Many have heard the term “adrenal fatigue” before but understanding the ebb and flow of the adrenal system can help identify if stress could be an underlying trigger to additional adrenal-related symptoms.
So, how do the adrenals work and how feelings of overstimulation lead to feelings of exhaustion and fatigue?
The adrenal glands are made of two layers, the outer cortex and inner medulla. Cortisol, a hormone released by the cortex, is used to trigger many biological pathways that impact things like blood sugar and the regulation of blood pressure. Cortisol is released in greater amounts in response to feelings of stress. The medulla produces adrenaline, otherwise known as the neurotransmitter epinephrine, which impacts a number of pathways in the body and helps provide efficient energy needed to react to stress. When consistent levels of stress stimulate the adrenals to produce ongoing levels of cortisol and adrenaline, or epinephrine, the demand on the body to provide biochemical precursors for ongoing adrenal activity is heightened.
Once a perceived threat or stress has passed, hormone and neurotransmitter levels should return to baseline. As adrenaline, or epinephrine, and cortisol levels drop, the heart rate and blood pressure stabilize, and other systems resume their regular activities. However, when one feels constant stress, the body is under a constant adrenal stimulation that can disrupt regular processes and result in uncomfortable symptoms
Common adrenal-related symptoms include a range from overstimulated to fatigue, poor mood, “brain fog”, food cravings, lead to overuse of stimulants like caffeine, impact the immune response, and lead to poor sleep and weight gain.
What causes adrenal-related symptoms?
The short answer is stress. Prolonged stress causes the adrenals to feel consistently engaged and stimulated, with increased demand on the body to fuel and react to the adrenal stress response. An ongoing adrenal stress response can impact levels of cortisol and epinephrine. The adrenal “fight or flight” response is hard wired in us, and the adrenal system responds to physical, dietary, environmental, or emotional stressors in similar fashion.
The adrenals are deeply involved with proper immune function, proper blood sugar and blood pressure balance, energy and focus as well as the wake-sleep cycle. There are thousands of cortisol receptors in every part of the brain, and they work in conjunction with each other and with the neurotransmitters.
How to support the adrenals and stress induced fatigue
Suggestions to support the body and adrenal system include lifestyle choices such as stress management activities, a healthy sleep schedule, low-sugar/low-caffeine diet, avoidance of junk food, and dietary supplementation that include ingredients such as:
- Vitamin C
- B vitamins
- Coenzyme Q10
- Licorice Root
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- Sargis, Robert, MD, PhD, An Overview of the Adrenal Glands Beyond Fight or Flight, Remedy Health Media, LLC (https://www.endocrineweb.com/endocrinology/overview-adrenal-glands)
- Stress Management, Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037)
- Adrenal Glands, John Hopkins University (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/adrenal-glands)