Ever hear the words “Adrenal Fatigue“?
Have an idea what it is, but not exactly sure?
Let’s talk about adrenal fatigue, and its ravaging effects on the body. (Because “ravaging” is exactly what adrenal fatigue does to the body)
WHAT IS ADRENAL FATIGUE EXACTLY:
In order to understand adrenal fatigue, let’s first look at the anatomy.
The adrenals glands are a pair of pea-sized organs that can be found on top of each kidney.
Understanding exactly how the adrenals work requires breaking the adrenals into 2 components.
The adrenal gland’s inner portion is called the “medulla” for middle, and the outer portion called the “cortex”.
More on both later.
Like ALL glands in our body, their main purpose in life is to produce and release hormones that are necessary for basic bodily functions.
Immune function, regulating blood sugar for energy demands, stabilizing body temperature, making sure blood pressure is optimal, even the production of our sex hormones.
All examples of bodily functions that are regulated by proper hormone functioning.
When it comes to the “adrenals”, I believe a lot of people have heard the words adrenal fatigue before. I just don’t think people understand what is actually happening with adrenal fatigue.
The good news is, when you do understand what is happening, you can make some effective, easy to implement lifestyle changes that can really help replenish your adrenal hormone production.
Thereby eliminating adrenal fatigue.
So let’s begin.
The adrenal glands are most famous for its ability to help you deal with “stress” on a day to day basis.
Although stress is a very general term, an infinite number of “stressors” exist. As well, a vast number of theories exist about stress, it’s effect on the human body.
Work related stressors.
The list is endless.
Stressors can be physical stressors, like repeated texting, using an ipad, or sitting in front of a computer hour after hour. More intense physical stressors exist, like having a motor vehicle accident, or any other type of injury.
Stressors can be internal stressors. An example being too low or high blood sugar values. Other internal stressors could be an unhealthy gastro-intenstinal system (GI), a poorly functioning detoxification system, or even a tumor growth in the body.
Even perceived stressors, stressors that aren’t real, fears, worry, and anxiety, are just as taxing to our body as all other stressors.
So the adrenal’s job is to release hormones that help our body deal with these day to day stressors.
Just exactly what hormones are released, and what they actually do to “deal” with these daily stressors are about to be explained.
But when these day to day stressors become week to week, month to month, and then year to year, what do you think happens?
Adrenal Fatigue, that’s what.
How Does Adrenal Fatigue Occur?
When we encounter a very stressful event, a number of interesting things occur inside your body, of course, inside the adrenal gland.
Let’s paint you a vivid picture.
Take for an example walking into a gas station right in the middle of a robbery.
May you and your loved ones never be held up at gun point. But I needed to paint you an image that you could probably imagine just how stressful that would be.
Imagine the immediate surge of adrenaline you would experience.
If you’re not exactly sure what that is, imagine:
- your heart rate pounding so fast and hard, you think it’s going to explode.
- Blood pressure would be pounding.
- You’d probably be breathing so hard, almost to the point of hyperventilation.
- Your muscles would be engaged, contracted, and ready to handle whatever in needs to do.
These basic bodily reactions, considered your “sympathetics” or part of the “sympathetic nervous system”, occur right from the moment that situation begins.
This is sometime known as the “fight or flight response”
From a physiological stand-point, the center portion of the adrenal gland (the medulla) receives nerve impulses that were initiated from the hypothalamus (a segment in the brain that controls body temperature, hunger, thirst, fatigue, sleep, and circadian cycles, amongst other necessary bodily functions).
From there, information is sent down the spinal cord, and conveyed through nerve signals that go directly to the adrenal medulla.
When this happens, the adrenal medulla releases epinephrine/norepinephrine.
That’s the acute, short-termed, immediate response to stress.
No adrenal fatigue yet.
As the robbery continues, a longer term stress response occurs.
Once the adrenaline hormone is released, and is at its peak, the hypothalamus in the brain, sends signals to the pituitary gland (also located in the brain).
It does this because the hypothalamus is aware of the initial fight or flight response that resulted in adrenaline release, and now senses the need to help the body return to its normal physiological functioning.
The pituitary gland in turn releases ACTH, which stands for “Adrenocorticotropic hormone”.
The ACTH is released in the blood stream, that will ultimately get circulated to the adrenal glands.
Once the adrenal glands outer lining (the cortex) receives blood with ACTH in it, cortisol when then be released.
Thus, a loop between the hypothalamus, the pituitary, and the adrenals has been established to deal with stress.
This loop is called the HPA axis.
Both short term stressors and long term stressors are normal.
That is, our body, our HPA axis, is set up to enable the body to deal with stressful situations.
However, I believe in our modern society, with the advent of technology, the economic demands to survive (especially during recessionary times), increased processed/sugary foods, fast-foods, and our love affair with caffeine and alcohol, not to mention “energy boosters/supplements, our body has to process stress like never before.
Adrenal Fatigue: Consequences of Repeated Stressors
As written earlier, the body has an immediate stress response that involves the release of adrenaline, and a long term stress response that involves the release of cortisol.
Cortisol is signaled by the hypothalamus, which signals the pituitary, which then tells the adrenal cortex to secret Cortisol.
Done over and over, and over and over again because of our stressful society, dysfunction of the HPA axis develops.
Depending on what stage of adrenal fatigue someone is in, will depend on how much dysfunction the HPA axis is in (more on this in part 2 of Everything You Need To Know About Adrenal Fatigue).
So the important take away from all of the above is the fact that “stress” is all around, day to day, month to month and year to year.
When this happens, adrenal fatigue will develop.
So much more to the story exists, such as;
In the next part of “Everything you need to know about adrenal fatigue“, you learn:
- the action of cortisol
- the normal circadian pattern and cortisol
- low cortisol levels
- elevated cortisol levels
- Cortisol/DHEA relationship
- Cortisol and Insulin
- Adrenal Testing
- Adrenal Fatigue and Immune function
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