Adrenal fatigue, The malady of the 21st century. We are all so busy and afraid of downtime, its almost cool to say that you are busy beyond belief. The fact that we are miserable and can’t wake up without our morning coffee has somehow become a source of pride. When did this happen? A lot of my clients come to me with fatigue and apathy. They are tired, anxious and irritable and don’t know why, and frankly they are sick of looking for reasons. Our lives are about being busy and ingesting toxins to keep us energised to be busy.
Never before have we been under such constant moderate levels of stress for so long, often starting at younger and younger ages. We are not physiologically made to endure this kind of stress! It leaves us feeling tired, sick, and ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is an assortment of diverse symptoms that can be attributed to the under-functioning and depletion of neurotransmitters and hormones produced by the adrenal glands, HPA axis, thyroid gland, and often reproductive glands.
What do all these things mean and what do they do? The adrenal glands produce hormones such as DHEA, andorostendione (the precursor to testosterone),Cortisol and Aldosterone. All these hormones are required for health and vitality. They are also all derived , essentially from Cholesterol.
The other part of the adrenal glands (the Medulla) produces catecholamines, these are neurotransmitters such as epinephrine(Adrenalin) ,norepinephrine and dopamine. We know the importance of neurotransmitter balance . Low levels of Dopamine can cause depression, weight gain, low libido and lethargy. epinephrine and norepinephrine are responsible for our fight or flight response and we rely upon them to keep us out of danger.
The crucial link between all those transmitters and pathways is of course the brain. Predominantly the Hypothalamus and the pituitary.This then forms the HPA, the Hypothalamus , Pituitary and Adrenal Axis. Together this axis interacts between the various organs, systems and feedback loops. This also works in conjunction with the Thyroid, The Ovaries for women and for men the testes.
So what is the problem?
The problem lies in the way modern medicine looks at health. Addressing only one part of the axis, can lead to problems. If you only address the “weakest link” that produces the most troubling symptoms, you will weaken the other links until its starts affecting other organs. The Thyroid is often looked at first, if we treat the thyroid without other elements, we then risk creating further imbalances. If you only look at certain hormones without treating the bigger picture, again we risk creating further imbalances.
What causes it?
The new norm has become sleeping less, we average 6 hours sleep a night now. 100 years ago, it was 9 hours. We are busy working 10 hours days and then coming home and doing housework and looking after kids. On top of that we have a huge amount of toxins in our food, water, air, cleaning products, make up, furniture, carpets and the list goes on.
We have toxins in our food, in the form of GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics. We exercise less and lead sedentary lives with desk jobs. We stress about work, money, kids, ageing. The constant stream of stress never ends.
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” Ann Wigmore
Over the last 300 years, we have gone from consuming around 1 kg of sugar per year per person to about 50Kg. Sugar puts a huge stress on the pancreas and the adrenal glands by provoking excess cortisol and insulin secretion, that extra burden is enough to make you feel fatigued.
Processed foods work, particularly refined carbohydrates work in much the same way in much the same way. They digest very quickly and lead to a surge in your blood sugar, again putting stress on your adrenal glands and your pancreas. Think anything that comes in a box or a bag, white bread and pasta.
Our obsession with low fat foods has also caused a huge problem. As noted above, Cholesterol is the building block for all the hormones made by the adrenal glands and the reproductive glands.Without healthy fats and cholesterol( the good kind) we are unable to make these hormones. Cholesterol is vital for hormone production and regulation. The cholesterol myth is just that, dietary sources of fat and cholesterol have little to do with blood cholesterol levels.
When we eat low quality foods that do not nourish us, we don’t replenish our energy and gradually we deplete our reserves. This of course leads to adrenal depletion and finally fatigue. We can’t wake without our morning coffee, we need a mid morning sweet to keep going and at 3pm we can’t survive without another coffee and chocolate to help keep us going.
Next week, I will talk more about The four stages of adrenal fatigue, which stage you may be at and how we can start to reverse the symptoms.
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