January 4, 2012

Stress and adrenal fatigue

It all starts with stress. All kinds of stress influence our body and our lives every single day. We're busy, worry about things, make decisions, have different relationships with many people, have deadlines to make, suffer from illness, exercise long and hard; they all form sources of stress to our bodies. When we were still cavemen, stress would be being attacked by an animal; we could either fight or flight and stress wouldn't last long. These days we're not attacked by animals anymore, but we still have to deal with stress all day long; we want to have a successful career, live up to a certain image and enjoy cardio exercise. Our bodies, however, haven't exactly adapted to this. It still treats stress like something that could kill us and therefore acts accordingly; we're constantly ready to fight or flight; all day. That doesn't really sound healthy, and it isn't.
In times of stress, our adrenal glands produce adrenaline; our heartbeat rises, we're alert and all kinds of processes are put into action in our bodies. One of those processes is the production of a number of different hormones by the adrenal cortex, mainly cortisol. Cortisol slows our digestion and shuts our immune system down, just to make our bodies able to deal with the 'threat'; our instincts take over and all we want is survive. It also affects many other hormonal processes, and the more cortisol is produced, the stronger this reaction gets.
Our adrenal glands are very important when it comes to turning carbs, protein and fats into glucose and therefore keeping our blood sugar levels balanced. They also keep the amount of fluids and blood pressure under control, plus they influence the amount of fat is stored on our bodies.
So, when we experience stress all day long, there will constantly be heightened levels of cortisol in our bodies. Meaning our immune system is weakened, our digestion is slowed down, our blood sugar levels go up and down and all kinds of hormonal processes get disrupted. All day, every day.
As you will probably get, this won't make you any healthier. It even leads to adrenal fatigue; after all, they're made to work short and hard, not 24 hours a day. The adrenals will weaken en we end up with too little cortisol to battle all the stress we're experiencing, causing a number of symptoms:
- Disruped blood sugar levels
- Slow thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- Slow digestion
- Weakened immune system; more prones to becoming ill
- Fatigue, mostly in the morning and halfway through the afternoon
- Difficulty sleeping, not waking up rested
- Low blood pressure; dizziness when changing positions
- Inflammation throughout the body
- PMS symptoms worsen
- Depression
- Muscle weakness
- Allergies get worse
- Bad concentration
- Sensitive to cold
- Easily agitated / annoyed
- Sensitive to light
- Craving salty and/or sweet foods
How can you prevent all of this? Try to avoid stress; don't worry about little things, try not to be perfect all the time and take things with a grain of salt. Take some time to relax or to do something you enjoy. Work out, it'll cause endorfin release; a hormone that causes you to feel happy and affects hormone regulation in your brain.
Healthy eating habits are very important as well; avoid sugars, grains and other foods that raise your blood sugar levels. Besides the fact that they're unhealthy. (they cause insulin resistance and inflammation) They will also heighten your blood sugar at first, causing it to plummet shortly afterwards. This causes the adrenals to produce more cortisol, which simply stresses them out even more.
Make sure to eat lots of fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants, along with some healthy fats (salmon and other fatty fish, avocado, nuts, etc) to make sure your body can effectively use all minerals, vitamins and enzymes in your food.
Also make sure to get sufficient sleep; it helps balancing your hormones.


  1. It was helpful reading this post. Thanks for pointing out that constant stress may increase cortisol levels in our body due to heightened adrenal function.

  2. Thanks for giving details on adrenal burnout. Its helpful to read how it relates to fertility. Great read.