With our complex lives in the 21st century, more and more people are suffering from stress-related conditions. The negative impact of stress can affect many areas of health. One area in particular that can be adversely affected is the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands are located near the kidneys and produce the hormones that are needed for the body to function properly. Stress adversely affects these glands because, when the body is under severe stress the glands start producing more hormones to help the body cope (this is the classic ‘fight or flight’ response). The main hormone is cortisol, which regulates metabolism and is a response to stress.
Of course, in some circumstances a stress response is needed, however, when stress is experienced over a long period of time, these glands weaken and this negatively affects the body and results in adrenal fatigue. So, what are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
5 Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
1. Excessive, unexplained tiredness. Adrenal fatigue makes a person very tired. This is because under stress the hormone levels are elevated, thus making it harder to sleep. Over time, the body’s cortisol levels are affected and this leads to the body being in an almost permanent state of alertness. All of this can affect the ability for a person to fall asleep or get a good night’s sleep. It could be that a person thinks he is getting enough sleep (the recommended 8 to 10 hours) but still wakes up feeling tired and fatigued.
2. Cravings for salty or sugary foods. One way that adrenal fatigue affects the body is to lower the blood sugar level. When this happens cravings for energy foods increase and therefore a sufferer will eat more sugary foods. Foods high in sugar are also comfort foods and stress can cause a person to increase the intake of sugar-high foods. Adrenal fatigue can also result in cravings for salty foods. This is because the adrenal glands affect how the kidneys regulate mineral fluctuations. When we suffer from fatigue, the body releases more minerals in the urine. This in turn can increase the desire for salty snacks.
3. Heightened energy in the evenings. An adrenal fatigue sufferer could find that he/she is tired all day but then in the late evening experience a surge of energy. Usually cortisol reaches a peak in late morning and then reduces during the day.
4. Difficulty in handling stress. The normal body’s response to stress is to release specific hormones so that stress can be handled effectively. The three specific hormones are cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine, and knowing how these affect the body helps us understand the relationship to stress.
a. Cortisol. Gives the body extra energy to cope with the stress, it increases memory function and lowers sensitivity to pain. However, the body needs a rest period after cortisol has been released in a stress-related situation. If a person is suffering, from adrenal fatigue rarely gets to have the ‘rest period’, over time less and less cortisol is produced.
b. Adrenaline. Probably the most well-known stress response hormone. This gives us the initial burst of energy needed to respond to stress. Once again, adrenal fatigue will affect the amount of this hormone and therefore the response to stress is reduced.
c. Norepinephrine. This hormone helps the brain to focus on the stress. Without this active hormone, the response to stress could be described as lethargic.
5. More infections. Cortisol helps to regulate the immune system in the body and cortisol works as an anti-inflammatory. Too much cortisol over an extended period of time hinders the response of the immune system and this results in having more infections. On the other hand if the adrenal glands are so weakened that they produce too little cortisol then the body’s response is to over react to infections resulting in certain autoimmune disorders.