fatigue | September 9, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Our adrenals, are endocrine glands that produce a variety of hormones including adrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone. Along with the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, they are involved in the stress response. The term ‘adrenal fatigue’ refers to under functioning of these glands due to long-term physical or emotional stress. It can result in low energy levels and a weakened immune system.
So what exactly are our adrenals, why are they important and what can we do to support them?
Our adrenals sit just above our kidneys, one for each organ. They form part of the bodies hormonal system and produce several hormones that are involved in controlling blood pressure, metabolism and the way our bodies respond to stress. They mainly produce the hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone.
Adrenaline and noradrenaline are involved in the bodies ‘fight or flight’ response which enables us to act quickly when faced with danger. It increases blood flow to our muscles and makes your heart beat faster.
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Cortisol does many things, including influencing how your body uses energy, changing blood sugar levels and slowing down the immune system.
Aldosterone plays a central role in regulating blood pressure.
In addition to this, the adrenal glands make weak sex hormones that travel to the testes or ovaries where they are converted into testosterone or oestrogen.
If the adrenals are overtired due to chronic stress they reduce their function. For people with prolonged stress, high blood pressure and high cortisol levels they run the increased risk of encountering adrenal fatigue. Common symptoms associated with adrenal insufficiencies include fatigue, even after a good night’s sleep. If you feel overwhelmed easily, stressed and anxious—these are also warning signs that your adrenals are overworked. Other symptoms can include problems losing weight and sugar cravings.
One of the most important factors in supporting the adrenals is to reduce your levels of stress. This can be achieved by identifying stressors in your life and finding ways to reduce their impact. Natural ways to relieve stress such as exercise and stretching should be done every day but be careful not to overdo it.
Aim for 8-9 hours’ sleep each night. This is a time where our body rests, repairs and restores. Before bed allow time to unwind, read a book and have a chamomile tea. A warm bath with Epsom salts may help to relax the muscles and the mind.
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Too much caffeine overworks our adrenals and chronic use can cause them to burn out. Avoid caffeine all together, or at least reduce consumption to one a day.
Try caffeine free alternatives such as rooibos, dandelion root or chamomile. A study from the Duke University Medical centre found that “caffeine may exaggerate sympathetic adrenal-medullary responses to the stressful events of normal daily life.”
This means that caffeine amplifies our stress response—increasing blood pressure, heart rate and levels of adrenaline.
The other thing you want to avoid is consuming too much sugar. Sugar will burn out your adrenal glands and lead to adrenal fatigue if too much enters your body. They cause spikes in our blood sugars – leading to fatigue and fluctuations in energy levels. Examples of these foods include fruit juice, biscuits, lollies and processed foods. It’s important to eat complex carbohydrates and protein meals every four hours to provide sustained energy levels for the entire day. Complex carbohydrates include wholegrains such as whole oats, wheat, rye, barley, along with beans and vegetables.
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Magnesium is important for many different roles within the body—one of them being to support the adrenals. Magnesium can help combat stress, reduce blood pressure and relax muscles. It can aid in a good night’s sleep, helping to drift off to sleep faster and stay asleep. In cases of fatigue, magnesium is essential for energy production and glucose regulation.
B vitamins are co-factors in the Krebs cycle—an essential set of steps that are essential for energy production. A deficiency in B vitamins, particularly B12 can lead to fatigue. B vitamins are essential to stabilise energy levels and are needed to balance blood sugars.
This water-soluble vitamin is crucial in combating stress and supporting the adrenals. It helps to lower cortisol and adrenaline which are hormones that are secreted in response to stress. Taking 500mg-1g of vitamin C three times a day is the recommended dose to achieve desired results.
In herbal medicine, rehmannia and liquorice are prescribed to assist the adrenals glands—restoring back to normal function. They are indicated in cases of fatigue, adrenal exhaustion, emotional depletion and when one is simply ‘worn out’. In traditional Chinese medicine, rehmannia nourishes yin and invigorates the kidneys.
Adaptagen herbs provide support and act as a whole-body tonic. They promote balance and improve the way that we respond to stress. Examples of adaptagens include
There is strong scientific evidence to support the use of all these herbs in times of stress.
One such example includes a randomised, double-blind study that investigated the use of rhodiola in subjects with stress related fatigue. They found that daily administration with rhodiola increased mental performance and concentration, while decreasing the cortisol response in burnout patients with fatigue syndrome. Researchers concluded that rhodiola exerted an anti-fatigue effect and improved tolerance to stress.
Stress effects everyone at some point in their lives but if it is long-term it can have an adverse effect on our adrenals. So remember if you want to support your adrenals:
https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/adrenal-glands Bornstein SR, et al. Diagnoses and treatment of primary adrenal insufficiency: an endocrine society clinical practice guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2016 Feb;101(2):364-389
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4880116/ Lane JD, et al. Caffeine affects cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activation at work and home. Psychosom Med. 2002 Jul-Aug;64(4):595-603
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12140349 Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia
Zhang RX, et al. Rehmannia glutinosa: a review of botany, chemistry and pharmacology. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 May 8117(2):199-214 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18407446
Olsson EM, at al. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 2009 Feb;75(2):105-12 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19016404