Do you feel like you’re running on empty most of the time? Requiring more and more caffeine first thing to help you face the day? Rushing about trying to get 101 things done but actually achieving very little in the process?
If so, you need to be careful you’re not putting your health at risk. Trying to maintain this sort of pace, particularly over long periods, can seriously impair your adrenal glands.
Your adrenal glands are located on top of your kidneys and are responsible for producing many essential hormones that help regulate important functions, such as your response to stress and your blood sugar levels.
Left unchecked, prolonged periods of stress and poor diet can lead to adrenal insufficiency (AI), also referred to as hypoadrenocorticism ?? a lifestyle-related illness that can strike at any age. The condition causes over-worked adrenal glands to become under-active and eventually leaves you feeling ‘burnt out’. This can result in a range of debilitating symptoms like an inability to concentrate, excessive fatigue and weakness, nervousness, irritability, depression and insomnia.
Adrenal insufficiency causes your adrenals to produce insufficient amounts of the ‘stress’ hormone, cortisol, which helps you respond in times of stress. This steroid hormone also helps your body metabolise fats, proteins, and carbohydrates; suppresses inflammatory reactions; and helps maintain the proper functioning of your immune system. AI also causes your adrenals to manufacture less aldosterone ?? another steroid hormone that controls sodium and potassium levels in your blood, an imbalance of which can lower your immunity. A lack of cortisol and aldoesterone can cause sufferers to experience certain food cravings. These include intense sugar cravings and an increased desire for salty foods.
Other tell-tale signs of AI are low blood pressure on standing causing light-headedness and fainting, hyper-pigmentation of the skin (discolouration), swollen fingers or ankles (water retention), hair loss, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
It’s important to be aware of these symptoms so you can ask your GP to run specific tests for AI if you experience them. Blood and saliva tests can be carried out to measure your hormone and blood sugar levels. Chances are that if you don’t ask your doctor to refer you for these tests he probably won’t recommend them.
Take these simple steps to prevent ‘burn out’
Take steps to relax ?? gentle exercise such as yoga has been shown to be an effective stress-buster. However, it’s important that you don’t partake in any strenuous exercise, such as aerobics, as the physical strain will only tire weak adrenals and delay your recovery. In addition, avoid stimulants like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, which tire overtaxed adrenals further.
Follow a low glycaemic load (GL) diet and avoid refined carbohydrates and sugary foods as they cause your pancreas to start overproducing insulin, causing your blood glucose levels to crash. This forces your adrenals into a cycle of pumping out surplus cortisol to unlock back-up stores of glucose in your liver as an emergency fuel source. Ordinarily this is a natural biochemical reflex, but when it continues unabated the adrenals can soon become exhausted.
Eat more protein as proteins digest slowly and release energy over many hours ?? this spares your adrenals from having to carry out extra work. In addition, you should temporarily increase your salt intake while your adrenal glands are unable to produce sufficient amounts of the ‘salt-retaining hormone’ ?? aldosterone.
Certain nutritional supplements can help make sure that your adrenals are supplied with sufficient amounts of the substances needed to help them manufacture the important corticosteroid hormones, cortisol and aldosterone.
The B vitamins are critical for the proper production of these hormones. Take vitamin B3 (as niacin 50-500mg/day), vitamin B5 (as the coenzyme panthethine 300mg/day) and B12 (as the coenzyme methylcobalamin 5mg/day). A vitamin C deficiency has also been linked to adrenal weakness. Take 1,000mg of vitamin C a day.
Liquorice extract is beneficial too as it prolongs the life of cortisol, which reduces the burden on tired adrenal glands to pump out more of this hormone, especially during times of stress.
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