Excessive, unexplained tiredness as increased cortisol levels keep the body in a continued alert state. Excessive sugar/salt cravings due to lowered blood sugar and increased elimination of salts in urine. Heightened energy in the evenings due to high cortisol levels. Difficulty in handling stress. More prone to infections due to lowered immunity. Imbalanced hormones.
With our complex lives in the 21st century, more and more people are suffering from stress-related conditions. The negative impact of stress can affect many areas of health. Adrenal glands are one of the areas that are susceptible in getting adversely affected.
The adrenal glands are located near the kidneys and produce the hormones that are needed for the body to function properly.
Stress Adversely Affects Adrenal Glands
How? When the body is under severe stress, the glands start producing more hormones to help the body cope (this is the classic ‘fight or flight’ response). The main hormone is cortisol, which regulates metabolism, sleep-wake cycle, energy and mood. Cortisol is released in direct response to any actual or perceived stressor.
Of course, in some circumstances, a stress response is needed. However, when stress is experienced over a long period of time, these glands weaken, negatively affecting the body and resulting in adrenal fatigue. Unfortunately, mainstream medicine does not see adrenal fatigue as a real diagnosis.
Instead only the extremes are recognized in the form of Addison’s Disease or Cushing’s Disease. Unfortunately, this leads to under diagnosis of the very real condition. More importantly, it leaves many people frustrated and unsure where to turn for answers.
Integrative and functional medicine practitioners recognize adrenal fatigue as a real condition that needs real treatment.
There are often many contributing factors that predispose someone to adrenal fatigue. Getting to the root cause is the first step. Working with a skilled practitioner can help get you on your road to recovery. So, what are some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
Though the symptoms are many, we take a look at six of the main symptoms.
6 Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
1. Excessive, Unexplained Tiredness
Adrenal fatigue makes a person very tired. This is because under stress the hormone levels are elevated, thus making it harder to sleep. Over time, the body’s cortisol levels are affected and this leads to the body being in an almost permanent state of alertness. All of this can affect the ability for a person to fall asleep or get a good night’s sleep. It could be that a person thinks he is getting enough sleep (the recommended 8 to 10 hours), but still wakes up feeling tired and fatigued.
2. Cravings For Salty/Sugary Foods
One way that adrenal fatigue affects the body is to lower the blood sugar level. When this happens cravings for energy foods increase and therefore, a sufferer will eat more sugary foods. Foods high in sugar are also comfort foods and stress can cause a person to increase the intake of sugar-high foods.
Adrenal fatigue can also result in cravings for salty foods. This is because the adrenal glands affect how the kidneys regulate mineral fluctuations. When we suffer from fatigue, the body releases more minerals in the urine. This, in turn, can increase the desire for salty snacks. Unfortunately, cravings for salt, sugar, and caffeine further stress the adrenals.
3. Heightened Energy In The Evenings
An adrenal fatigue sufferer could find that s/he is tired all day, but then in the late evening experience a surge of energy. Usually cortisol reaches a peak in late morning and then reduces during the day. The person may end up with high cortisol at night, when it should be lower. This results in insomnia.
Not only that the adrenal glands like to repair and regenerate from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Therefore, it is important to be sleeping during this time for the repair to occur. This is particularly problematic for shift workers. The result can be poorer health, imbalanced circadian rhythm and chronic fatigue.
4. Difficulty In Handling Stress
The normal body’s response to stress is to release specific hormones so that stress can be handled effectively. The three specific hormones are cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine, and knowing how these affect the body helps us understand the relationship to stress.
- Cortisol: Gives the body extra energy to cope with the stress, it increases memory function and lowers sensitivity to pain. However, the body needs a rest period after cortisol has been released in a stress-related situation. If a person is suffering, from adrenal fatigue rarely gets to have the ‘rest period’, over time less and less cortisol is produced.
- Adrenaline: Probably the most well-known stress response hormone. This gives us the initial burst of energy needed to respond to stress. Once again, adrenal fatigue will affect the amount of this hormone and therefore, the response to stress is reduced.
- Norepinephrine: This hormone helps the brain to focus on the stress. Without this active hormone, the response to stress could be described as lethargic.
5. More Infections
Cortisol helps to regulate the immune system in the body and cortisol works as an anti-inflammatory. Too much cortisol over an extended period of time hinders the response of the immune system and this results in having more infections. On the other hand, if the adrenal glands are so weakened that they produce too little cortisol then, the body’s response is to over react to infections resulting in certain autoimmune disorders.
6. Hormonal Imbalances
Chronic day-to-day stress can have a cumulative effect. For many women this will result in adrenal fatigue when approaching peri-menopause and menopause. This is further compounded by the natural fall in other hormones such as progesterone.
Progesterone breaks down into cortisol. So, if you have low progesterone, you are going to have a low cortisol.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, your best bet is to seek out the guidance of a health practitioner who is familiar with the symptoms, causes, and treatments for adrenal fatigue.