The Epidemic of a Stressed Out Society
If you’re chronically stressed out and always feel tired, read on.
Your adrenals are two pyramid-shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys. They perform a variety of functions, but adrenal fatigue specifically refers to their ability to help the body cope with stress. Prolonged stress can lead to adrenal burnout.
The core of the adrenal glands produces an acute stress neurotransmitter called epinephrine, also known as adrenaline (hence the name, adrenal glands). Epinephrine performs a very important function: it gives us the strength we need to get over an acutely stressful situation.
Our ancestors needed epinephrine in order to stay alive in a hostile environment. But today, we’re stressed out all the time. Adrenaline gets released when we’re late and stuck in traffic, in angry confrontations, or even when we’ve adapted to chronic anxiety.
One of three outer layers of the adrenal glands produces another hormone meant to offset the effects of adrenaline and “buffer” the body against the effects of acute stress. This hormone is called cortisol. But the adrenals were never meant to produce as much cortisol as they have to in chronically stressful situations. Eventually they just get tired.
The first stage of adrenal fatigue happens when you have been under a lot of stress for a long time, but not quite so long that your adrenals are unable to adapt. During this stage, cortisol output is chronically higher than it should be, but still not high enough to compensate entirely for the adrenaline output. In this stage you may experience:
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Disturbed sleep
During the second stage, when your adrenals can’t produce enough cortisol to compensate for prolonged stress, you may experience:
- Sugar cravings and hypoglycemia
- Low blood pressure upon standing (orthostatic hypotension)
- Recurrent infections and difficulty shaking off infections
Often the diagnosis of adrenal fatigue can be made clinically but sometimes labs are helpful. There are a variety of treatments, depending on the stage of adrenal fatigue, ranging from diet and lifestyle changes to supplements to prescription medications for more severe cases. But most patients I’ve seen with adrenal fatigue feel much better just with a few simple treatments. You can get your energy back too!