Overwhelmed? Tired? Craving sugar? Can’t sleep? All of these can be related to the constant stress we feel in our lives. We know that stress can have a huge impact on our health and wellness. And, since your adrenal glands produce stress hormones, adrenal fatigue (or “HPA Axis Dysregulation,”) is a popular theme lately. Your adrenal glands look like walnuts that live on top of both of your kidneys. These important glands produce many hormones, including “stress” hormones. But what happens when they become “overworked?” You’ve heard of “adrenaline junkies,” right? Adrenaline and cortisol are the stress hormones that give you the commonly known adrenaline rush; when you're totally alert and living in the moment. This feeling is known as your body's "fight or flight" response. Some people (perhaps you?) just love that intense feeling. The release of hormones in the fight or flight response is your body's normal reaction to stress. Stress can sometimes be positive, like when it helps you swerve your car and prevent a crash. After a short time, the fight or flight response dissipates, your body goes back to normal, and all is good. But what would happen if you felt constant stress? Like all day, every day? Like “chronic” stress? It wouldn't feel like an awesome (once-in-a-while) "rush," anymore would it? And what do you think happens to your poor adrenal glands when they’re constantly working? They get “fatigued”!
Do I have adrenal fatigue? When your adrenal glands start “getting tired” of secreting stress hormones day in and out, you can start getting other symptoms. In reality, what happens is that your adrenal glands sensitivity to stress gets impaired when you are under chronic stress and cortisol production is increased for a long period of time, similarly to insulin resistance when blood sugar is chronically elevated. Symptoms like fatigue, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, weight loss or gain, joint pain, sugar cravings, even frequent infections like colds and the flu are signs that your adrenals have been taxed. Now, I have to tell you that there are no medically accepted blood tests for adrenal fatigue. In fact, adrenal fatigue is not recognized as a disease by most medical professionals until the point when your adrenals are so fatigued they almost stop working. At that point, the official diagnosis of "Adrenal Insufficiency" or "Addison's Disease" may apply. However, if you do have the symptoms mentioned above, you should see your doctor to rule out other conditions. He or she may even be open to discussing adrenal fatigue, or at the very least, wellness strategies that can help to reduce your stress and recover your adrenal glands’ health.
What to do if I have these symptoms? There are many actions you can take to reduce your stress and improve your health and energy levels. Ideally, if you think stress is starting to burn you out, stress reduction is key. There are tons of ideas how you can reduce your stress. My recommendations are to try meditation, walking in nature, light exercise, and relaxation like reading a book or taking a bath. You must also prioritize sleep: a single night of less than 6 hours of sleep increase cortisol production for the next day. Of course, I also recommend reducing sugar and processed food intake and eating more fruits and vegetables. Better nutrition can only help your body by providing the nutrients it needs to function optimally as well as the calories necessary to produce the energy required by your body’s cells.
Conclusion Your adrenal glands produce hormones in response to stress. After long-term daily stress, they get overworked and stopped responding normally to stressors, which is referred as adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is a controversial disease that doesn’t have a standard diagnostic test, nor specific symptoms. The most important thing you can do is to get tested to rule out other potential conditions.
You should also prioritize stress reduction techniques like meditation, walks in nature, light exercise, or even a lovely bath, as well as allowing more time to sleep. Eating a balanced diet with nutritious foods is essential for adrenal fatigue recovery. These nutrition and lifestyle strategies are among many others that I coach people to implement through the Reset Program to rejuvenate the adrenal glands and balance hormones in general.