Adrenal fatigue is the term given to a condition which is largely unrecognised by the medical profession; where part of the adrenal glands stop working properly. While it is unrecognised by doctors, alternative practitioners see adrenal fatigue as something which will affect everyone at some point in their lifetime and may affect up to two thirds of the population at any one time. If this is the case then adrenal fatigue is something which deserves attention as solving this could make a lot of people feel a lot better than they do currently.
The name adrenal fatigue gives a lot away. Adrenalin is involved and if you have a stressful life and are feeling low and tired, wondering where your get up and go got up and went to; you may be one of the two thirds of the population with adrenal fatigue.
The adrenal glands are two triangular shaped glands found at the top of the kidneys. They can be divided into two parts – inner and outer. The outer part is called the adrenal cortex and is responsible for producing hormones that help regulate metabolism and body composition. If this part were to stop working it would have life threatening implications and fortunately this not the part implicated in adrenal fatigue.
The part of the glands which becomes worn out is the inner part, called the adrenal medulla which secretes the hormones adrenalin and noradrenalin. Both of these hormones help us survive in stressful events being released as part of the “flight or fight” response.
The “flight or fight” response is a primitive survival mechanism which is instinctive within animals. If we sense danger adrenalin is released which primes us to either fight or run away. Immediately the response is activated, a number of changes occur in the body. While the changes happen instantaneously, it takes a long time for the body to return to its normal, relaxed state. This is fine if you only have to respond to one sabre tooth tiger in the wild (because you are a caveman); not so fine if you are battling paper tigers all around you: in the office, at home, commuting to work… (because you are civilised). In modern life we are responding to stressful situations all the time and rarely have the opportunity to recover properly from each event. Our bodies become habituated to the stress hormones flooding the system and we start to become ill.
The table below gives some of the physiological changes induced by the release of adrenalin and what happens when we do not get a chance to recover from the effects of stress.
|Reaction||Survival||Long term response|
|heart rate increases||blood is pumped faster around the body||leads to high blood pressure|
|breathing is faster||more oxygen in body||diaphragm muscles tire chest pains|
|digestion stops||energy goes to large muscles||stomach ulcers|
|blood leaves head hands and feet||blood directed away from vulnerable extremities||migraines and cold hands and feet|
|blood coagulates more quickly||minimise blood loss if injured||blood clots and strokes|
|extra sugars along with insulin released into bloodstream||provides more energy||low blood sugar induced tiredness|
|stress messages sent to muscles||prepares muscles for action||fatigue sets in|
After a prolonged period of reacting to stress the adrenal glands become tired and stop producing enough hormones. This results in a worn out fatigued state which is very similar, if not identical to that produced by stress burnout.
The solutions include a balanced low carb high fat diet, establishing a regular sleep cycle and stress reduction techniques, giving the adrenal glands an opportunity to recover from fatigue.