Anxiety? Fatigue? Weight gain? Low libido? Insomnia? You may be experiencing a cortisol conundrum.
Imagine you are driving when a car suddenly veers into your lane. You swerve and apply the brakes. You barely avoid colliding with the car. What are you feeling right now? Your heart rate is increased, and you are breathing rapidly. You are very awake and aware of what is going on around you. Your stomach has stopped digesting that Big Mac, and blood flow has been sent to your muscles. This response is sometimes called the “fight or flight” response.
Your body starts the “fight or flight” response in response to a perceived threat. It is enabled by a hormone in your body, called epinephrine (adrenalin). Shortly following this initial response, your body follows with production of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is made and secreted from the adrenal gland, a small gland on top of the kidney. Cortisol is needed for your body to function normally, but in addition, it helps the body to deal with the immediate threat by:
- Turning fat and protein storage into sugar to give energy.
- Strengthening heart contractions and regulating blood pressure.
- Helping to regulate the immune system to repair damage.
- Increasing electrical activity in the brain to allow focus and mental clarity.
- Stimulating blood flow away from the digestive tract and to the brain, muscles, and heart.
These are all great things and they are very important when physically threatened. The human body, however, releases cortisol in response to all types of threats: physical, emotional, and mental. When the threat is emotional or mental, the body does not need all these things to occur. What happens if the emotional, mental, or physical stress keeps occurring? Then you continue to make cortisol. Your body may function in a high cortisol state for some time or, if the stress is too great, it may go into “Adrenal Fatigue.”
What happens when my body is chronically high in cortisol?
For your body to make cortisol, it “robs” ingredients that your body would normally use to make other hormones like progesterone, Aldosterone, DHEA, and testosterone. Because of the effects of cortisol itself, and the effects of these hormones being decreased, you may experience symptoms such as anxiety, decreased libido, foggy thinking, insomnia, weight gain, and high blood pressure, hot flashes and night sweats, depression, diabetes, PMS, irritable bowel, and many more. Chronic high cortisol can also cause a decrease in thyroid activity. Symptoms of a decrease in thyroid activity are fatigue, hair loss, feeling cold, and thinning of the skin. Often, your body continues in this high cortisol state until it can’t continue anymore. Then, we see a progression to adrenal fatigue.
What is adrenal fatigue?
We always have some cortisol begin secreted. This cortisol follows a “circadian” rhythm that repeats each day. Cortisol is low while sleeping and increases shortly before your normal wake up time. Then, it slowly decreases throughout the day until bedtime, when it is low again.
When cortisol has been inflated because of chronic stress, sometimes your adrenal gland starts to malfunction. Instead of secreting a lot of cortisol in the morning, it only secretes a small amount. Then, the stresses of the day stimulate cortisol production and the cortisol ends up being high at night. Some people call this “tired then wired.” You would typically be very tired all morning and afternoon, then get a little energy around dinner time and not be able to settle down to sleep at night.
Another type of adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal gland secretes only small amounts of cortisol all day long. You would typically be tired all day long. Small simple tasks would seem overwhelming.
Often with both of these types of adrenal fatigue, symptoms that were occurring in the high cortisol phase persist.
How do I know if adrenal fatigue is my problem?
A diagnosis of Adrenal Disorders is made on the basis of symptoms and saliva cortisol testing. Other disorders, such as thyroid problems or candidiasis, should be ruled out. It is best to seek the help of a health care professional who is knowledgeable in adrenal disorders to help you*.
How can I treat adrenal fatigue?
It is all about you. You have the power to heal yourself.
There are several different aspects to allowing the adrenal gland to heal. The first has to do with food. Low blood sugar stimulates cortisol production, making the problem worse. Try to eat at regular intervals 3-4 hours apart. Eat balanced meals of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fat. Try to avoid sugar and white flour. If you are waking in the middle of the night, try eating a bedtime protein snack. Chew your food thoroughly while sitting down to eat.
The second is to regulate your sleep. Eight hours of sleep per night is the best. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day, even weekends. If you are having trouble getting to sleep, we can recommend some helpful techniques for you.
The third is to give your body the supplemental support it needs. Niacin, B6, and B12, Vitamin C, and Magnesium are supplements you should be taking all the time to avoid problems. In addition to those, a natural adrenal program should be followed.
Other aspects of treatment involve getting an appropriate amount of exercise for what your adrenal function is, and checking for environmental and food allergies that may be causing stress.*
The most important aspect of healing involves changing how you react to and deal with stress.
Would you like more help with your fatigue and exhaustion?
Find out how I can help you with these two different options:
- Test Yourself At Home
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Test How Severely Stress Is Affecting You
The first step in this Do-IT-Yourself Course gives you 3 different tests you can perform at home. Find out if stress is the problem in your fatigue, body composition and weight gain.
(One of these tests does require a blood pressure cuff, which can be purchased at your local pharmacy)
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