Hormones are chemical messengers that communicate between different parts of the body. They are produced by glands and organs, and are secreted into the bloodstream to circulate. Hormones travel in the blood to specific organs and tissues to communicate their message. Only tissues that have receptors for the hormone in question will respond to that hormone. Hormones are one of the main tools our body uses to create balance or ‘homeostasis’ in the body. So, as you can imagine, if we have imbalances in our hormones, this stable environment will be shaken up, and we will not feel well.
The most common hormone imbalances I see in my practice are stress hormone imbalances, thyroid imbalances, and sex hormone imbalances (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone). This blog will specifically be focused on stress hormone imbalance, or what is known as ‘adrenal fatigue.’ In subsequent blogs I will address the issues of thyroid and sex hormone imbalances, so stay tuned!
What is adrenal fatigue? Adrenal fatigue occurs when our adrenal glands cannot keep up with the demands placed on them by the total amount of stress in our lives. The primary role of our adrenal glands is to produce and regulate our stress hormone cortisol. They also produce sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone), neurotransmitters (adrenaline and noradrenaline), and a blood pressure regulating hormone (aldosterone). With acute or chronic stress cortisol imbalances are first to be seen. Over time adrenal stress can lead to other hormone imbalances including imbalances in insulin, sex hormones, blood pressure hormones, and even thyroid hormone.
We live in a very busy, stressful, on-the-go society. We work long hours while juggling the demands of family life, we sacrifice sleep, we rely on coffee to keep us awake, and reach for sugary foods for an extra energy boost. Over time these habits affect us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
When we engage in stressful activities our bodies enter into a ‘fight or flight’ response. Cortisol is released from our adrenal glands to provide us with a burst of energy in order to ‘survive.’ It does so by breaking down our carbohydrate and protein stores, increasing blood sugar, and suppressing the immune system to conserve energy. Over time high cortisol can lead to insulin resistance, weaken our immune system, and lead to muscle wasting, if not properly addressed. It can also impact our thyroid and sex hormone balance. Eventually our adrenal glands may not be able to keep up with the stress in our lives, and cortisol levels will drop, leading to chronic mental and physical fatigue.
What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue? Symptoms of adrenal fatigue will depend on what type of cortisol imbalance you have, ie. whether you have high or low cortisol levels.
Weight gain around waist
Tired and wired feeling
Loss of muscle mass
High blood pressure
Shaky or lightheaded if a meal is missed
Loss of scalp hair
Aches and pains
Cold/low body temperature
Low blood pressure
Dizziness upon standing
Naturally we have the highest levels of cortisol in the morning, and throughout the day our levels will slowly decline, with cortisol being lowest at night. If we have low cortisol in the morning we’ll have problems waking and will generally feel sluggish. If we have high cortisol at night on the other hand, we may have problems falling or staying asleep.
How do you test for adrenal fatigue? In this stressed out world, I generally assume that most of my patients have some amount of adrenal fatigue. I listen to the symptoms and assess the lifestyle of my patients in order to determine whether or not they have an adrenal imbalance. In some cases I use salivary hormone testing to determine baseline levels of cortisol, and track treatment progress.
How do you treat adrenal fatigue? The best way to treat adrenal fatigue is to address the underlying cause: STRESS. I encourage you to examine your personal daily stressors, slow down, and take your health back into your own hands. If you suffer from adrenal fatigue, the most important thing you can do is to establish a routine. Below are some of my suggestions for establishing an adrenal friendly routine.
Go to bed at the same time every night, and get at least 8 hours of sleep.
Do something relaxing every day (deep breathing, warm bath, nature walk, yoga, meditation, massage, acupuncture, etc.)
Learn to say NO when you’ve reached your limit.
Eat protein with every meal.
Don’t over-exercise. If you feel fatigued, scale down the intensity, or take a day or two off to recover.
Avoid processed foods, simple carbohydrates (cookies, muffins, cakes, white bread, pasta) and sugar.
Decrease or eliminate caffeine.
Consider supplementation with adaptogenic herbs, a vitamin B complex, or intravenous nutrient therapy.
Adaptogenic herbs help the body adapt and cope with stress. My favourite adaptogenic herbs are Licorice Root, Ginseng, Rhodiola, and Withania.
Intravenous nutrient therapy (ie. the Myer’s Cocktail) is a solution of B vitamins, vitamin C and magnesium that is infused directly into a vein. These vitamins nourish the adrenal glands, boost energy and help the body cope and manage stress. For more information on the Myer’s Cocktailclick here.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog remember to SHARE it, LIKE it, and post any comments below! Dr. Meghan Stobbs ND Healing Cedar Wellness
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