Exhaustion and burnout: What you should know about adrenal fatigue!
Your adrenal glands are small, triangular-shaped glands that sit like a cap on both kidneys.
And although each of them is no larger than a walnut, they control some of the body's most important functions - making it necessary to understand adrenal health.
Your kidneys produce hormones that play important roles in regulating metabolism, immune health, blood pressure, stress responses, and more.
The inside of the adrenal glands
The adrenal glands consist of two main parts that perform separate and distinct functions:
The adrenal cortex
This is the outer region and largest part of the adrenal gland. The cortex is divided into 3 separate zones, and each is responsible for producing its own hormones. The main hormones produced by the adrenal cortex include:
Cortisol: This hormone helps regulate metabolism, inflammatory response, blood pressure, blood sugar, and bone formation. Cortisol also controls your sleep-wake cycle. The release of this hormone serves to give your body a boost of energy and protect it when needed.
Aldosterone: This cortical hormone plays a key role in regulating blood pressure and electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.
DHEA and androgenic steroids: These "precursor" hormones transform into female hormones (estrogens) in women and male hormones (androgens) in men. However, they are only a preliminary stage. Both androgens and estrogens are produced primarily by the testes and ovaries.
The adrenal medulla
This inner part of the adrenal gland produces “stress hormones,” including:
Adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). The adrenal medulla controls hormones that trigger the “flight or fight” response. They affect the heart rate and the force of heart contractions. They affect blood flow to the brain and muscles, help relax the muscles of the respiratory tract, and regulate blood sugar metabolism. They also help maintain healthy blood pressure by increasing it in response to stress.
Like other adrenal hormones, adrenaline and norepinephrine are activated in stressful situations, i.e. times when your body needs extra help and energy to withstand unusual stress.
As with most glands, problems with the adrenal glands are caused by producing either too much or too little hormones, disrupting hormonal balance.
One possibility is excessive production of cortisol, which can affect weight, facial hair, energy levels, skin, blood sugar, and other body systems.
Decreased levels of adrenal hormones can affect appetite, weight, energy, and other body functions.
Finally, there is adrenal fatigue, or burnout due to excessive stress.
James Wilson reports in his book "Adrenal Fatigue: The Stress Syndrome of the 21st Century" that up to 80% of adults experience adrenal fatigue at some point in their lives. However, he notes, it often goes unrecognized.
As you've seen, a primary job of the kidneys is to prepare the body for the "fight or flight" stress response. This involves the release of more adrenaline and other hormones.
During this time, your heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion also change as your body prepares for a potential challenge.
This is a healthy response when responding to a crisis. However, we are constantly bombarded with stressors, which keeps your body in "fight or flight" mode for extended periods of time.
As a result, your adrenal glands become overworked and can no longer function optimally. Some common factors that contribute to excessive adrenal stress include:
- Relationship or family problems
- Conflicts at work or overwork
- lack of sleep
- Mood swings
- Unbalanced inflammatory response
- Exposure to environmental toxins
- Nutritional problems
Many people wonder whether they might be suffering from adrenal burnout. Here are some of the signs and symptoms:
- Loss of energy
- Physical pain
- Digestive problems
- Hair loss
- Weight problems
- Feelings of dizziness
A saliva test that measures the concentration of certain adrenal hormones throughout the day is helpful diagnostically. If necessary, ask your doctor about it.
Diet and lifestyle approach to adrenal health
Health experts have developed a diet and lifestyle approach to adrenal burnout that aims to reduce stress on the adrenal glands so they can function more optimally.
Here are some tips to support adrenal health:
- Avoid foods and drinks high in refined sugar and unhealthy fats. You should also avoid white flour, alcohol, caffeine, sodas, fried and processed foods, fast food and artificial sweeteners.
- Doctors recommend a balance of protein, healthy fats and high-quality, nutrient-dense carbohydrates. Eat lean meats, nuts and legumes, eggs, green leafy vegetables, and healthy fats like olive oil.
- Don't skip meals. Eat meals and snacks at regular intervals to maintain healthy blood sugar and cortisol levels.
- It's also important to stay hydrated. Dehydration affects stress levels and the production of cortisol.
- Support your adrenal glands with plenty of B vitamins (Vitamin B is commonly referred to as the "stress vitamin." A human study published in Alternative Medicine Review found that taking vitamin B5 helped reduce the secretion of cortisol Some practitioners also recommend using adaptogenic herbs that support adrenal health, such as ashwagandha, to help the body adapt to environmental factors and stress.
Note: This article is not intended as medical advice. For more detailed information, contact your doctor.