Do you feel like you’re running on empty most of the time? 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 overworked adrenal glands to become underactive 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.
The ‘invisible illness’ that many doctors fail to recognise
Due to the fact that these symptoms are common in a wide range of ailments, many doctors often fail to test for AI, which can then go undiagnosed. These symptoms may be put down to stress or depression instead, which can mean that antidepressants and tranquillizers are prescribed, which typically offer little relief.
Another problem is that most doctors are only trained to identify the most progressive form of AI, known as Addison’s disease… and are reluctant to admit that less serious, but nonetheless chronic, forms of adrenal insufficiency even exist.
Addison’s is a rare but potentially life-threatening condition. It can be caused by the immune system attacking the adrenal glands or the brain failing to produce adequate amounts of adrenal gland stimulating hormones, which results in extreme weakness, weight loss and ultimately fatal shock during periods of stress. As a result, most sufferers are reliant on the hormone drugs hydrocortisone and aldosterone for the rest of their lives.
Other signs that can indicate adrenal exhaustion
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 aldosterone can cause sufferers to experience certain food cravings. These include intense sugar cravings and an increased desire for salty foods. Other telltale 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’
Prolonged stress is one of the greatest risk factors for causing AI. Unrelenting periods of stress mean your adrenals eventually become unable to match your requirement for the ‘stress’ hormone cotisol. Stressful situations cause your body to adopt a ‘fight or flight’ response, causing your adrenal glands to pump out increased amounts of adrenaline in order to prepare your body for action, which further weakens your adrenal glands.
So take active 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.
Following a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is extremely beneficial. Too many refined carbohydrates means your pancreas has to produce excess 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. Over time this causes your adrenals to become exhausted. Proteins digest slowly and release energy over many hours – this spares your adrenals from having to carry out extra work.
Natural remedies can help exhausted adrenal glands recover faster
The B vitamins are critical for helping your adrenals manufacture the important corticosteroid hormones, cortisol and aldosterone. 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.
By following the simple measures outlined above, you should soon start to experience a renewed sense of vigour and increased energy.
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