Adrenal fatigue is not an official diagnosis as recognized by the standard medical authorities. However, it is true that long-term stress or even short-term serious stress or illness, can cause increased fatigue, trouble sleeping, headaches, digestive issues, and a host of other symptoms. If we measure urinary or salivary adrenal hormones during these times, (DHEA, cortisol in particular) it is common to find imbalances in them.
The adrenals are tiny glands that sit on top of the kidneys. Their job is to respond to stress in our lives by producing hormones and neurotransmitters that impact our ability to respond to situations like getting out of bed in the morning, maintain our blood sugars and blood pressures when they are low AND to react and respond in the event of a serious injury or situation.
True adrenal insufficiency is a life-threatening medical condition, but for it to reach that diagnosis, 75% of adrenal function must be compromised. From a preventative perspective, chronic stress can impact adrenal hormones and/or neurotransmitters leading to health problems.
Chronic stress is very real. We are faced with challenges at work, in our relationships, with neighbors, politics, infections, toxins in our environment, etc. And contrary to our natural impulses, we typically don’t fight or run in the face of these “dangers”. So, the impact affects our health, especially if we don’t have a way to counteract some of the effects. High blood pressure, poor dietary choices, blood sugar changes, sleep problems, anxiety, depression can ensue.
Many chronic illnesses, including cancer, resistance to infection, heart disease and autoimmune disease have stress as a trigger.
Adrenal fatigue, while not an official diagnosis, describes the situation well and its common symptoms are fatigue, weight issues, sleep problems, mood swings and other problems associated with changes in adrenal substances.
The good news is there are several ways we can support our adrenal glands.
Simple things that everyone can do include: eating regular meals with adequate protein to keep your blood sugar stable; exercise as a tool to expend stress hormones and support dopamine; meditate or pray or find ways to promote the parasympathetic nervous system (Rest and digest instead of fight or flight) and turn off your screens at night and sleep with lights and electronics off.
Nutrients that help the adrenals include vitamin C, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) and zinc. Adaptogens are herbs that help balance hormones and improve how we respond to stress. Common adaptogens are holy basil (tulsi), ashwaganda, reishi mushroom and rhodiola. These herbs are generally safe especially as teas or low dose tinctures. If you are taking a lot of medications, check with your local doctor to make sure there are no interactions.
Spend time in nature. The forest gives off substances that naturally calm our nervous systems. The ocean too. I find a walk on the beach can do wonders for my stress levels. Make time in your life for joy. Laugh, cry, chop wood. Make space to feel what you feel. Put your feet on the earth and breathe. Don’t let the stress make you sick. It’s just there. Find ways to support yourself so you can thrive.
By Dr. Jennifer Means ND, LAc