Here at RADiant Life Rocks, we are doing a two week series on adrenal dysfunction. If you missed last week, here is your chance to play ‘catch-up.’
You loved the first post: To Burnout and Back: A Series on Adrenal Fatigue
You agreed with the second post: Adrenal Fatigue: What is it and do I Have it?
And related to the third post: Adrenal Fatigue: Is This for Real?
Now you are wondering:
What the heck are these adrenals anyway?
I thought I might help you out a bit and give you a little anatomy 101.
Your adrenal glands are also called the suprarenal glands as they sit above the kidneys. They look like elf hats that the kidneys “wear.” These little hats have a big job. Each one of them have two distinct areas: the medulla (the inside) and the cortex ( the outer layer).
The medulla is responsible for secreting your fight or flight hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine. The cortex secretes cortisone, aldosterone, DHEA, and the sex hormones progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. These hormones affect the kidneys and help to regulate electrolyte and salt balance in the body. It also controls your cortisol levels. This specific hormone can cause problems if it starts pumping out at the wrong time.
Norepinephrine and epinephrine are responsible for the short term stressors such as a lion chasing you down for his dinner or that rush you feel when you almost get in a car accident!
It puts your survival first and foremost causing the following:
- increased heart rate and blood pressure
- shutting down digestion and other secondary functions
- released sugar into your bloodstream for energy
- heightened senses
This is fantastic for dodging a bullet or running for your life! The problem is, our daily lives CAN be a battlefield. Our reaction to daily stressors, whether it be physical, emotional, environmental, medical, or even just perceived stress, may elicit this response over and over. You feel spent, overwhelmed, and anxious. Your adrenals feel the same way.
Cortisol’s primary function is to help us deal with those daily stressors by:
- regulating our electrolytes
- calibrating our heart rate and blood pressure
- turning fat and protein into energy
- combating inflammation.
Cortisol is the protector – keeping you going as chronic stress ensures. Chronic emotional, physical, or physiological stress can cause an irregular pattern of cortisol release.
- If you have a high stress job or you are running around like a crazy person on most days, you may have that feeling of tension, anxiety, or even exhilaration! You can almost FEEL the cortisol pouring into your veins.
- When you indulge in exercise that is taxing on your body due to intensity, length, or duration, cortisol is secreted to buffer that stress you are putting on your body.
- Eating too much sugar, wheat, or other pro-inflammatory foods? Your cortisol levels may be askew to protect your body from the slow, long term damage going on. In fact, most food allergies may be coupled with a wacky cortisol level.
So how should this hormone work in our body?
A normal cortisol level looks like this:
Cortisol is released in the morning to get you out of bed, peaks around noon, and tapers off in the evening.
You adrenal glands pump out cortisol. When we treat our body in ways that cause constant stress, the adrenals have to work overtime…without pay! When we tax our bodies and push on, it’s like we are borrowing from a bank with no ability to pay it back. Over time, the collection company will be after you! Your adrenals will suffer the consequences and will be squeezed dry of function.
Here is a picture of an abnormal cortisol level:
You can see here, that this person’s cortisol level is very low. This is what a tired adrenal looks like. Flat. And that, my friends, is how you may feel.
Signs of Adrenal Fatigue
The following are some of the most commons signs of adrenal dysfunction. You may notice that some of these could also be a sign of thyroid problems. If you notice any of these, you may want to investigate further. Your adrenals and the hormones they secrete are vital for a healthy body.
- Excessive sweating or perspiration from little activity
- Lower back pain and/or knee weakness or pain, especially on the side
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Muscle twitches
- Low blood sugar
- Heart palpitations
- Sensitivity to light, or difficulty seeing at night
- A craving for salt
- Low stamina for stress, and easily irritated
- Excessive mood responses after eating carbohydrates such as pasta, breads and sugar
- Chronic infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, yeast)
- Low blood pressure
- Light-headedness on standing up
- Tired but wired feeling, poor sleep
- Cravings for sweets and carbs, intolerance to alcohol
- Premature aging
- Dry, unhealthy skin with excess pigmentation
- Lack of libido
- Cystic breasts
- Tendency to startle easily
- Negative response to thyroid hormone
Now that you see yourself in this list, try this questionnaire:
Understand that the way you feel may actually NOT be all in your head! This realization is a pivotal first step in treatment. We tend to believe that this “new normal” is just something we need to push through. No one wants to be a whiner, right? Be informed, be your own advocate, become RADiant.
What steps are you going to take to ensure the health and vibrance of your body?
Next up: Adrenal fatigue stories from 2 Health Counselors
AND…testing and treatment!
Please share this article with anyone you love who may be utterly exhausted and can’t figure out why! Wouldn’t it be great to spread the RADiance?
- Fundamentals of Anatomy & Physiology; Martini/Nath; 2009; Pearson Education