How does adrenal fatigue happen?
For many people, these stress hormones are being produced much longer and at a higher level than they were intended due to chronic stress. This long term stress takes its toll on the adrenals.
The stage one stress response helps us to deal with ongoing tasks by elevating cortisol levels in order to increase our productivity and alertness, but this can’t be maintained long term by the adrenals.
Cortisol is then elevated continuously in response to our stress and we become less able to turn it off so we have the feeling of being wired but tired. In this stage our sleep is affected, and we have mood disturbances.
At this point we can start to become cortisol resistant and less able to respond to the stimulus of cortisol at all.
We then find ourselves with adrenal fatigue, due to cortisol depletion. Cortisol’s main function is to raise blood sugar levels, increase blood pressure and reduce inflammation, and with adrenal insuffiency, we see issues with blood sugar, blood pressure, and inflammation.
Natural cortisol levels
Normal cortisol levels are higher in the morning and gradually decline in the evening so that we can sleep. After a period of chronic stress, an imbalance of cortisol can occur which can result in low levels in the morning and high levels at night time.
We can determine levels of cortisol throughout the day by salivary testing alongside DHEA-s, which is a hormone that aids in the production of cortisol.
Signs of Adrenal fatigue
- Extreme fatigue
- Insulin resistance and/or diabetes
- Increased body fat/ weight gain
- Aches and pains
- Mood alterations such as depression
- Insomnia and sleep problems
- Delayed wound healing
- Bone loss
- Sleep disturbances/ dark circles under the eyes
- Poor thyroid function
- Poor memory
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Blood pressure abnormalities
- Chronic inflammation
- Digestive problems
Treatment to balance cortisol levels and help reduce these symptoms can be helpful with the use of herbs called adaptogens that help the body naturally balance levels of cortisol.
Diet should be looked at, as well as lifestyle changes, and nutritional supplementation. Stress management is a very important component of the treatment plan so that we don’t put further ongoing stress on the adrenal glands.
Make dietary changes
Switch to an anti-inflammatory diet, and eliminate foods that you are sensitive to and/ or are causing inflammation.
Reducing the foods which increase cortisol- coffee, sugar, alcohol and too many processed foods and carbs, and reducing inflammatory foods – sugar, fried foods, trans fats and oils, refined carbs and processed foods, alcohol, processed meats all cause inflammation.
Instead, increase antioxidants (coloured fruit and veg), and eat un-processed foods. Protein also reduces cortisol and can help keep up feeling calm. Eat fermented foods to restore a healthy gut bacteria. A low glycaemic, anti-inflammatory diet is best.
Use herbal medicines
Withania, echinacea, rehmannia, turmeric, rhodiola, Siberian ginseng, licorice are all herbal medicines that may work towards healing the adrenals depending on the symptoms the patient is presenting with. Be sure to include some adaptogens which also help to increase resistance and cope with stressors.
Check your nutritionals
Ensure adequate levels of all nutrients for energy and adrenal function. Minerals in particular, are excreted during times of stress. Get on a good quality therapeutic multivitamin. Magnesium, Bs, iron, vitamin C.
Ensure adequate rest
Make sure you tick all boxes by ensuring at least 8 hours sleep every night. The hours should commence prior to midnight, and be a regular consistent routine. Night waking can be due to stress (adrenaline) or relating to blood sugar changes.
Exercise reduces cortisol, so it’s extremely important in terms of treatment and resetting the adrenals.
There’s little point in healing the adrenal response if we are just going to continue facing the same chronic stress. We must incorporate some good stress management strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, music, free time, fun in order to counter the stress in life. An important step is determining the main source of stress.
We can be more effective in our treatment if we know exactly what’s going on. We can test cortisol levels throughout the day, and also undertake other relevant testing such as inflammation levels, blood sugar, blood pressure.
Yvette is a qualified Naturopath and Nutritionist, MINDD Practitioner, member of the Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia.
Yvette specialises in the treatment of gut health and digestive complaints, skin issues, mood disorders, hormonal concerns, fatigue, and more.
Yvette sees patients Australia-wide.
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