We all know that too much stress is a bad thing. When we are stressed we are less in control of our mood, our fitness tends to deteriorate and we will experience physical and mental fatigue. To exacerbate these problems, chronic stress has been linked to headaches, overeating and obesity, restlessness, illness, digestive problems and chronic fatigue.
When work and life get busy, we may not be able to avoid stress, so what can we do to help our bodies cope?
How Stress Operates
To get to where we can understand what to do to combat adrenal fatigue, we first must understand how stress is causing all of these problems.
Stress is not in itself a bad thing; it is a response that our bodies have honed and adapted for a reason. Simply put, stress is a chain reaction our bodies undergo when something happens in our environment to cause us to be alert. An example could be when we are almost hit by a car and we quickly respond, or when we learn that something was overlooked when undergoing a huge merger.
So, stressor happens. Next, signals are sent that queue the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, into our bloodstream from our adrenal glands.
When this happens, blood is redirected away from the parts of our body deemed unnecessary in this fight-or-flight response, such as our digestive tract, and redirected to deliver these stress hormones. Along with this comes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar.
Generally our bodies will return to normal within a number of hours, but with the many stressors that we face throughout the day, a balance is not always allowed to exist. In the past we might have faced a predator or a neighboring tribesman, faced the threat and moved on. Now we have a wider variety of stressors: work, traffic, bills, excessive exercise, and even hunger can all create this reaction within our bodies.
As our lives become busier and we feel more stressed, we do not allow our bodies to return to normal. This leaves our bodies in this fight-or-flight response constantly, leading to a multitude of health issues.
When we experience continuous stress, our adrenal glands become overworked. Adrenal fatigue, also known as adrenal insufficiency, is thought to happen when our adrenal glands are worn out and are no longer able to produce the appropriate levels of stress hormones, specifically cortisol. Symptoms include fatigue, general malaise, sleep problems, memory and concentration impairment, loss of ambition, immune problems, sugar and fat cravings and decreased sex drive.
With the way our lives seem to necessitate working until the point of exhaustion, it is no wonder that many of us may go through periods where we feel flighty, unhealthy and without the desire to do what we need to do – our adrenal glands are exhausted!
What Can We Do?
Diet, mild to moderate exercise and relaxation are key here. Meditation and yoga, spending time in nature and with loved ones, and being sure to get that time in at the gym will all help to reduce chronic stress, however from time-to-time we cannot avoid having a ton on our plates. Here are some easy and quick tips on how to get your adrenal glands back to full functioning power in as little time as possible!
Prepare the following drink when you wake up first thing in the morning or if you are having trouble sleeping to help pep up your adrenal glands.
- 4 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ¼ teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
The science behind the recipe? Orange juice provides vitamin C, which has been shown to decrease high cortisol levels and improve adrenal function. Cream of tartar is a good source of potassium, while sea salt contains sodium. This combination is important for healthy nerve impulses – potassium inside the cell and sodium outside of the cell are what create the nerve impulses. When your adrenal glands are out of whack, sodium can be eliminated through excessive urination, so restoring this balance is crucial for cell functioning.
Adaptogens are agents that promote biochemical balance in the brain and body that can be found in a number of natural plants. They help you to adapt to stress, keeping you mentally alert even during times of calorie deficit.
One adaptogen, Ashwagandha, is an herb that has been used in Indian Ayurvedic healing for over 3,000 years, and is known for its restorative benefits. It helps combat stress, inflammation, fatigue, lack of energy and difficulty concentrating.
How? Ashwagandha has been shown to enhance GABA receptors and serotonin in the brain.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain. GABA helps to relieve anxiety, boost mood and improve sleep. GABA also helps to relieve pain from injuries, increase resilience during exercise, burn fat and increase growth of lean muscle mass.
Gaba also helps combat stress and mental flightiness by blocking receptor sites for cortisol.
Ashwagandha has been shown to increase energy levels after one week of use, so when you are feeling general fatigue set in, take a 600 to 1,000 mg supplement twice daily.
Here in the US, we suffer from a dramatic deficiency of Omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are found in foods such as fish and seaweed.
Research has shown that consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your levels of cortisol, and thus reduce your biological response to stress. This reduction in your stress response will help to return your adrenal glands to a healthy functioning place.
In 2003, a study conducted by Diabetes & Metabolism found that volunteers who were supplemented with 7.2 grams per day of fish oil showed a decrease in the cortisol levels caused by mental stress compared to before the fish oil supplementation. Meaning taking fish oil can help to control the stress you feel when encountered with challenges throughout the day. This blunting of cortisol levels will help you continue to feel healthy and alert under normally stressful conditions.
One more tip to leave you with – excess consumption of stimulants, such as coffee and energy drinks, are not your friend when it comes to adrenal fatigue. Many of us with this condition feel like we must use stimulants to wake up, but they are just making the problem worse long term. Caffeine is shown to exacerbate stress and lead to increased cortisol levels, so if you think you may suffer from adrenal fatigue, cutting down on coffee may be a good step to take.
- Nutrients and Botanicals for Treatment of Stress
- Overtraining, Exercise and Adrenal Insufficiency
- Adrenal “Cocktail”
- Supporting Your Adrenal Glands in Times of Stress
- Adrenal Disorders
- How Does Ashwagandha Work in the Brain?
- What is Ashwagandha?
- Clayton’s Health Facts: Ashwagandha
- Fish oil prevents the adrenal activation elicited by mental stress in healthy men