Monday, July 27, 2009

Adrenal Fatigue

The proverbial "burning the candle at both ends" can deplete your adrenal glands. Following on from the previous post about 'Stress', differing levels of adrenal fatigue result when a stress continues or does not resolve appropriately in the body.

Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys. Some of the hormones they produce include cortisol, adrenaline and sex hormones. Hormones are powerful and affect every cell in your body. Your adrenal hormones control how your body utilises and stores fat, the creation of energy from carbohydrate and protein sources, blood sugar levels, proper cardiovascular and gastrointestinal function. They also have anti-inflammatory effects and produce our main source of ostrogen and testosterone from about 40 onwards which influences sex drive and where you put on weight. They also have an antioxidant effect which protects the body from adverse reactions to alcohol, drugs and other allergens. They are exceptionally important and they need to function properly for our general quality of life.

The symptoms below are an extension of signs and symptoms of stress. They are often long-term, overlooked symptoms. Collectively, they suggest varying degrees of adrenal fatigue :
  • Difficulty waking up in the morning or unrefreshing sleep
  • Not waking up until about 10AM, have a low around 3PM and feeling more awake after dinner
  • Craving salty foods
  • Constant low energy and lethargy
  • Increased effort to complete do day-to-day tasks
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Decreased tolerance level to stress and reactive to ‘small’ things
  • Increased time needed to recover from illness or injury
  • Light-headedness when you stand up too quickly
  • Mildly depressed and your life seems less enjoyable
  • PMS and increased symptoms of bloating, irritability, tiredness, cramps and food cravings
  • Symptoms increase if you skip a meal or your meals are inadequate or reaching out for ‘top ups’ like coffee and refined snacks to keep going
  • Thoughts are less focused and it’s harder to make decisions
  • Decreased productivity – it takes longer to complete tasks and harder to stay focused

We can recover from adrenal fatigue, naturally!

Short term - As outlined below, chiropractic care is important in helping the body deal with and recover from the effects of stress on the body. Correct, supportive supplementation is also needed. The following herbs, vitamins and minerals all help to support the adrenals make more hormones and promote normal kidney function.

  • Vitamin C – As more cortisol is produced, your levels of vitamin C decrease. Vitamin C is needed for your immune system, wound healing and to maintain the quality of your skin.
  • Vitamin E – is a fantastic and powerful antioxidant to protect the body from free radicals that damage the body’s cells. Free radicals are produced as the adrenals produce hormones.
  • Vitamin B5 – is essential in the production of energy as well as being involved in the adrenal cascade. B5, magnesium, vitamin C and E help to relieve the adrenals of their fatigue without over working them.
  • Vitamin B complex – is used throughout the adrenal cascade however it is important that the supplement contains the right ratio of B vitamins for the human body to use. High numbers in one B vitamin often depletes the other B vitamins. It should have 50-100mg of B6, 75-125mg of B3 and 200-400mcg of B12.
  • Magnesium – is central to producing energy and is needed for adrenal recovery. It also helps with relieving muscle tension which is common in stressed states.
  • Liquorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) – is a herb traditionally used to increase energy, endurance and vitality. It is more suited to those who have a higher level of adrenal depletion. It is also reported to improve wound healing, calm nervous stomachs, improve central circulation and stimulate the immune system – all things that result from stress
  • Ashwagandha root and leaf (Withania somnifera) – is a herb classed as an adaptogen. Adaptogens help to bring the body back to it’s normal state of functioning. It has been used to increase vigour and imrpove weakenss.
  • Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) and Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) – are adrenal tonics as they increase the tone and function of the adrenal glands. They are also an adaptogens and help to promote the body’s vitality, mental and physical performance as well as decreasing the negative effects of adrenal fatigue.

Further long-term lifestyle suggestion

As with any lifestyle condition, further factors that we need to address in the long term involve dietary, exercise and stress management elements.
Maintain sugar levels throughout the day –

  • Eat 3 meals with 1 – 2 snacks throughout the day with no more than a 3-hour gap between eating. Breakfast is very important as this helps to replace the glycogen stores that were used in the night before. Try to at least eat a handful of almonds or an apple.
  • Eating a good source and serve of protein helps at every meal/snack will increase your feeling of fullness and help prevent snacking (particularly on high sugar, high fat snacks). The body will crave sweet and fatty things to feel better while it craves the latter as it needs more cholesterol to produce the hormones to deal with stress.
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants as they activate your adrenals to produce more hormones, furthering the problem!
  • Avoid alcohol as alcohol spikes your sugar levels as well as using up the already depleted vitamins listed above.

You and STRESS

Stress results when one cannot respond appropriately or when there is a failure to adapt to a new situation. In human terms, stress is when we get sick or sore.

The conscious feeling of stress is only evident when you are approaching your limit. It results when your body has compensated and changed as much as it can. Feeling sick or sore is an obvious sign that your body has reached it's limit and it needs some help.

Luckily we have a way to help the body cope with stress better. By restoring proper function and releasing tension, chiropractic offers:

  • better sleep and more effective relaxation meaning better regeneration
  • an increase brain function to improve concentration
  • a boost your immune system
  • the incraesed flexibility of your spine and other joints
  • improved emotional wellbeing
  • an ability to increase your productivity
  • a better adaptive stress response

I often hear people say, "But I'm not stressed". You do not need to feel stressed to be stressed.

Many levels of modern day stresses may include working long hours, financial stress, exams, emotional/relationship stress, inadequate rest, medications, frequently sick, poor diet, running a busy household or looking after unwell family members.

Some symptoms of stress include:

  • poor sleep
  • often sick or sore
  • craving foods high in salt, fat and sugar
  • reaching for alcohol and caffeine
  • anxiety
  • muscle tension - especially in the jaws and shoulders
  • forgetful, poor attention span and harder to concentrate
  • digestive issues and weight fluctuations

Prolonged exposure to stress overworks and depletes our ability to handle it and our ability to recover. It can also become a 'habit' for the body, persisting even when the original stressful concern has passed. See blog on 'Adrenal Fatigue'.

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Yours in good health,

Mei Wong