The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and are responsible for secreting and regulating vital hormones in the body as a response to everyday stresses and strains. Most notably it is responsible for the hormone cortisol (the stress hormone) whose primary function is to raise blood sugar and metabolize fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Cortisol activates the body’s fight or flight response, boosting blood sugar levels in times of stressful situations. With our current lifestyles we are sustaining high levels of cortisol for longer periods of time and therefore we become unable to control stress. When the adrenal glands don’t function properly there are many effects on the body including being unable to lose weight since the improper release of hormones can cause you to crave high calorie foods and develop excess body fat that accumulates around your middle section.
The biggest cause of adrenal fatigue is stress. In today’s world of longer working hours, poor diets and lower wages, we are being subjected to an accumulation of stresses throughout the day. Everybody will react differently to stress and it will really depend on your current situation and obviously stress comes in many forms. The main causes of stress usually consist of lack of sleep, poor diet, being unhappy at work, financial issues or the use of stimulants such as caffeine.
People who experience stress will have fluctuations in blood sugar levels experiencing highs and lows constantly throughout the day. This will have them reaching for foods to give them a quick boost normally in the form of sugary foods or caffeine packed drinks. These foods and drinks will provide a quick response but an even quicker drop and you’ll be reaching for another helping fairly soon after to pick you up again. The rise and fall of blood sugar levels will further acerbate the cortisol effect on the body making it even harder for the adrenal glands to find balance. Fat burning levels will drop and the refined sugary carbohydrates being consumed will be stored as fat, normally around the abdomen.
Caffeine such as tea, coffee and fizzy energy drinks including diet sodas are used to create a temporary mental alertness which many who are under stress will find hard to control. As noted above, this effect is short-term and needs constant repetition for long-term effects. As caffeine stimulates the release of cortisol, it’s putting the body under a constant state of stress and this can result in irritability, tiredness, lack of concentration, heart palpitations and disrupted sleep.
People who experience adrenal fatigue will commonly have very irregular or interrupted sleep patterns. This is partly due to the fact that hormone levels are constantly fluctuating making it harder for the body to switch off. Sleep is needed to repair the body after the strains placed on it throughout the day. Lack of sleep results in lower production of growth hormone which is needed for weight management.
Anyone can fall victim to adrenal fatigue and it’s not a medical diagnosis. These are a few of the symptoms to look out for:
- Overall fatigue and being tired or run down.
- Headaches with physical or mental stress.
- Weakened immune system.
- Cravings for cigarettes, caffeine or sugary foods.
- Insomnia or interrupted and restless sleep.
To overcome adrenal fatigue, the adrenal glands will need to be brought back into a state of homeostasis, where hormone regulation and secretion is in balance. This may take a little while and will generally be based on lifestyle changes. Below are ways to help reduce stress and lower your cortisol levels.
Change your diet. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetable as well as lean protein and healthy fats including fish, nuts, raw nut butters, bananas and avocados. Avoid breads, pastas, pastries and creamy or sugary foods.
Eat breakfast every day. This will initially stabilize your blood sugar in the mornings and help to avoid reaching for those sugary snacks later on in the day. Try eating a breakfast with an omelette with spinach and mushrooms, oats or lean meats and vegetables. Avoid sugary cereals.
Get plenty of sleep. Have a regular bedtime and stick to it. If you find it hard to wind down in the evenings then try having a bath with lavender oils, reading an enjoyable book or magazine and shoot for having at least 30 minutes of downtime before going to bed. Avoid eating late at night and do not consume caffeine after 5pm. Switching off your TV and phone before getting into bed also helps.
Try getting a massage once a week. A good massage will stimulate the lymphatic system helping to rid the body of harmful toxins and it also relaxes both the mind and body. A cheaper option is to practice meditation to reduce mental stress.
Cut back on caffeine. Drink plenty of water and switch to low caffeine alternatives such as green tea or liquorice tea which can help to regulate cortisol levels and boost the metabolism.
Exercise regularly. This can be a combination of cardio, strength and mind-body class such as Pilates. Exercise will help to boost energy levels, increase the metabolism and therefore increase the overall calorie burn. Exercise is a natural stimulant to replace caffeine and sugary foods.
Use a diary and plan your days. If its work that you find stressful, see if there are any ways you can delegate certain jobs or activities to others leaving you to deal with the important issues. Balance in work, rest and play is needed and this might be the hardest thing to overcome but if you can’t change the situation, can you adapt it?
It can take a few weeks if not months to bring your body back into full balance but by making simple changes in your lifestyle, the effects of adrenal fatigue and therefore stress can be controlled to help you reduce cortisol levels and live a healthier life.