Maybe more than you think.
Stressed, tired, constantly sick or depressed? Wondering why you can seem to get rid of that little bit of fat around your midsection? Is your menstrual cycle out of whack? Adrenal Exhaustion is a pretty vague term and not generally used in medicine. However, it is quite accurate in describing exactly what’s happening in your body when you undergo large amounts of stress constantly. In order to understand adrenal exhaustion, it’s easier to explain what causes it in the first place.
The Stress Response
A stressor is almost anything that causes a disturbance to the body – heat or cold, environmental pollutants, heavy bleeding from a wound or even strong emotional reactions. Stress in itself is a protective mechanism – when confronted with danger, the body’s sympathetic nervous system (SNS) takes control and quickly mobilizes the body’s resources for immediate physical activity. Glucose and oxygen rush to skeletal muscle ready to fight off an attacker or flee; to the brain which must be on high alert; and to the heart, which must work vigorously to pump enough blood to the brain and muscles. Non-essential activities like digestion, sleep, relaxation and reproduction stop as the body prepares for swift action. The body even reduces blood flow to the kidneys which promotes the release of aldosterone causing the kidneys to retain sodium leading to water retention. When your body holds onto more water, blood pressure naturally rises as blood volume increases and the heart has to work harder to pump more fluid around the body. This helps preserve body fluid volume in the case of severe bleeding.
The body definitely has you covered in case an angry mob ever came to chase after you.
The Resistance Reaction
The stress response I just described is usually short-lived. The second stage of the stress response is called the resistance reaction which helps the body continue fighting the stressor long after the flight or flight stage. The hormone cortisol is released from the adrenals to stimulate gluconeogenesis in the liver (breakdown of protein and fats to create glucose). The resulting glucose is then transported to various tissues in the body which need it for energy. Cortisol also decreases lymphocyte and eosinophil counts (immune cells), therefore dampening any inflammation or immune response. Once the stressor has subsided, the body returns to normal.
What happens if the stressor never goes away? Or what if you’re constantly stressed about different things? That deadline. Late for work. What that person thinks of you. Financial worries. Managing ten different things at once. The list goes on…
In this case, when the circulating hormones do not return to their normal levels it causes a state of distress. The hormones involved in the stress response are never shut off which means that target organs become overstimulated by them, receptors can become desensitized and tissue damage can occur. Over time, cortisol levels drop and can cause sugar and stimulant cravings. Cortisol actually plays a vital part in the control of carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism. It inhibits prostaglandin synthesis (namely inflammatory particles) and contributes to emotional stability.
Connecting the dots?
When you are consistently stressed, the adrenals can burn out causing cortisol levels to drop below normal. High or low cortisol is a problem.
High cortisol = anxiety, depression, decreased resistance to infections, increased risk for osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, increase in visceral adiposity (the stubborn fat that surrounds organs – most likely to sit around your abdomen), impaired memory, acceleration of ageing, thyroid dysfunction and dysregulation of reproductive hormones (cortisol is made at the expense of these hormones).
Low cortisol = Hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue, depression, poor mental performance.
In essence, stress is just NOT good.
Take time out for yourself. Meditate. Take a bath and light some candles. Book in a massage. Drink some herbal tea. De-stress! By doing this, you’re stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which facilitates rest, relaxation, healing, proper digestion and elimination. Limit black tea and coffee as they are stimulants and can increase cortisol levels also.
There are a few vitamins which are needed to replenish the adrenals which include vitamin C, B5, B6 and a plethora of others. Deficiencies can vary from person to person and this information should not be taken as a prescription. If you have any questions, I am always happy to answer them for you.
I hope everyone has a restful week. Remember to take time out for yourself; you’ll be doing your health a favour!