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Adrenal Glands and What They Do
Adrenal Fatigue is a real thing many of us experience after years of chronic stress, poor sleep and poor eating regimes. Read on to learn more about what adrenal fatigue is.
You have two adrenal glands, one positioned over each of your two kidneys. They secrete more than 50 hormones necessary for life, including epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, aldosterone, cortisol, DHEA, progesterone, testosterone and estrogen.
Since they produce so many essential hormones, the adrenal glands are responsible for many of the functions we need to stay alive and healthy, including:
Energy production – carbohydrate, protein and fat conversion to blood glucose for energy
Fluid and electrolyte balance
Influence on reproductive health
The hormone, cortisol, is particularly important for keeping our body systems in balance and protecting our cells. Some of its actions include:
controlling the strength of the immune system – too much cortisol weakens the immune system which sets you up for increased susceptibility to infections and even cancer, and too little cortisol can lead to an overactive immune system and even autoimmune disease
normalizing blood sugar
regulating blood pressure and electrolyte balance
Adrenals are called the “stress glands” by some since they manufacture adrenaline, our flight or fight hormone, always secreted during times of stress. However, they are also the first glands in your body to fail during prolonged or intense periods of stress which can lead to many problems in the body.
Stress Is Cumulative
The problem with stressors is that they are cumulative; their impact tends to add up in the body over time until your adrenal glands just can’t take anymore and adrenal fatigue sets in. Adrenal fatigue or dysfunction has become common because of our lack of relaxation and other lifestyle factors, such as smoking, sleep deprivation, poor eating habits and excessive caffeine intake, as well as exposure to environmental toxins and allergens. Adrenal fatigue is not the same as the condition called Addison’s disease where the adrenal glands are not functioning at all. While Addison’s disease is often caused by autoimmunity, adrenal fatigue is largely caused by stress along with a host of other factors, like accumulation of toxic exposures, hidden infections, hormone imbalance, or even nutritional deficiencies.
More signs and symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue include:
mild depression or anxiety
multiple food and/or inhalant allergies/sensitivities
lack of energy
increased effort to perform daily tasks
decreased ability to handle stress
dry, thin skin
low blood sugar
low body temperature
unexplained hair loss
alternating diarrhea and constipation
The ability to handle stress, both physical and emotional, is a requirement for human survival and our bodies have a complete set of stress modulation systems in place, with the control center being the adrenal glands. When these glands become dysfunctional, your body’s ability to handle stress and fight infections will decrease, setting you up for illnesses.
Causes of Adrenal Fatigue
Excessive stress can be from many sources. Chemical toxicity and nutritional depletion are among the physical causes. Mental, emotional or spiritual stressors may be major factors too. Financial, family or other stress may also contribute to burnout. Even infections can wear you down.
PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL STRESS
Any excessive stress, especially when long term, can deplete the adrenal glands. Excessive workload, long hours, lack of sleep, or emotional stresses are common. Other stressors are noise and electromagnetic pollution, electromagnetic field exposure from cell phones, cell towers and appliances like televisions, cell phones, wearable electronics, microwave ovens and computers, can also be hard on our bodies.
Many people today have subclinical deficiencies of essential nutrients, such as B vitamins, Vitamins A, C, D and E, magnesium, zinc, and other trace elements. When under major stress, the need for nutrients is even greater as your body will use them up more quickly to keep itself running.
Refined carbohydrates and diets low in protein can also stress the adrenals. The standard Canadian diet is high in processed carbs and sugar, lower in quality fats and protein, and typically lacks important micronutrients. Most diets are low in nutrients required by the adrenals. The reasons for this begin with how food is grown. Most food is grown on depleted soils. Then processing and refining further deplete nutrients. Much of our food sources are extremely stressed themselves and you take in the results of that stress.
Adequate and quality water is also an issue as water affects oxygenation and hydration of the tissues in the body.
