It seems like the problem that is plaguing society nowadays is adrenal fatigue. Everyone is asking what it is, wondering if they have it, and if they do, how to cure it? I put together a three-part video series explaining the ins-and-outs of adrenal fatigue. In this article, I am going more in-depth about this epidemic.
What are the adrenals?
The adrenals are two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys. Their whole purpose is to excrete adrenaline. This hormone helps increase the rate of blood circulation, breathing, carbohydrate metabolism, and muscle exertion. When you’re in a stressful situation the brain sends a message down to the adrenal glands. The glands then excrete adrenaline or cortisol, and suddenly you have the energy to perform.
What is adrenal fatigue?!
Adrenal fatigue happens when you live in high stress for too long. Your adrenal glands are designed to fire immediately so that you can activate fight or flight during a high-stress period. The problem is that modern-day life creates stress for hours, days, months, or even years. These glands are designed like sprint muscles, to crank out adrenaline and then relax. But the lifestyle most people are living doesn’t allow for the relaxation component to take place, so the adrenals cannot recover. Just like a muscle, if you work it over and over again you feel fatigue: if you use your adrenals over and over again, they tire as well.
What causes adrenal fatigue?
Chronic stress causes adrenal fatigue, but this can manifest itself in many different ways. Located in the back of the head is the brain stem. On the top of the brainstem is the fight or flight part of our brain and just below that is the rest and recovery. These two sections live on a constant teeter-totter. When you get stressed, it fires up your fight or flight response and suppresses your rest and recovery response. When the stress goes away, you can recuperate. Your brain adapts to what your body does a lot of. If you’re in a state of chronic stress your brain gets good at keeping you stressed, and you lose your ability to relax and recover. When you stay in this place of imbalance over time, it leads to adrenal fatigue.
Stress can happen in many different ways, some of which you may not recognize. For example, workouts like HIIT, cycling, or kickboxing can fire up your adrenals, and cause your body to pump out cortisol, which prevents weight loss. Another significant stressor is food. Most of the food that is a part of people’s everyday diet creates inflammation in the gut, which sets off a physiological stress response. Your body doesn’t know if you’re working out, running for your life, or eating processed food: the response is the same. I want you to think about the areas of your life where you could be putting your body in a stressed state and not even know it.
What are symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
- FATIGUE. If you get sufficient amounts of sleep and you are still tired during the day and needing naps to survive, that is a sure sign of adrenal fatigue.
- Weight gain. You have difficulty losing weight even if you are eating healthfully and exercising.
- Cravings, especially for salty foods.
- Dizziness. If you bend down and stand up too quickly, you get light headed.
- Excessive perspiration.
When your adrenals are firing high, seven things happen…
Three things go up:
- Blood sugar – so you have enough energy to run.
- Blood pressure – so you have plenty of blood fueling your muscles.
- Muscle tone – so you can fight for your life.
Four things get suppressed:
- Ability to think – your body decreases blood flow to the frontal lobe which controls all of your cognitive skills and increases blood flow to the parietal lobe, so you are acting reflexively.
- Immune system – becomes stronger in the skin to protect you from injury. Chronic stress therefore causes more skin reactions like psoriasis and eczema because your immune system is hyperactive in the skin.
If your blood sugar stays high, it becomes a risk for diabetes. High blood pressure creates a risk for hypertension which can lead to a stroke or heart attack, and high muscle tone causes joint pain.
If I am going to diagnose someone with adrenal fatigue, I start with a neurological exam. First, I look at your eyes because the eyes are a window into the brain. Looking at the way your eyes function can tell me which part of the brain stem is active and if your fight or flight area is overworked.
How to recover from adrenal fatigue in 3 steps
Step #1 – The most natural thing to do is to get adjusted.
Get adjusted by a Chiropractor! If you are in a state of stress your muscles get tight and tense which is your body’s way of telling you that you’re locked into fight or flight. Getting adjusted helps to change how your nervous system works. It normalizes movement in the body from the muscles that have been overly tight, and the increased motion in the body normalizes the brain. Creating movement is essential because it strengthens communication throughout the brain and the body. When patients come into my office, I have them think about their stress, so their body has a response. With an adjustment, I get their body to relax and stay strong while thinking about the stressful situation. Getting adjusted can trick the brain into keeping the body relaxed the next time they encounter that stressful situation, and they can handle it a lot better.
When your body goes into fight or flight mode, your brain shuts off blood flow to the frontal lobe and increases blood flow to the back so that you can act instinctively. However, it is tough to think creatively or rationally when the frontal lobe is shut off. So, when you are stressed, you are incapable of being creative, and you act on instinct and habit. This causes problems when you’re trying to be productive at work or have a constructive conversation with a spouse. Adjustments are necessary because they allow the body to stay relaxed while thinking about the stressful situation, and they free up the frontal lobe so that you can think clearly in times of stress.
Step #2 – Change your environmental stressors.
Change what you can control
Identify your most significant stressors first, whether that be a relationship at work or at home, or even the commute to work. Focus on talking to the people around you and creating specific changes in your life to reduce your stress level. Changes can be as small as going to bed and waking up earlier so you can eat breakfast before you go to work instead of rushing out the door. You’d be surprised how easy and helpful it is to make little changes, because little stressors add up over time.
Change your reaction to the things you can’t control
If you can’t change your environment and the people and situations around you, you have to change yourself. This is when you have to ask yourself, “How can I react differently to my environmental stressors?” There are so many options and research done on the benefits of stress reduction techniques. Here are a few that I recommend…
Meditation increases blood flow to the front part of the brain.
Exercise that you enjoy helps to reconnect the body and brain.
Talking with someone who can help you work through problems, not someone who fires you up around the topic
Step #3 – Change your diet
Blood sugar is the number-one cause of physiological stress on your body.
The vast majority of society eats a high carb and high sugar diet that causes blood sugar to go up and down. When you eat a carb-filled lunch, you get a spike in your blood sugar, and this glucose gives you energy. But you have a limited amount of sugar you can carry in your blood. Immediately after you eat sugar, your body makes insulin to get the sugar out of your blood and into the cells and tissues. If your blood sugar gets too high for long periods of time, it can cause a lot of damage, which is what happens with diabetes. Low blood sugar is dangerous to your brain and ability to think clearly; it also causes that “hangry” feeling you get. Your body releases stress hormones like cortisol to compensate and increase your blood sugar.
It is important to be eating REAL foods because what passes for food, primarily by American standards, is not real food. These foods are chock full of chemicals, preservatives, and flavor enhancers which all create inflammation in your body. Inflammation starts in the gut where 80% of the immune system is and causes inflammation in other parts of the body. When inflammation gets up to the brain it sets off the same signals that it does when you’re in pain, stressed, or irritated. This means that if the food you eat causes inflammation, this inflammation sets off your fight or flight response. You could be sitting down enjoying a baseball game, and your body could be in a chronic state of stress.
So what are your next steps?
There are a ton of activities to help get you into relaxation mode and help you recover from adrenal fatigue. I’m telling you right now you don’t have to do everything. Sometimes it just takes a couple of changes to pull you out of that constant fight-or-flight mode. If you’ve tried some activities on your own, and you’re still battling symptoms of adrenal fatigue, it is time to get help. You do not have to live with adrenal fatigue. IT IS CURABLE!
If you would like more information or to set up a free 30-minute consultation with me, contact my office. I am located in Madison, WI.
Office number: 608- 276-7635