Archive for April, 2013

Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue or deficiency is a major cause of fatigue and is also associated with hormonal imbalances. The most common cause of adrenal fatigue is STRESS. Add to this the fact adrenal fatigue in itself is stressful and you can see it is a problem that needs to be remedied quickly.

Every type of stress makes demands on the adrenal glands. Stress is not restricted to emotional stress i.e. situations when we know we are stressed. Stress can also exist in the body without us being aware of it. For example, situations that stress the body without necessarily causing emotional stress include nutritional deficiencies; exposure to environmental toxins via our food, water and air; inefficient detoxification pathways in the body; and reduced production of natural antioxidants in the body. This is just a few of the ‘unnoticed’ stresses that can occur.

A certain amount of stress is normal and in fact necessary for our continued survival, however when the stress burden becomes too great the adrenal glands begin to suffer.

What is adrenal fatigue?
The adrenal glands are small walnut sized glands that sit on top of the kidneys. Despite their small size they have huge responsibilities. They play an important role in healthy glucose metabolism, energy maintenance, the ability to relax, body weight and the production of hormones.

Adrenal fatigue describes a situation where the adrenal glands are not working to their full potential and therefore not producing a sufficient amount of hormones needed for good health, in particular cortisol and DHEA.

Initially in the stress response levels of cortisone and DHEA increase but with continued stress the adrenal glands cannot keep up the demand and the levels of these hormones decrease. This means a decrease in energy, reduced brain power, increased inflammation in the body and unwanted changes in the immune system.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue

The symptoms of adrenal fatigue are many and varied, and may be different from one person to another. It is important to note that most of the symptoms that are associated with adrenal fatigue can also exist in other conditions, for example thyroid disease, menopause.

Symptoms include:
• Fatigue
• Disturbed sleep
• Depression, anxiety, inability to cope, moodiness
• Reduced or no interest in sex
• Immune system dysfunction
• Increased infections
• Autoimmune disorders
• Thyroid disturbances
• Blood sugar and insulin disturbances
• Muscle weakness
• Inflammation

You can see from this list of symptoms what a big impact there is when the adrenals are not operating efficiently.
Healing the adrenals
Herbal medicines

There are many herbal medicines that help to restore adrenal function and protect the adrenals from further damage from stress. Two of these herbs are considered to be adrenal tonics, Rehmannia and Licorice. Both of these herbs are used widely by Naturopaths to improve adrenal function, whether it is overactive or underactive as in the case of adrenal fatigue. It is interesting that both of these herbs also have very effective anti-inflammatory activity. Licorice can be contraindicated in some situations eg hypertension and oedema so it should be prescribed carefully at the correct dose for the individual.

Herbs that protect the adrenals from the effects of continued stress are called ‘adaptogens’. This name arises from the fact that they actually help the body adapt to stress. For many years there has been a large amount of research into these herbs and we are gaining a much greater understanding of them as a result. There are a number of mechanisms by which these herbs actually improve the stress response.

One of the major factors involved is the increased production of a particular type of protein in the cell called ‘heat shock’ proteins otherwise known as ‘molecular chaperones’ because the protect proteins inside the cells during times of stress. They also stimulate the immunity and protect from infection and disorders associated with immune system.

The major adaptogenic herbs include Korean ginseng, Siberian Ginseng, Withania, Rhodiola, Schisandra, Codonopsis and Astragalus. The correct adaptogen/s has to be chosen carefully for each individual person to suit their symptoms and their situation. They certainly would not all be taken together.

The adaptogenic herbs not only support the stress response they also improve immunity, enhance sense of wellbeing and improve physical and mental performance. They are truly remarkable herbs and are indeed the remedies the 21st centuary.

Nutritional medicines
An overall good nutritional status is important for healthy adrenal function but there are some nutrients that are specific for the adrenals.
• Tyrosine – an amino acid that helps the body adapt to and cope with the effects of physical and psychological stress
• B Complex vitamins are important, particularly vitamin B5
• Vitamin C – the adrenal glands store large amounts of vitamin C and this is used up quickly during times of stress

Other important nutrients include magnesium for healthy nervous system function and healthy glucose metabolism. Zinc is also very important as a co-factor for many enzyme reactions throughout the body and it is often deficient.

Diet and the adrenals
It is important to think about what we eat and when we eat. One of the major effects of stress is poor food choices. We often choose fast, convenient food that fills us quickly so that we can move onto the next task etc. In most cases these foods will be full of refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and sugars. This leads to increased weight, blood sugar and insulin problems, low energy and further adrenal depletion. Low energy leads to cravings for more refined carbohydrates and sugars leading to even lower energy and adrenal function. It becomes a vicious cycle!

Caffeine is another item that is often consumed in large quantities when people are tired. There is no doubt it will initially pick up energy but that energy does not last and is usually followed by a crash. The main source of caffeine is traditionally coffee but in recent years we have seen the introduction of high caffeine containing energy drinks. The majority of these contain large amounts of sugar along with the caffeine. Other sources include tea and chocolate and the herb Guarana. Caffeine has profound detrimental effects on the adrenals and should be avoided during times of high stress and adrenal overload.

Wise dietary choices
In general eat meals and snacks made of fresh whole foods such as whole grains and lots of fresh vegetables and some fresh fruit. Good quality protein is also important and helps to maintain energy levels and blood sugar levels when consumed with each meal throughout the day. Protein can be obtained from animal sources such as lean meats, free range chicken and eggs, fish and sea foods, dairy products; or from vegetable sources such as soy bean products which contain whole proteins. Dried legumes such as lentils, chick peas, kidney beans etc do not contain whole protein and should be combined with a grain on the same day. This provides all the essential amino acids necessary for the body to make proteins.

Stress management
Recognising the cause of stress and eliminating it as much as possible is a great start to adrenal health. We certainly cannot always escape from the things that stress us, so we can find ways to manage the stress whilst, at the same time using the adrenal tonic and adaptogenic herbs to improve our stress response.

Stress management techniques need to be discovered individually. One activity will not suit everyone. For example, some people find that vigorous exercise is a great stress management tool whilst for others it would be too strenuous and further deplete the adrenals. Although moderate exercise is always a good thing, too much will damage the adrenals, reduce energy, deplete immunity and lead to further problems.

Any activity that you love doing that helps you chill out is a good stress management tool and should be used on a daily basis.

If you are to have healthy adrenal functioning there are many factors to be considered and a multi-pronged approach, taking into account all the points discussed above, is usually needed. If you can follow these simple guidelines, and seek professional advice for herbal and nutritional prescriptions, you adrenals will be healthier as a result.

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