Adrenal Gland. Do they Need a Little TLC?
In this article we are going to cover…
- What is a adrenal gland?
- What is adrenal gland fatigue?
- The top symptoms of adrenal fatigue.
- What you can do to improve your adrenal health.
if at anytime you want to talk to one of our Naturopathic Doctors about your adrenal health, you can book a free consultation by clicking here.
We’ve all heard people say these things before, “I wake up tired, and go to bed tired”, or “I feel exhausted, but as soon as my head hits the pillow my mind starts to buzz”. Our bodies were built to handle stressful events, for example our ancestors needed their stress activated nervous system to be able to run away from predators.
In these acute situations stress is a good thing, it helps us to survive, to fight. Once these acute situations are over, our body is designed to return to harmony in its normal hormonal balance.
However, when we are exposed to ongoing stress, this response doesn’t get shut off as it should be. Our bodies think it is constantly in danger, and hormones shift to respond to these constant perceived stressors. This is what can burn our adrenal glands out.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Our adrenal gland are tis a tiny gland that sit on each of our kidneys. They are responsible for producing our stress hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. Cortisol is secreted in a very specific manner, lined up with our circadian rhythm. It spikes in the morning to act as our “get up and go” hormone to help with waking, and slowly decreases throughout the day to eventually prepare for sleep.
It has an inverse relationship with melatonin, our “sleep” hormone. This means that in the morning when we wake up, cortisol should be high and melatonin should be low. The opposite is true of in the evening when we go to sleep, cortisol should be low, and melatonin at its highest. The term adrenal fatigue is often used to describe the pattern we see when there is an imbalance in this cortisol rhythm.
For example, we may see cortisol spiking at night leaving individuals with this “tired but wired” feeling, or we may see it low in the morning making it difficult to get out of bed.
The term adrenal fatigue can be confusing, since the problem isn’t isolated to the adrenal glands. The issue is actually along the communication line with something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
In our brains, the hypothalamus releases a hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone, which then signals to the anterior pituitary gland to secrete adrenocorticotropic hormone, which then signals to our adrenal glands to release cortisol. Our adrenal glands themselves do not alter the production of cortisol because they become “fatigued”, they alter the production of cortisol due to a dysfunction within this communication pathway.
What are the symptoms?
Some of the most common symptoms of HPA axis dysfunction include:
- Difficulty getting up in the morning, or waking feeling unrested
- Cravings for salty or sugary foods
- An afternoon slump or fatigue
- A second wind in the evening when you should be preparing for sleep
- Afternoon headaches
- Difficulty staying asleep throughout the night
- Lowered libido
- Changes to mood
- Difficulty losing weight
- Other hormonal imbalances
Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? You may be experiencing stress-induced HPA axis dysfunction.
How do you get it?
Often times when we talk about stress, people think solely about mental/emotional stress. However, there are all sorts of stress our bodies are continuously processing, handling, and responding to. This includes perceived stress from our environment, blood sugar dysregulation, inflammatory signaling, sleep disturbances, chronic infections, autoimmune diseases, toxin exposure and feedback inhibition problems along that communication pathway.
When our bodies are constantly exposed to these stressors, it can affect how our brain communicates to our adrenal glands.
What can you do about it?
First and foremost we recommend talking to your naturopathic doctor about diagnostic labs that can assess your cortisol levels, at the appropriate times of the day. This can include either a 4-point salivary test, or through dried urine using the DUTCH test. In addition to this, your doctor may look at additional lab testing to see if other factors are at play, for example inflammation, chronic infections, or food intolerances. It is essential to pinpoint and identify which stressors may be playing a role in your symptoms, so that a treatment plan can be individualized to you.
- A focus on real whole foods should be recommended to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs to function properly, while minimizing processed and refined foods. Encouraging the consumption of healthy fats from sources such as olive oil, salmon and avocados, dark leafy green vegetables that are rich in magnesium and b-vitamins, and quality protein sources like grass fed meats are recommended. Your Naturopathic Doctor can further make individualized dietary recommendations for you.
- Adaptogenic herbs such as: Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Holy Basil, and Schisandra can help our bodies adapt to stress, regulating our cortisol rhythm. Always discuss supplementation with your Naturopathic Doctor before starting these.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral that often gets used up and depleted while exposed to chronic stress. It is important for helping to calm our brain, relax our muscles, and to promote a restful sleep.
- B-vitamins: B vitamins often become depleted in times of chronic stress, and as a result can often affect our energy, mood, and sleep. In addition, B-vitamins are important for supporting our methylation pathways which play a role in the melatonin-cortisol rhythm.
- Vitamin D: Optimizing Vitamin D levels helps to support a healthy immune system, balance hormones, support energy, and regulate mood. Most Canadians are deficient so it’s important to test, then target supplementation accordingly.
- IV Drip Therapy has targeted nutrients including but not limited to magnesium, B-vitamins, glutathione, NAC, carnitine, zinc and Vitamin C delivered directly into the blood stream, bypassing digestion so that it can directly impact cells can help replenish depleted nutrients, and regulate cortisol imbalances.
- Breathing exercises that help us become aware of our breath, and shifting our nervous system from a sympathetic “fight or flight” to a parasympathetic “rest and digest” can be very powerful for helping to regulate our stress response. Mindful meditation is also a great tool to help activate our parasympathetic nervous system.
- Prioritizing sleep to allow your body to recuperate and recover overnight. Turning off electronics, including your phone a few hours before bed, sleeping in a dark cool room, and trying to sleep and wake at the same time each day are excellent sleep hygiene practices.
- Exposing ourselves to natural light in the morning helping to regulate that cortisol/melatonin relationship, and spending more time in nature to help stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system and de-stress.
- Learning to say “no” to things when our plates are already full, practice healthy boundaries, and doing things that are going to fill your cup and not empty it.
These small but mighty glands are involved in so many body functions, that supporting our adrenals and our HPA axis is critical for higher health.
Do you feel pressure to always be striving?
Achieving and taking on more?
Do you find it difficult to relax during down time?
It may be time to look at alternative ways to change your lifestyle, support your stress pathways, and provide your body with the support and rest it needs. If you need some help with that, you can always book a free consultation and speak to one of our naturopathic doctors.