What are Adrenal Glands?
Adrenal glands, are small, triangular-shaped glands located on top of both kidneys. They produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and other essential functions.
The role of the adrenal glands in your body is to release certain hormones directly into the bloodstream. Many of these hormones have to do with how the body responds to stress, and some are vital to existence. Each zone of the adrenal cortex secretes a specific hormone. The key hormones produced by the adrenal cortex include:
1. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone produced by the zona fasciculata that plays several important roles in the body. It helps control the body’s use of fats, proteins and carbohydrates; suppresses inflammation; regulates blood pressure; increases blood sugar; and can also decrease bone formation. This hormone also controls the sleep/wake cycle. It is released during times of stress to help your body get an energy boost and better handle an emergency situation.
2. Aldosterone, a mineralocorticoid hormone produced by the zona glomerulosa plays a central role in regulating blood pressure and certain electrolytes (sodium and potassium). Aldosterone sends signals to the kidneys, resulting in the kidneys absorbing more sodium into the bloodstream and releasing potassium into the urine. This means that aldosterone also helps regulate the blood pH by controlling the levels of electrolytes in the blood.
3. DHEA and Androgenic Steroids, these hormones produced by the zona reticularis are weak male hormones. They are precursor hormones that are converted in the ovaries into female hormones (estrogens) and in the testes into male hormones (androgens). However, estrogens and androgens are produced in much larger amounts by the ovaries and testes.
4. Epinephrine (Adrenaline) and Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline)
The adrenal medulla, the inner part of an adrenal gland, controls hormones that initiate the flight or fight response. The main hormones secreted by the adrenal medulla include epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), which have similar functions. Among other things, these hormones are capable of increasing the heart rate and force of heart contractions, increasing blood flow to the muscles and brain, relaxing airway smooth muscles, and assisting in glucose (sugar) metabolism. They also control the squeezing of the blood vessels (vasoconstriction), helping maintain blood pressure and increasing it in response to stress. Like several other hormones produced by the adrenal glands, epinephrine and norepinephrine are often activated in physically and emotionally stressful situations when your body needs additional resources and energy to endure unusual strain.
Above information on adrenal function cited from Hopkins Medicine.
What Affects the Adrenals?
There is a number of lifestyle, diet, environmental, emotional and mental factors that affect our adrenals. These factors create stress in our bodies that's ultimately put pressure on the glands and deplete our adrenal function. During stressful episodes adrenal glads are activated to help us deal with those emergency situations, but how often are they activated?
We live in a world where in are in a constant rush. Always running to get somewhere. We've been conditioned to feel like we constantly need to be in motion, panic, state of doing and that rest is something that's a luxury we get for a couple of weeks out of the year when we go on a vacation. We don't sleep, we don't eat healthy balanced meals, we over compensate for everything with large amounts of coffee and pop prescription and over the counter medication like tictacs. Our bodies are in a constant state of stress.
What are the symptoms?
There are a number of symptoms of adrenal fatigue and all of them might not be listed here. It's important to remember that any body function that is governed by the hormones adrenal glands produce can be affected and can produce symptoms.
Lethargy & lack of energy
Brain fog - inability to remember things
Unexplained hair loss
Pain in the upper neck or back with no clear reason
Weight gain (especially around the waist) with inability to lose it
Dry and thin skin
High frequency of viral and respiratory infections (flu / cold)
Alternating constipation and diarrhea
Low body temperature
Inability to handle heat or cold
How to spot Adrenal Fatigue signs?
Adrenal Fatigue tends to come what seems out of nowhere, but there are definite signs that appear long before an actual burnout happens.
Stage 1 - You are carrying so much responsibility, you are wired and operating at full force. Adrenaline is running high and you can do it all. The problem is that this high adrenal output is designed to last approximately 15 minutes NOT 15 months . And this is the most dangerous stage.
Stage 2 + 3 - It feels as almost overnight, you are so tired but cannot fall asleep. Insomnia kicks and in stays. It seems maybe once a week a you get a good night's sleep and the rest of the week you're running on coffee. Your adrenals are burning out and you're experiencing new symptoms every day. You feel pain, agitation, anxiety, and deep exhaustion.
Stage 4 - you can no longer get out of bed, your limbs feel so heavy you simply cannot move. It takes all the energy you have to get out of bed just to eat. Any activity that you force yourself to you only leaves you feeling in pain and exhausted.
I experienced complete adrenal fatigue 3 times in my life. Each episode was created by a combination of lifestyle, diet and extreme stress. The stress I was experiencing on daily basis was often a result of outside forces (such as jobs I wasn't satisfied with, toxic friendships, lack of sleep, lack of peace,etc.) There was never just one thing that triggered the burnout but rather years of doing it all without slowing down. It took 3 burnouts for me to really understand what I needed to do in order to prevent future burnouts and it all started with acceptance and deep desire to completely revamp my life. It started with speaking up for myself and setting firm boundaries. For years I experienced a number of symptoms. In my most severe moments, I was unable to get out of bed. To go grocery shopping. Taking a shower was a day long activity as it required rest both before and after. On my journey to finding help and healing I created an adrenal support guide.
It should be noted that Western medicine does not recognize Adrenal Fatigue as an actual illness. While there are a number recognized diseases caused by insufficient adrenal function, fatigue is not one of them. They simply state that the symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be attributed to so many other things, they simply call it an unproved theory. So, unless your adrenal function drops so significantly that it becomes completely insufficient, doctors won't even entertain the idea.