Have you ever wondered what is happening to your body when you are stressed? Or have you felt like you are stressed but aren’t really sure why? Read on to not only find out more about your adrenal glands, but about what other factors influence stress on your body, and what you can do about it.
The adrenal glands sit on top of both of your kidneys, and are little hormone factories. For more on your hormones and how they work check out my hormones blog post. There are two parts of the adrenal glands; the cortex and the medulla. The cortex produces over 30 different steroid hormones most importantly cortisol (the stress hormone), aldosterone (helps regulate blood pressure), pregnenolone (sex hormone precursor), progesterone (female hormone) and DHEA (female health, memory). The medulla produces epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are responsible for our “fight or flight” response. Even though your adrenal glands are only the size of a walnut, the hormones they secrete have an effect on every system in the body.
The adrenal glands help us adapt to stress in three stages
How are your adrenal glands and stress related?
Stage 1: Alarm Stage- this is where the fight or flight response comes in. When a significant stress is registered by the body it goes on full alert and releases extra stress hormones (especially cortisol). After the threat has been removed the body goes back to its normal state. This would be considered a normal stress response
Stage 2: Resistance- when someone is under constant stress their adrenal glands have to remain on high alert all the time. This results in the adrenal glands secreting too much of the stress hormone cortisol. The body is not able to properly adapt to other threats and this leads to increased illnesses or colds/flus that you “can’t seem to shake”
Stage 3: Exhaustion- when the body has been on “high alert” for too long, or if too many things have been causing stress, the bodycan lose its ability to adapt. This is likened to the batteries running out. The body cannot respond to any additional stressors. People are more susceptible to colds, flus and other illnesses and may suffer from extreme fatigue
What are Stressors?
I find many patients, when first questioned, report not being stressed. The more questions I ask however, the more sources of stress I seem to uncover in people’s lives. Sources of stress on the body take on many different forms. It seems that very few people in today’s society are immune to the effects of stress. Stress comes in many different forms. Some common stressors that people may tend to over look are:
1) Nutritional Stress- from eating food that is not nutrient dense (junk food), or foods that you are sensitive to
2) Chemical Stress- happens from exposing the body to excess chemicals that the liver has to work hard to detoxify
3) Overexercising- exercise is great in moderation. When we exercise too much it causes the body to release excess cortisol, which can lead to resistance and exhaustion
4) Feeling Like There is Not Enough Time- having to rush through every task in the day to get things done puts a large strain on the body
5) Strained Relationships- living in a house where it is not peaceful and a place that you can relax and be yourself
6) Not Having Downtime- everyone needs time to rest and recharge
7) Lack of Sleep- sleep deprivation causes excess cortisol to be secreted.
Illnesses Connected to Adrenal Fatigue
-hormone imbalances (PCOS, difficult menopause, PMS, thyroid)
-gastrointestinal issues (IBS, heartburn)
-obesity and cardiovascular disease
-metabolic syndrome and diabetes
What Can You Do?
1) Carve out 20 minutes a day for relaxation and deep breathing
2) Exercise in moderation (cardio sessions kept under 1 hr)
3) Eat plenty of nutrient dense fruits and vegetables
4) Do not skip meals (blood sugar being unregulated is a big stressor on the body)
5) Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
6) Consider supplementing with a B complex and Vitamin C (both are used in the formation of adrenal hormones)
7) There are many herbs that help support the adrenal glands.
Speak to a professional to find out which ones are best for you
One of the first steps is recognizing your stressors and acknowledging the negative effect that they are having on your body.
Want help getting your adrenals back on track? Dr Alexis practices in Stittsville at Living Science Wellness Centre. Call 613.836.7901 to book your appointment
Naturopathic Medicine is covered by most extended insurance benefits