Adrenal fatigue has quickly become one of the greatest health issues in western society. If the world continues to ignore the implications of a sustained stressful lifestyle and its effects on the human population, a worldwide epidemic will be the most likely outcome. So what in the hell are the adrenal glands and what is adrenal fatigue?
The adrenals are situated at the top of the kidneys and are designed to perform a series of vital roles in maintaining health. Primarily its first job is to control the body’s response to stress. This is done by releasing hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and DHEA to regulate the immune system, blood sugar, heart rate, energy levels, etc.
What is it?
Adrenal fatigue is a stress related condition that is typically associated with high or prolonged levels of stress. Another name the medical world tends to call it is HPA axis dysfunction. Adrenal fatigue is where the Hypothalamus (part of the forebrain), Pituitary gland (below the hypothalamus) and Adrenal gland (above the kidneys) struggle in regulating the response to:
- The Immune system
- Mental health state
- Energy levels
- Blood pressure
- Body regeneration
- Blood sugar regulation
Why do we have a stress hormone?
Back when we lived in the jungle alongside wild animals, having a stress response was critical to protect us from predators or any other immediate threats. Once a stressful situation was presented the nervous system would forward a message to the Hypothalamus letting the brain know what is happening in order to react to the scenario. Here is an example:
- Stressful situation occurs
- Hypothalamus receives a message from the nervous system
- Corticotrophin hormone is released
- Pituitary gland stops producing Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH – metabolism stops)
- Adrenals are stimulated
- Cortisol is released (stress hormone)
- Thyroid production is decreased (not needed in this moment)
- Blood sugar, heart rate and blood pressure increase (energy levels are now overloaded)
- Superman or woman is now released creating our ‘flight or fight’ response
Fortunately we have evolved since then and so has society. Although our stress response has remained the same. The problem in today is we tend to suffer from a chronic accumulation of first world stresses: occasionally they unravel into traumatic situations but more often these are things we have plenty of control over.
The adrenals were originally designed similarly to fast twitch muscle fibres, meaning they were specifically created for a short burst of stress hormone production. It is also made to recover just as quickly when given the opportunity – the emphasis on being able to RECOVER which a stressful life doesn’t allow for.
As a result we can’t cope in the modern world of prolonged stress. The body’s inability to maintain a healthy equilibrium begins to compromise, resulting in us attempting to live in a catabolic state…NOT GOOD!
Biological hats needed please, I’m going to get technical. In order to cope with stress, the adrenal glands produce adrenalin and cortisol aka stress hormones. All is well until a period of chronic stress is introduced – depleting adrenals of hormones needed. The adrenals tend to be the pharmacy of the body producing different hormones, however its main priority is to make sure there is enough stress hormone (survival is key) and it is prepared to rob the body of its base materials in order to make this happen. Once this occurs the body’s inability to stabilise blood glucose, have an effective immune system or systemic inflammation leaves us feeling ill and pretty damn miserable. If this goes untreated (which usually happens in the medical world; that’s another blog) then chances are you are likely to set yourself up with an early appointment with serious illnesses, organs being removed (from them not working anymore) and eventually cancers… welcome to the good life!
Now you know what adrenal fatigue is, the next blog is how avoid this from happening to you, how to get tested properly and most importantly how to overcome it.