Have you ever felt overwhelmed by life, paralyzed in stressful situations? Does the thought of all your stress make you so exhausted that you feel like you can’t make it through the day without a nap? The first gland that usually gets the blame for that lack of energy and overwhelming anxiety is the thyroid, but I’m here today to tell you all about her bestie, the adrenal gland.
We covered a lot about the physiology of HPA axis dysfunction (or colloquially known as adrenal fatigue) in a past blog post, but people don’t often know the downstream effects that their chronic stress has on the rest of their endocrine system, the system that produces and controls your hormones. So, let’s chat about that now. Keep reading to learn about each potential stop on the road to adrenal fatigue, and how you can nourish your body to prevent further issues.
Stop 1 on the Road to Adrenal Fatigue
How It Feels: At first you were handling your stress well (am I right?). You could tackle that work project, work through lunch, get home, feed the family, clean the house, and still have energy to watch an episode of Scandal before bed—you were superwoman.
But, as time went on, and more and more stress, responsibility, and lack of time creeped into your life, you started to feel like you couldn’t handle everything as well as you once did. Now, you’re overwhelmed, anxious (or depressed), exhausted, your sleep is messed up, and you’re starting to “feel your age” when the muscle aches and pains set in. No fun, right?
Here’s Why: When you’re first hustling through the stress, your cortisol levels increase, fueling your muscles and brain with glucose, keeping the inflammation at bay, and making you more agile and able to focus on the tasks at hand. Those high levels of cortisol are secreted by your adrenal gland, which orchestrates your stress response. A piece of that stress response is that your body suppresses other hormones that are not “critical” to the survival of the human race—your thyroid hormone, the hormones that regulate proper ovulation and ovarian function, and the hormones that administer proper secretion of growth hormone and neurotransmitter balance. Hence, why you feel like you can’t deal as time (and stress) goes by.
If This Sounds Like You: Try these supplements to help nourish your adrenals and stress response before it affects your other system.
Stop 2 on the Road to Adrenal Fatigue
How It Feels: Well, you didn’t stop the hustle and now you’re starting to notice sleep disturbance, maybe some mild anxiety, and you’re definitely not waking up in the morning ready to take on the day. You may notice that your periods are getting wonky—the cycle length can change, you may be experiencing more PMS than normal, or your acne flares up. Were your allergies worse this year or maybe you got the flu, even though you’re one of those people who “never gets sick”? How’s your recovery from exercise? Are you noticing that it doesn’t boost your energy as much as it used it?
Here’s Why: You’ve entered Stage 2 HPA axis resistance or what I like to call “the answer is not more coffee” stage. Your brain has caught on to the fact that you’re not running from a predator—this is a daily norm and life outside of your skull is a dim and dark place, and not a great time for procreation. So, your brain decreased your production of key hormones such as TSH (which ultimately creates T3, your active thyroid hormone); shut down ovulation, which is the stimulus to make progesterone (leaving you with PMS and period irregularities); and decreased production of testosterone and growth hormone, which are key in boosting metabolism, increasing focus and memory, and helping you put on muscle mass. It can also disrupt your blood sugar control, leaving you craving foods that are probably not nutrient dense.
If This Sounds Like You: This is the time where you should listen to your body and re-evaluate your time management and your lifestyle factors, while starting some supplementation (see below for my recs). If you find yourself in a dietary rut, it’s time to get you back on track. It’s also the time to get some blood work done to discover the extent of the biochemical changes that have happened in your body. Knowing this data helps us determine how depleted you really are.
Try These Ingredients to Help Nourish Your Adrenals and Stress Response:
- Holy Basil
- Rhodiola root
- Eleutherococcus root
- Vitamin C and B5
Stop 3 on the Road to Adrenal Fatigue
How It Feels: There’s only one more stop on our negative-slope of HPA axis dysfunction, and it’s what I like to call the “crash and burn” stage. This stage 3 of cortisol depression usually stumps most doctors. You’re exhausted, and you tell your doctor you snooze 1000 times before you can wake up in the morning, or you frequently turn off your alarm in your sleep. It takes hours (and not to mention gallons of stimulants) to get you up and on your way for the day. The likelihood that you has weight gain, blood sugar imbalances, depression/anxiety, or some other form of autoimmune or chronic disease is pretty high. You may have other low vital signs such as pulse, blood pressure, and fasting blood sugar levels—and at this point, blood testing for your hormonal levels is really non-negotiable.
Here’s Why: You probably have low thyroid function, low morning cortisol levels, high inflammatory markers, low female hormones (you may not be ovulating at all anymore), and are most likely nutrient deficient (you urinate out key nutrients such as magnesium and B vitamins when you’re under stress).
If This Sounds Like You: You should find yourself in my office because I’ve helped hundreds of men and women fight their way back to feeling like themselves again. If you’re wanting to start with a DIY approach here’s some ingredients you can look out for that may help:
- Licorice root and rhizome
- Eleutherococcus root
- Coleus forskohlii
- Mushrooms, such as cordyceps and chaga
- A good stress B complex and magnesium supplement
Does any or all of this sound like you? Give us a call to schedule a FREE 15-minute consult, and let us help you get back to your best health.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.