Additionally, habits such as eating in the car or while on the run further diminish the value derived from food and particularly inhibit our ability to digest it.
Allergic reactions to foods such as wheat, dairy, corn and soy products can damage the intestines and reduce the absorption of nutrients as well.
Toxic chemicals often play a significant role in adrenal burnout. Everyone is exposed to thousands of chemicals in the air, the water and the food. Sources may also include dental materials or beauty products, such as shampoo, lotions, make-up and tooth paste. Cleaning our home with toxic chemicals obviously can impact health. Over-the-counter and prescribed medications also add to the body’s toxic load.
Toxins can also be generated internally due to microbial imbalances in the gut and impaired digestion. When food is not properly digested, it may ferment in the intestines, producing many harmful substances that are absorbed through the intestinal lining. A healthy body has the ability to eliminate many toxins on a daily basis. However, as adrenal weakness develops, the body’s ability to eliminate all toxins decreases. This produces a vicious cycle in which weaker adrenals impairs the elimination of all toxins (internally or externally generated), which then further weakens the adrenals.
Chronic infections can be located anywhere in the body, but often may originate in infected teeth or gums. They contribute greatly to the overall toxic load of the body. Infections also cause inflammation and stress that must be countered using the adrenal hormones such as cortisol and cortisone.
One of the most commonly overlooked causes of adrenal fatigue is intestinal infections that gives rise to an inflammatory response. Such infections can occur sub-clinically showing no obvious signs at all. Infections in the gut, including giardia, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), fungal dysbiosis, and Helicobactor pylori bacterial infection are just a few that may contribute to worsening adrenal dysfunction.
STIMULANTS OR EXCESSIVE EXERCISE
Stimulants, such as caffeine, sugar and alcohol, damage the adrenal glands by over-promoting the secretion of stress hormones and adrenaline which over time will lead to the depletion of these essential neurotransmitters.
Less obvious, yet important stimulants, can include anger, rage, arguments, hatred, lack of forgiveness, loud music, tragic news, and even movies with extreme suspense or excessive violence. Other activities that may act as stimulants include vigorous exercise or recreational drug use. Even high risk sports, like surfing, diving, or extreme climbing if done in excess may deplete the adrenals. Most of these activities provide a temporary “high”, which is caused in part by the secretion of high amounts of adrenal hormones. Over time, however, this weakens the adrenals and can eventually lead to adrenal depletion and insufficiency if little is done to reduce the risk.
Uncontrolled emotions are another cause of adrenal burnout. These include habits of worrying, or becoming angry or afraid. This applies particularly to high strung, Type A, nervous people as they are especially prone to adrenal burnout. Prayer and meditation release calming neurotransmitters and take the body from a state of fight and flight into the parasympathetic mode of relaxation and can be extremely helpful in healing adrenal fatigue. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude and your adrenals will thank you.
Summary of stressors that can lead to Adrenal Fatigue:
- Habitual emotions, like anger, fear, guilt
- Chronic illness
- Chronic infections
- Chronic pain
- Eating disorders
- Excessive exercise
- Gluten intolerance and other food issues
- Malabsorption and poor digestion
- Toxic exposure
- Severe or chronic stress that are hard to manage
- Long term sleep deprivation
- Excessive sugar in diet
- Excessive caffeine intake
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Processed foods, additives, chemicals and genetically modified ingredients, like corn, soy, canola.
- Infected teeth, gums or root canal
Chronic stress is very common. The most common causes of stress are work pressure, changing jobs, death of a loved one, moving homes, illness, and marital changes. For short bursts, most of us can handle these stresses and recover with a little time and care. However, adrenal fatigue occurs when the amount of stress overextends the capacity of the body to compensate and recover.
If you think you are suffering with adrenal fatigue, at AcuPlus to figure out some best ways to help your body recover. It is possible!
For tips on recovering from adrenal fatigue, check out my blog article – Adrenal Fatigue: Tips for Recovery.