Womens Health

Stress + High Cortisol Levels = Adrenal Fatigue

Life Feels So Hard

Perhaps the most common complaints of today's busy women are the feelings of fatigue, insomnia, weight gain and depression. Certainly these symptoms are connected to menopause, but many of the women who encounter these symptoms are younger working moms and single women. The possible underlying problem, regardless of age, could be adrenal fatigue, a condition that is very widespread, ranging from adrenal stress to complete adrenal exhaustion.

Ramifications of Adrenal Fatigue

Women dealing with adrenal dysfunction are not likely to be aware of the cause of the condition. The ramifications are quite profound: fatigue and weakness, suppression of the immune system, muscle and bone loss, moodiness or depression, hormonal imbalance, skin problems, autoimmune disorders, and many other symptoms and health concerns. There is good news, in spite of how bad it all sounds. Adrenal fatigue can generally be relieved and with the right support, symptoms of adrenal imbalance can be effectively dealt with.

Understanding How the Adrenal Glands Function

Understanding adrenal fatigue requires some understanding of adrenal gland function. These walnut-sized glands sit on top of each kidney and are manufacturing centers for many hormones in the body. Adrenaline and noradrenaline are hormones that are produced in the inner section of the gland (and bear the name of the gland). Cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are all produces in the adrenal cortex, which are the layers outside of the center.

The primary function of the adrenals is to provide impetus for the fight or flight response in your body through the increased production of adrenaline and cortisol. When your adrenal glands are healthy they immediately increase your heart rate and blood pressure, release energy for immediate use, slow digestion and other secondary functions, and sharpen the senses. This response is an emergency measure in your body, superseding other body functions and not designed to last a long time.

The Cost of Living Life in High Gear

In our modern world life is lived in high gear. Those quiet days of repose enjoyed by our ancestors seem to be a thing of distant memory. Today we live under constant stress rather than occasional situations that require the "emergency measures" mentioned above. The demands are acute and constant, contributed to by lack of rest, being over-worked, not eating properly (or not eating at all), exposure to environmental toxins, worry, fear, and on it goes. There seems to be no end. And, every challenge to the mind or the body taxes the adrenal glands. Consequently, the adrenals are constantly on alert and never rest.

How Cortisol Works

The hormone that helps our bodies deal with these high alert stresses is cortisol. It functions by converting proteins into energy, releasing glycogen, and counteracting inflammation. When used as designed for short periods it is fine. However, when sustained at high levels, cortisol gradually tears the body down. Some of the effects of high cortisol levels include destruction of healthy muscle and bone; slow healing and slow cell regeneration; biochemicals required for other uses in the body are co-opted to support the failing adrenals; impaired digestion, metabolism and mental function; interference of the endocrine function; and a weakened immune system. Adrenal fatigue can be implicated in a number of conditions like fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, and many others. Acne and hair loss can be attributed to adrenal fatigue as well.

Overworked adrenals that are laboring to maintain high levels of cortisol lose their capacity to produce DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) in sufficient amounts. DHEA is a precursor to estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, which means that if there's a deficiency a woman's hormones are out of whack.

Hormonal Imbalance

The adrenal glands' primary function is survival, but its secondary function is reproduction in the form of producing sex hormones. Hormone imbalance becomes problematic, especially as stressed out women approach midlife and ovarian production of sex hormones declines naturally. Low DHEA leads to fatigue, bone loss, loss of muscle mass, depression, aching joints, decreased sex drive, and impaired immune function.

Can It Be Fixed?

If the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are part of a woman's everyday life, then it is important for her to be tested for adrenal imbalance. A diet that supports adrenal function along with nutritional supplementation to complement the diet is the starting point. Rest and reducing stress are added to the mix in order to bring things back into balance. While it all sounds quite simple, the truth is that eliminating stress is one of the hardest things for a woman to accomplish.

By dealing with the stressors of her life, past and present, correcting her diet and taking what she needs for herself, a woman can turn adrenal fatigue around. There is help available for women who seek it.

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