The adrenal glands are most commonly known for producing the stress hormones; cortisol and adrenaline. But what many people don’t realize is that the adrenal glands also:
- Regulate our metabolism
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugar
- Reproductive and digestive systems.
The adrenal glands, like the thyroid and reproductive organs, are part of the autonomic nervous system. They regulate everything without us having to worry about them. But, when your adrenal glands are constantly overworked or under chronic stress, a condition known as adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion sets in, which in turn can set a cascade of disease processes into motion.
Causes of adrenal fatigue and dysfunction
- Emotional stress: The number one cause of adrenal fatigue dysfunction is stress. This stress can come from any area of your life. Whether it’s a troubled relationship, a tense workplace, major change – such as a move, or the sleepless nights looking after your newborn baby – the end result is the same. These everyday stressors that you think you are managing, are actually having dire long-term effects on your health.
- High carbohydrate diet: Eating too many carbs can disrupt cortisol and insulin levels that stress the adrenal glands. Cortisol is a part of a certain group of corticosteroids (a blood pressure-stabilizing hormone), the Standard American Diet is a great way to destroy normal adrenal function.
- Chronic inflammation in your body: Inflammation is the hallmark of virtually every disease you can think of, from diabetes to cancer, and when chronic, it stresses your system, including your adrenals.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue
Millions of Americans suffer from adrenal fatigue. If you find yourself relying on coffee, sugar, or other stimulants to get you going in the morning, you may be experiencing adrenal dysfunction. This feeling is often accompanied by one or more of the following:
- Morning fatigue/noticeable fatigue any time of the day
- Craving salty or fatty foods
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Muscle aches
- Increased irritability
- Decreased tolerance for stress
- Decreased mental sharpness
- Headaches and migraine
Testing and Treatment
It is difficult to know what your cortisol levels and neurotransmitter levels are based on symptoms alone; therefore, it is important to test to determine an optimal treatment plan. Salivary testing is the only way to accurately measure the pattern of cortisol release throughout the day. Saliva testing also allows measurement if the fraction of the hormone that your body can use, and is convenient and painless. Because the endocrine system is complex, issues that arise rarely stem from just one hormone. If there is a disruption in the balance of hormones produced by one gland, it can cause imbalance, in other hormones as well.
People also need to understand that the adrenal gland fatigue and dysfunction are usually linked to other issues. To get well you have to treat the underlying symptoms causing the adrenal fatigue and dysfunction.