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Stress and Its Impact on Adrenal Health

stress affects adrenal health

Stress and Its Impact on Adrenal Health

Dr. Melanie Brown | Originally Published at Mountain Times | December 1, 2022

Our body reacts quickly to stress, so we can respond accordingly. This innate survival tool allows us to jump away from a fast-coming car or fight off a surprise attack.

The adrenal glands, which sit above our kidneys, emit cortisol when activated by chemicals in the brain. We become alert and ready for fast action. Our pupils dilate, our heart races, our muscles tense, and our palms sweat. We feel anxious and fearful — sometimes to the point of shaking.

Too much ‘fight-or-flight’ puts stress on our bodies

Without this fight-or-flight response, we would be less capable of survival when in imminent danger.

But life is often fast-paced, with too many stressors. Unfortunately, these daily stressors can also cause this same fight-or-flight response. Our overstimulated bodies can’t tell the difference between an oncoming hungry tiger or our three-year-old who just knocked over our freshly folded laundry, or Bob, who called in sick AGAIN and left you in a lurch.

These elevated levels of circulating cortisol should signal the brain to stop the secretion of adrenal signaling hormones. Instead, chronic stress results in our adrenal glands secreting more and more cortisol. Over time, our cells become resistant to cortisol, and the negative feedback system becomes ineffective. Without intervention, the system becomes dysregulated, and cortisol drops and is too low leading to the symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal fatigue takes toll on our health

While doctors argue over whether adrenal fatigue is a medical condition, we feel the effects of this imbalance in our daily lives. It can take a toll on our bodies, and we feel worn out. We become less able to handle life’s everyday stressors and become reactionary, jumpy, easily stressed, anxious, depressed, overburdened, and in need of a vacation! We wake up tired, have trouble concentrating, and can get lightheaded when we stand up quickly.

If stress causes adrenal fatigue, addressing the source of the problem is the best way to solve it. Taking care of our physical, mental, and emotional needs is the long-term cure.

So, what can we do to support our adrenal and overall health?

Eat regularly. Your body doesn’t know if you are in a famine or skipping a meal. Eat protein-rich meals, starting with breakfast, for consistent energy throughout the day. Avoid hunger, carbs, and sugar, which can create dips and peaks in blood sugar levels.

Sleep! Approximately eight hours per night at the same time in a quiet, dark “cave.” Avoid screens for one to two hours before bed.

Find healthy ways to destress. Take that vacation! Call a friend, pray, or meditate. Incorporate a daily walk, paint, or color, or bring some friends to karaoke. Hike, ski, or swim. Take yoga and do breathing exercises. Make a reading corner and use it. Schedule a stress-relieving therapeutic massage. Grow and pickle things or macrame and sell or gift your wares! Find the things you enjoy and make time for them.

Supplements and testing can be helpful. Under the direction of your physician, adrenal gland supplements or adaptogenic herbs can give your adrenal glands temporary rest or support and help restore their optimal function. The adrenal salivary test measures circadian rhythm, the cortisol precursor hormones, and cortisol levels. It can tell you where you fall from adrenal fatigue to high adrenal hormones, and follow-up tests can track whether you’re successfully managing your condition.

Regulating hormones equals good adrenal health

Cortisol helps us wake up and provides us with energy in the morning. Melatonin brings our bodies down from the day and prepares us for sleep. These hormones work in tandem with our natural circadian rhythm. A proper amount of cortisol in the blood in the morning and early afternoon sets the stage for a healthy melatonin spike at night and, hopefully, a good night’s sleep!

Adrenal health is a litmus test for our mind and body’s overall health and well-being. Optimizing adrenal health can springboard positive changes in the rest of our lives!

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