Do you know how important your adrenal glands are to your overall wellness? Many people are unaware that these little glands are the key to helping us cope with stress. The adrenals are in charge of making and regulating the hormones that help us react to stress inappropriate ways (and calm down afterward).
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Adrenals release epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine that help us avoid potentially dangerous situations. These stress hormones can slow down digestion, divert blood flow to the brain and muscles, and increase awareness.
In addition, the adrenal glands also regulate cortisol, the hormone that controls our sleeping and waking cycle, helps us generate energy from food, suppresses inflammation, and regulates blood pressure. They also produce aldosterone, which regulates the body’s mineral and fluid excretion. Starting to see why these little glands are so important?
When functioning properly, we respond to stressful situations in a way that is healthy and constructive. When the stress passes, our body returns to its normal state and we move on with our day. When the glands are not functioning properly, this process can get completely derailed. We may not ‘wake up’ enough to deal with a potentially dangerous situation, or we may continue to have a stress reaction long after the stressful event has passed.
What is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?
Simply put, adrenal fatigue syndrome is when your adrenals are no longer able to release the hormones necessary to cope with stress. This is not a process that happens overnight. Adrenal fatigue is the cumulative effect of prolonged demands on the glands and usually happens over the course of a few months or even years. We may not even know that we are depleting our adrenals until we’re hit with anxiety, depression, lack of energy, aches, and other symptoms of the syndrome.
Causes of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome
Here are 8 common causes of adrenal fatigue syndrome:
Acute stress is usually caused by a situation such as a divorce, the death of a loved one, or job loss. Though the event may not be that long in duration, its emotional impact hits hard and can be the equivalent of years of more low-level stress. This acute stress can put our bodies into a fight or flight mode that over-activates adrenals and begins draining their reserves.
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2. Prolonged Stress
If a stressful situation goes on for too long, our adrenal glands simply cannot keep up. Working in a high-stress career, dealing with a stressful relationship, or performing a caretaker role for parents or grandparents are examples of situations that often lead to prolonged stress. If you cannot find ways to relax and recharge and get a break from the stress, your adrenals will suffer.
3. Lack of Sleep
Your entire body needs the rest and recharging of a good night of sleep and your adrenal glands are no different. Adrenals stay busy throughout the day reacting to stress and helping your body cope with the numerous demands put on it. If you are not getting restful sleep, especially during the crucial hours of 11 pm to 1 am, your adrenals have no time to regenerate and will eventually fatigue.
4. Poor Diet
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to rely on coffee, soda, fast food, and convenient snacks to fuel our packed schedules. However, these take a big toll on our adrenals. Too much sugar causes our adrenals to pump out excess cortisol to process them and can affect overall hormone levels. Alcohol and caffeine both release stress hormones and any foods you may be allergic to, such as gluten or dairy, will also have a big impact on how healthy your adrenals are. Try to focus on a clean diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein like grass-fed beef and organic chicken.
We expose our bodies to toxins every day in the form of air pollutants, contaminated water, antibiotics in meat, beauty products, and more. Did you know that there are an estimated 2,000 chemicals introduced to the consumer marketplace each year? The more our bodies are exposed to these toxins, the more we suffer. Toxins can lead to cancer, heart disease, and—you guessed it—adrenal fatigue.
When we are exposed to toxins, our adrenals make adjustments to compensate and react to the chemicals. This takes its toll and, if you are not getting the proper rest and nutrition, can result in adrenal fatigue.
6. Traumatic Incident
A single traumatic incident, such as a car accident or mugging, can be just as stressful on our adrenals as long-term stress. If you have been involved in a traumatic incident and feel you cannot get out of the “fight-or-flight” mode, it’s a sign that your adrenals are working overtime and, if not corrected, will eventually fatigue them.
Our bodies and minds crave time to relax and renew. Many people involved in high-stress careers are at work first thing in the morning, eat poorly throughout the day, and don’t return home to relax until late at night. This never gives their adrenal glands the break they need to recharge, and will eventually cause them to burn out.
8. Lack of Relaxation
Do you take time to indulge in your favorite hobbies, take walks, listen to relaxing music, or read books for pleasure? If you’re too busy working, taking care of others, and keeping your household running, you may miss out on the vital relaxation time you need. When you relax, your body gets a chance to relax as well. When you constantly push, your adrenals will eventually reach a breaking point.
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Today’s busy lifestyles often cause health problems when we don’t take the time to relax and take care of ourselves as we should. Too much work, prolonged stress, lack of sleep, and repeated exposure to toxins can all add up to adrenals that are no longer able to keep our bodies in balance like they were designed to do.
If you think you may have adrenal fatigue syndrome, please schedule an appointment with our licensed doctors for more information on how we can help.