Stress and Hormones: The Adrenal Connection

If you’ve ever felt completely exhausted, you’re not alone. According to a 2015 poll, only 1 in 7 Americans wake up feeling fresh every day.

But the fatigue we experience may be more than just feeling sleepy; it may point to a bigger issue. You may be experiencing the effects of chronic stress and hormonal dysfunction if you’re:

  • Feeling tired
  • Having trouble sleeping or waking up
  • Experiencing digestive issues
  • Losing weight unexpectedly
  • Craving salt
  • Relying on caffeine or other stimulants to get you through the day

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

These symptoms are often referred to as adrenal fatigue, a term first introduced by chiropractor and naturopath James Wilson.

Adrenal fatigue is used to explain the symptoms listed above as the result of chronic stress on the adrenal glands. When these glands are under constant stress, they become unable to produce the hormones needed to properly regulate our bodies.

The adrenal glands are located just above each kidney and are part of the endocrine system. These glands produce a number of hormones that help manage metabolism, libido, immune suppression, blood pressure, and more. When the adrenal glands don’t release enough of these hormones, the effects can be substantial.

Adrenal fatigue is not recognized as a disease by any endocrinology society (due largely to the difficulty in accurately measuring small changes in hormone production) but is well known in the natural health community. The symptoms of adrenal fatigue could also be caused by poor nutrition, lack of exercise, or stress.

The medical term for conditions in which the adrenal glands fail to release the right number of hormones is adrenal insufficiency. Although adrenal insufficiency is not the same as adrenal fatigue, many of the symptoms are the same.

My Personal Journey

About 12 years ago, I experienced many of these symptoms. When Ty and I first started waking up to the natural health world, I found myself completely exhausted and unable to stay awake during late morning hours which were typically the most productive hours of the day for me.

Suddenly I was falling into a pattern where I had to give my children quiet activities at 10:00am every day so that I could lay down and sleep for 30 minutes to an hour just to make it through the day.

Thankfully at that time, we were doing a lot of research on natural health, and we had a wonderful doctor who was utilizing everything we were learning to treat her patients gently and with loving care naturally. Dr. Ann Coleman is her name. She practices medicine in Dallas, Texas. If you can get an appointment to see her, do go. It will be well worth your time and money.

She was the one who first talked to me about adrenal fatigue and suggested I read a book about it, which I did.

That book changed my life. At that time in my life, I started taking many more good quality supplements and lots of vitamin C regularly. Another great strategy I utilized was removing stress from my life, including toxic people who were tearing me down and depleting my mind and spirit. This was eating away at my hormonal balance and adrenal glands through constant unhealthy surges of cortisol.

It was a difficult season for me. But God used that season to keep me researching and learning more about natural health so that we could bring that wealth of information to you. I did get through it, and you can, too!

Constantly Tired? It’s More Than Just Sleep!

Symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include fatigue, low blood sugar and blood pressure, suppressed appetite, depression, headaches, and abdominal/digestive issues. Among the hormones produced by the adrenal glands, cortisol is thought to be affected the most.

Cushing’s syndrome and Addison’s disease are both caused by dysfunctions that lead to over- or underproduction of cortisol. Other hormones include adrenalin, norepinephrine, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen.

Cortisol is a hormone released in response to stress or low blood sugar. While known for its role in the “fight or flight” reaction, cortisol is important for a number of other functions in your body. It manages the way your body processes food, regulates blood pressure, suppresses inflammation, controls your sleep cycle, and can also increase blood sugar.

When we face stress, cortisol and other hormones are released to help us deal with that stress. When we are in crisis, these hormones may change or stop functions that slow us down, like digestion or the immune system. But what happens when we are in a chronic state of stress?

Whether physical or mental, emotional or chemical, we all face stress on a regular basis. And with the surge in modern technology and information, those stressors just keep adding up. When we are in a chronic state of stress, our adrenal glands have to work overtime to produce the hormones we need to deal with that stress.

But the adrenal system is designed to find balance.

After the hormones have done their jobs, our bodies want and need to return to a state known as a parasympathetic state. In this state, our bodies are able to relax, our digestive system is able to use and store energy, and our immune system and other healing mechanisms are able to repair and restore the body. When these hormones become unbalanced, an entire host of problems can arise.

Fortunately, there are several ways that we can reduce stress and fatigue and protect our adrenal system naturally, without the introduction of chemical drugs.

6 Ways to Support the Adrenal System Naturally

#1 – Nutrition

First, you’ll want to make sure that you’re giving your body the right nutrition to avoid chronic stress. Consuming an anti-inflammatory diet filled with antioxidants and healthy fats is a great way to start. It’s also important to get the right vitamins and minerals from either your food or a natural supplement. Zinc and magnesium are important to combatting adrenal issues because they both assist with blood sugar sensors. Since blood sugar plays a key role in adrenal function, these minerals are super important in fighting fatigue.

#2 – Hydration

Dehydration can instigate hormone production. That’s why it’s important to stay well hydrated throughout the day. A general rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day.

#3 – Stimulants

It’s important to avoid stimulants like caffeine as much as possible. Caffeine actually stimulates the adrenal glands to produce a stress hormone. This may help you to feel alert and energized for a little while, but when your body is already fatigued, stimulants can make the problem worse. If you find yourself relying on things like coffee and sugar to get through your day, there is likely an underlying issue that’s causing your fatigue. Masking the problem will only make it worse in the long run!

#4 – Exercise

Staying active is important for health, and exercise can help kick our metabolism into gear AND supports better sleep. Remember that high-intensity exercise creates stress, so you may want to start with light stretching, deep breathing, or a leisurely walk. Getting outside is an added bonus. Sunlight is an excellent source of vitamin D and assists with cell repair and healing. If chronic stress has damaged your adrenal glands, Spending some time in the great outdoors may help the healing process.

#5 – Sleep

Good sleep and a regular schedule are imperative for combating chronic fatigue. While adrenal issues can cause problems sleeping, a lack of quality sleep can lead to stress that creates hormone imbalance. When and how long you sleep will depend on a number of factors, but the most important thing is consistency. Your body operates on an internal clock, and when your sleep schedule is constantly changing, your body can have trouble keeping hormones balanced. Find a bedtime that works for you and stick to it.

#6 – Gut Health

A healthy gut is essential for a strong immune system. Leaky gut is responsible for many infections and illnesses, all of which can lead to adrenal issues. Probiotics and fermented foods are an absolute must when it comes to protecting your gut microbiome.

Digestion and metabolism are often affected by adrenal problems and hormone imbalances, so keeping a healthy gut can help prevent adrenal issues as well as relieving their symptoms.

Remember that the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are common and can be caused by a plethora of different factors. Work with your holistic practitioner to get to the root of the issue instead of just dealing with the symptoms. Remember that exercise and nutrition are the two best ways to support your body’s natural systems.

The human body is a masterpiece, equipped to protect us from pathogens, use food effectively as fuel, and create chemicals and hormones to help us regulate the demands of everyday life. Caring for your body naturally is the best way to live a happy and healthy life!

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