Optimizing adrenal health is essential to combating stress. You probably don’t think about your adrenal glands — the two walnut-sized endocrine glands on top of each kidney — often, but they play an incredibly important role in your health, nonetheless.
Your adrenal glands secrete nearly 50 hormones, including adrenalin, cortisol, estrogen and testosterone, which help to regulate your body’s response to stress, among other things. The problem is that in today’s 24/7 lifestyle, many of us are under stress virtually all the time, and in a nutshell this means our adrenals rarely get a break.
Since they produce so many essential hormones, the adrenal glands are responsible for many of the functions we need to stay alive and healthy, including:
- Energy production — carbohydrate, protein and fat conversion to blood glucose for energy
- Fluid and electrolyte balance
- Fat storage
One hormone in particular, cortisol, is extremely important for keeping our body systems in balance, as well as protecting our cells. For example:
- It controls the strength of the immune system: Too much cortisol weakens the immune system, setting the motions for increased susceptibility to infections and cancer, while too little leads to an overactive immune system and autoimmune disease.
- It normalizes blood sugar.
- It regulates blood pressure.
One of your adrenal glands primary roles is to help your body produce the “fight or flight” response to meet the demands of stress, both physical and emotional. For instance, when you experience stress, your adrenals release adrenaline, which increases your blood pressure and heart rate to keep you alert, and cortisol, which gives you a burst of energy and increased immunity.
This fight or flight response essentially primes your body to either fight your stressor head-on or quickly escape it, by turning on the physiologic mechanisms you need for optimal energy and alertness (even your digestion slows during this process so you can devote all your energy to your survival).
This is a life-saving biological process when used for short-term stressors (such as running from an attacker), but most of us feel stress on a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute, basis. This means your body rarely gets a chance to revert back to its natural state, and instead exists in a perpetual fight-or-flight mode, which wreaks havoc on your adrenal glands and your overall health.
Are You Suffering From Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal problems are not always recognized by conventional medicine, unless they progress to life-threatening conditions like Cushing’s syndrome (an overproduction of cortisol) or Addison’s disease (an underproduction of cortisol). With adrenal fatigue, your adrenal glands are still functioning, just not enough to maintain the proper balance your body depends on.
As its name implies, people with adrenal fatigue often feel tired, but the characteristic that stands out is that they feel tired for no reason. You may go to sleep early, get a good night’s sleep and yet you still feel exhausted in the morning. Other signs of adrenal fatigue include:
- Feeling rundown or burned out
- Cravings for salty and sweet foods
- Difficulty recovering from illness, exercise or stress
- Energy tends to increase in the evening, after 6 pm
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble waking up in the morning
- Decreased sex drive
Support Your Adrenal Health
With proper care, you can promote your adrenal health, and the first step to doing so is to address your stress levels. You may need to cut back on work or personal obligations, let go of negative emotions like guilt or anger, or work through relationship troubles. The key is to identify your stressors and seek to eliminate them, while also engaging in stress-relief activities like gentle exercises (yoga, tai chi), meditation, massage, or simply taking time to relax and put your feet up.
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