Are you feeling exhausted, experiencing low moods and having to turn to coffee or sugar to get you through each day? You may be suffering from adrenal fatigue, otherwise known as burnout.
Adrenal fatigue is the dysfunction of the adrenal glands which ultimately results in the abnormal production of adrenal hormones. Adrenal fatigue begins with adrenal stress whereby large amounts of adrenaline are produced in response to the body experiencing stress. Cortisol is produced when there are high amounts of adrenaline. If the stress does not subside and is ongoing, the adrenal glands continue to produce cortisol. Eventually the glands become exhausted from continually producing cortisol and fail to function properly.
Adrenal Fatigue and Depression/Anxiety
The resulting high levels of cortisol in the body from ongoing stress can also affect the production of certain neurotransmitters, including serotonin. This can lead to depression. People with depression tend to have not only reduced measures of serotonin in the brain but also elevated levels of cortisol in their blood stream. In people who are not depressed, the level of cortisol In the bloodstream peaks in the morning and then decreases as the day progresses. However, in roughly half of people who live with depression, cortisol peaks earlier in the morning and does not level off or decrease in the afternoon or evening which is why insomnia is often associated with depression. The high amounts of adrenaline that is produced in response to the stress can lead to anxiety.
Adrenal Fatigue and Thyroid Function
Adrenal fatigue can cause already low thyroid function to worsen. As symptoms of adrenal fatigue are similar to those of low thyroid function, adrenal gland issues can be overlooked. Adrenal stress directly impacts the work of thyroid hormones by suppressing thyroid receptor site sensitivity in cells. Adrenal stress also causes an increase in cortisol in the body which decreases the body’s ability to clear excess oestrogen from the liver. This in turn increases the levels of total blood glucose and bound thyroid hormones. Adrenal fatigue also reduces the conversion of T4 to T3.
Since T3 and T4 are responsible for cellular metabolism, our body doesn’t metabolize our food properly, nor does it get the boost in energy that increases oxygen production supplies leading to weight gain, tiredness, cold intolerance, muscle cramps, joint pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, decreased sweating, brittle hair and nails, constipation and a myriad of further symptoms.
Adrenal Fatigue and Immunity
Adrenal hormones like cortisol play an important regulatory role in the immune response. So when the adrenals are fatigued, decreased adrenal hormone production may contribute to decreased immune function, with consequent increased susceptibility to infectious illness. This may be why people experiencing low adrenal function tend to have a propensity toward illness, especially respiratory infections.
The reverse is also true; chronic, recurring or severe illness – particularly bronchitis, pneumonia or other respiratory infections – can contribute to fatiguing the adrenals, and is one of the commonly overlooked sources of stress contributing to persistent adrenal fatigue. The more severe the infection, the more frequently it occurs or the longer it lasts, the more likely it is that it is draining adrenal resources and affecting adrenal function. Your adrenal glands can become fatigued after just one single episode of a particularly nasty infection, or they can gradually fatigue over time with prolonged or recurrent infections. If there are other concurrent stresses, such as unhappy relationships, poor dietary habits or a stressful job, the cumulative burden on the adrenals is greater.
So where’s the good news?
The good news is that natural medicine has lots to offer someone suffering from adrenal fatigue! Not only are there herbs and nutrients to help support the adrenal glands and manage the physiological effects stress has on the body, implementing some dietary and lifestyle strategies can be a huge first step! Stress management is key and even small things like taking the time to relax, learning some deep breathing techniques, exercise, trying some meditation or getting out in nature can make a big difference.