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Feeling Stressed Out? Blame Adrenal Fatigue

by Dr. Amanda Chay |

Feeling Stressed Out? Blame Adrenal Fatigue

Are you feeling overwhelmed, worried, tense and irritable?

Blame cortisol, the stress hormone that is produced by your adrenal glands. Cortisol is part of the body’s stress response and too much cortisol makes us feel stressed out. The adrenal glands also produce DHEA, which results in feeling calm, relaxed, peaceful and happy. Ideally, you want more DHEA and less cortisol in order to stay in a state of optimal health and wellbeing.

What it Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue happens when our adrenal glands produce excessive amounts of cortisol, leaving us in a constant state of stress.  When we are in a constant state of stress, many things happen to our bodies, including:

  • Weight gain 
  • High blood pressure
  • Blood sugar dysregulation
  • Hair loss
  • Digestion problems including acid reflux, bloating and cramps
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Constantly getting sick
  • Hormone imbalance

Adrenal fatigue is characterized by high amounts of cortisol in the body.  There is also a further stage to this called adrenal exhaustion, when our bodies stop producing enough cortisol and your levels are always low.

What causes it?

Chronic stress. 

Every time you are worried about a deadline, are stuck in traffic, have a cup of coffee, have a fight with your spouse, or didn’t get a good sleep your adrenal glands produce cortisol.  This response originally was beneficial when we would run into a bear or some other form of acute danger, however with modern life we are triggering the production of cortisol several times throughout the day.

Why should I pay attention to it?

You should pay attention to it because cortisol also helps regulate inflammation and we now know that inflammation is the cause of the detrimental effects of aging and many of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.  To prevent chronic disease, you must decrease the amount of inflammation in your body.

Increased inflammation contributes to aging more quickly.  Inflammation causes damage to both our internal and external organs (ie. skin!), which can cause more wrinkles and a lack of vibrancy.  Cortisol also decreases the amount of collagen we make (this already happens as we age, so higher cortisol just makes it worse), which causes our skin to lose its elasticity.

High cortisol can also causes bone loss, slowed wound healing, mood problems, sleep issues, obesity, and exhaustion.  Take another look at the list above as all of these things can be related to high cortisol levels!

What can I do to decrease my cortisol levels?

Not only will decreasing cortisol help prevent chronic disease and accelerated aging, you will also just feel calm and relaxed.  Once you start addressing your cortisol, it will take the ‘edge’ off of everything so you can be a happier you.

My top tips for reducing cortisol are:

  1. Exercise—no more than 45 mins of high intensity per day (more than this will increase cortisol levels). 
  2. Daily calming activities (even if just for 5-10 minutes)—yoga, tai chi, meditation, an Epsom salt bath, a long walk.
  3. Say ‘no’—don’t put so many things on your plate that you will never be able to get them all done.  If you can’t or don’t want to do it, don’t say that you will.  This will make you feel lighter and will re-set people’s expectations if you always say yes to everything.
  4. Supplement—there are so many amazing herbs out there to support our adrenal glands to accelerate you feeling your best.  Some of my top choices are Ashwaganhda, Holy Basil and Rhodiola.