days, we rested and restored so the body could ‘reset’ from this stage, but these days we just keep pushing ourselves. Keep forging ahead without taking time out to recharge and you’ll eventually hit what their Retreat call ‘stage 3 of the stress response’: Exhaustion, the equivalent of full -blown adrenal fatigue.
“That’s where cortisol can actually be very low or bottom out.” says McNeill. You’ll know you’ve reached stage 3 if you’re sapped from the moment you get out of bed. “At this stage you’re depleted and exhausted, you might be craving sugar or salt, you rood can be affected, your immune system may start to crash with frequent colds and flus, and you may experience increased sensitivity to the foods you’re eating and various allergies.”
It’s chronic, persistent stress that’s at the heart of adrenal fatigue.
“Our culture simply doesn’t know how to look after our adrenals: we don’t know how to rest, we don’t get enough sleep, we don’t eat properly and we’re dealing with systemic inflammation, which calls on the adrenals to work harder and harder until they run out of steam,” says Sellman. “Particularly as women we’re not taught about how we need to find a balance or about the importance of taking time off and saying no when we need to.”
But it’s not just the typical ‘too much to do, too little time’ type of stress that saps the adrenals.
Stressors on the body can be mental, physical or emotional, encompassing everything from eating food that doesn’t agree with you, to heavy metals and environmental pollutants,; from underlying infections or bad bacteria in the gut and undiagnosed allergies to chronic pain; or to dealing with excess emotional issues like grief, depression or unhappy relationships. The body can interpret all of these things as stress.
A Chinese Approach
Chinese medicine practitioners have a slightly different take on adrenal fatigue and look more at what can trigger it. Viewed as an imbalance in a person’s ‘kidney energy’, it’s thought adrenal fatigue arises when kidney ‘yang’ (that is, warm and dynamic energy) is depleted. “We believe in this case that there is not enough warmth in the body, which can occur due to an ‘invasion of cold: for instance from walking around with bare feet on concrete or marble floors,” explains Victorian Chinese medicine practitioner Clare Pyers in the Prevention article.
“It can also be a result of eating or drinking foods straight out of the fridge or freezer like ice cream and chilled water, or consuming too many ‘cold natured’ foods, like raw fruit and vegetables, especially in winter when ideally all of the foods we eat should be cooked.”
The good news is, a healthy lifestyle goes a long way towards repairing and fortifying our adrenals. “You can heal and restore the proper functioning of your adrenals if you address the root cause and really look at what it takes to nourish your body,” says Sellman. And that is what we i the Savvy team help you do, with our free support services. We believe in giving back to the communities that support our wellness based approach.
Above all, adrenal fatigue is a message that you’re out of balance and that it’s time to revaluate the way you’re living.
Here is a QUIZ you can download with a list of symptoms that can point to out-of-whack adrenal glands. Like regularly servicing your car, your adrenal glands need TLC to stay healthy.
While precise symptoms vary, the above QUIZ is a handy guideline to symptoms that may merit a visit to your natural therapist or integrative doctor and contact a Savvy Team Support person for simple solutions that make a huge difference to your adrenal health.