Adrenal Fatigue? What is it and how does it affect me and what the heck does Cortisol have to do with it?
Cortisol is one of the hormones made by the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are small glands located near the top of the kidneys. The Adrenal glands secrete aldosterone, cortisol, corticosterone and the androgens (sex hormones). When we are low on cortisol, we feel tired for reasons we don’t understand because this hormone mobilizes our energy levels and prepares the body for physical and emotional stress.
Cortisol is a life sustaining adrenal hormone essential to the maintenance of homeostasis. Called “the stress hormone,” cortisol influences, regulates or modulates many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stress including, but not limited to:
· Blood sugar (glucose) levels
· Fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism to maintain blood glucose (gluconeogenesis)
· Immune responses
· Anti-inflammatory actions
· Blood pressure
· Heart and blood vessel tone and contraction
· Central nervous system activation
Cortisol levels normally fluctuate throughout the day and night in a circadian rhythm that peaks at about 8 AM and reaches its lowest around 4 AM. While it is vital to health for the adrenals to secret more cortisol in response to stress, it is also very important that bodily functions and cortisol levels return to normal following a stressful event. Unfortunately, in our current high-stress culture, the stress response is activated so often that the body does not always have a chance to return to normal. This can lead to health problems resulting from too much circulating cortisol and/or from too little cortisol if the adrenal glands become chronically fatigued (adrenal fatigue).
Higher and more prolonged levels of circulating cortisol (like those associated with chronic stress) have been shown to have negative effects, such as:
· Impaired cognitive performance
· Dampened thyroid function
· Blood sugar imbalances, such as hyperglycemia
· Decreased bone density
· Sleep disruption
· Decreased muscle mass
· Elevated blood pressure
· Lowered immune function
· Slow wound healing
· Increased abdominal fat, which has a stronger correlation to certain health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), which can lead to other health problems.
Chronically lower levels of circulating cortisol (as in adrenal fatigue) have been associated with negative effects, such as:
· Brain fog, cloudy-headedness and mild depression
Low thyroid function
· Blood sugar imbalances, such as hypoglycemia
· Fatigue – especially morning and mid-afternoon fatigue
· Sleep disruption
· Low blood pressure
· Lowered immune function
During adrenal fatigue your adrenal glands function, but not well enough to maintain optimal homeostasis because their output of regulatory hormones has been diminished - usually by over-stimulation. Over-stimulation of your adrenals can be caused either by a very intense single stress, or by chronic or repeated stresses that have a cumulative effect. It doesn’t happen overnight. These glands fall behind producing cortisol or produce too much when we feel all this over-stimulation eventually leading to Adrenal Fatigue.
You have trouble getting up in the morning, even when you go to bed at a reasonable hour. You are feeling rundown or overwhelmed and a fog like state. You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness. You crave salty and sweet snacks. You feel more awake, alert and energetic after 6 p.m. than you do all day and these are all signs of Adrenal Fatigue. These and other symptoms are signs of a late stage condition of Adrenal Fatigue.
When the Adrenals are functioning as they should, they are supposed to give you a burst of energy in a.m. Then midafternoon we should get another burst. This is part of the Adrenal glands job, keeping us going through the day. But when the adrenals are fatigued, this doesn’t happen.
So let’s see if we can get this under control. Start by watching the clock. If you are someone with low levels of cortisol then you will have fluctuations in blood sugar which causes this fatigue at the wrong times of day. Then later in the day this in turn causes us to “crash”.
Start with adjusting your diet. You need slow and steady carbs throughout the day. Cut back on caffeine and if you must, only a small amount of caffeine in the morning. Also in the morning start with proteins. Then 1-2 p.m. begin the carbs and protein and carbs throughout the day. Around 4-5 p.m. along with the carbs go for a source of whey protein because it has a balancing effect on Cortisol. Between 6-7 p.m. take in a small amount of starchy carbs. This works because it boosts the hormones improving your mood and improving sleep.
Along with each meal, have a source of Vitamin C. It’s in several food sources and some of these sources are oranges, kale, papaya, brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, red and green bell peppers and more. And research. There may be foods you like that I have not listed that contain vitamin C.
When exercising, do low intensity exercises such as yoga and walking. High impact is reaching in and grabbing your hormone reserve draining you more and until you get your adrenals producing the needed amount of cortisol you want to reserve those hormones.
One last thought: It has been found that lightly salting your water is a huge assistance in balancing your adrenals. How much? According to Dr. James L. Wilson in his book, "The 21st Century Stress Syndrome", 1/4 teaspoon is enough for an 8 oz. glass of water. To learn more, his book can be purchased on Amazon. In addition, drinking up to 1/2 in ounces of your body weight is best. For example, I weight 130 pounds so I try to drink up to 65 ounces a day. That is not always easy to accomplish so do the very best you can.
You can start changing your hormones by your next meal with the right plan. Make a change in your diet to make a change in how you feel. It can take 30 to 60 days to get your adrenals back on track but during this time you will start feeling better, more like you!
1. "Adrenal Fatigue: What Causes It? - Mayo Clinic." N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.
2. Residual Effects of depression, all of your help would be ... (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2016, from http://www.depressionforums.org/forums/topic/126521-residual-effects-of-depression-all-of-your-help-would-be-appreciated/
3. Adrenal Insufficiency and Addison's Disease. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2015, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/endocrine/adrenal-insufficiency-addisons-disease/Pages/fact-sheet.aspx