Prolonged stress can affect adrenal function
When the intensity and frequency of stress in daily life exceeds a person’s threshold capacity for coping, things start to break down. Irritability, nervousness, and fatigue may set in. Blood pressure may be too high or too low. There may be cravings for sweet, salty or fatty foods. The person may experience more frequent or more severe infections such as colds.
The adrenals are small glands located above the kidneys. They are part of a complex system of hormone-producing glands, and are responsible for hormones that regulate the amount of water in our bodies, our response to stress and inflammation, blood pressure, sexual function, blood sugar, sleep and more.
The adrenal glands work like shock absorbers to help us adapt to stress. They do this by secreting substances like adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and cortisol which prepare our bodies to deal with the effects of stress.
Adrenal “fatigue” can occur when chronic stress results in a gradual deterioration in the functioning of the adrenal glands. It is also known as hypoadrenia. When the glands become exhausted, a condition known as Addison’s Disease results. Main stream medicine focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of this endpoint, rather than on the sliding scale of diminished function which precedes it. Unless the adrenal glands function in an all-or-nothing fashion, it is unlikely that the marked state of failure that characterizes Addison’s Disease would not have milder degrees of failure preceding it.
Adrenal Fatigue: Signs and Symptoms
When the functioning of the adrenal glands begins to decline, they may secrete hormones in a more erratic fashion; although the trend will be toward secreting less hormone, there may be transient instances when they secrete too much. As a result, some of the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be conflicting. For example, blood pressure may be too low or too high. Here is a list of some of the things which can occur:
- waking up fatigued after a normal period of sleep
- generalized fatigue
- anxiety, nervousness
- tendency to startle
- cravings for salt, sugar or fatty foods
- feeling light-headed after a change in position, e.g. moving from a seated position to a standing one
- increased susceptibility to infection
- increased use of tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, sugar
Other conditions that may be linked to adrenal fatigue include:
- muscle weakness or back pain
- blood sugar problems
- behaviour problems
- memory problems
When To Seek Help
If you do not have the signs, symptoms or conditions associated with adrenal fatigue but are in the midst of a stressful period, ensure you are managing your stress proactively. This article on stress management provides some ideas about how to do that.
If you’ve developed symptoms, it’s time to see a naturopathic doctor. The long term consequences of adrenal fatigue can have a serious impact on your health and quality of life, so do yourself a favour and invest in your health. Your body will reward you with renewed vitality.