Adrenal Fatigue: The Ins and Outs of Exhaustion
It doesn’t matter whether mental or physical stress comes first; they both add to adrenal fatigue.
Exhaustion is now so common that it has become a status symbol for the hard-working. The pace of life is increasing each day, leaving the body and mind struggling to keep up.
The adrenal glands produce hormones that regulate our blood sugar, blood glucose and inflammation. They also produce hormones (adrenaline, cortisol) that are our shock absorbers for stress, explains Dr Daphne Lyell, an integrative GP and homeopath based in Woodstock, Cape Town.
“Today we are dealing with consistent multilayered stress, which is like taking money from the bank over and over without replacing it. We are sleeping an average of an hour-and-a-half less than we used to (before the industrial revolution), so we are starting each day from a baseline of sleep deprivation.”
Dr Leah Murray, a Cape Town-based integrative medicine GP, adds: “The vast majority of patients I see are seeking help for debilitating (adrenal) fatigue, lack of motivation, mood changes and weight issues, which are symptoms of what people term ‘adrenal fatigue’. I believe it’s because of our very stressful lives, little restorative time and the continual bombardment of information.”
“When the adrenals are struggling, you often see unstable blood pressure, thyroid problems (usually hypothyroidism) and autoimmune diseases; plus, you become more susceptible to viruses like Epstein-Barr virus,” suggests Lyell.
Cortisol is made from the hormone progesterone. In a woman’s body, progesterone is also needed for a healthy reproductive system (and to grow babies). Therefore, stress tends to have a detrimental effect on women earlier than men. According to an article published in the Psychological Bulletin 2006.
“Burnout is characterised by emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue and cognitive weariness, resulting from prolonged exposure to work-related stress”.
The authors present evidence linking burnout with ill health, including cardiovascular disease, Type-2 diabetes, hormonal imbalances, nervous system dysregulation, sleep disturbances, systemic inflammation and impaired immunity functions.
Nutritionist Nicola Bentley reminds us: “Eating refined foods every day, while ignoring the good stuff, is enough to tip busy adrenals over the edge. A diet rich in protein, essential fats, minerals and vitamin C is necessary to fuel your anti- stress glands.”
Lyell concludes: “Research has shown adaptogen herbs can help our bodies to adapt in times of stress. We are not mechanical beings; we need to get our feet in the sand, eat organic food and get good-quality sleep to stay healthy.”