In the Women’s Wisdom course, we will start our first class with the topic of Adrenal Health. This is because the health of our entire endocrine system is deeply interconnected with our response to stress. Lately, I have seen “adrenal fatigue” thrown around frequently so I wanted to clarify what that term means.
Our stress response is primarily governed by two hormones produced by the adrenal glands: Adrenalin (or epinephrine), which physiologically prepares us to escape from danger, and cortisol, which helps to supply the energy to do this by taking glucose out of storage. When we have a lot of stress we use these hormones frequently, and over time the adrenal glands can get “worn out”, which leads to a host of mental and physical concerns.
Depending on how depleted the adrenal glands become, symptoms will change over time. Clinically, I see three “stages” of adrenal fatigue depending on severity. In the first stage of adrenal fatigue we overproduce adrenalin and cortisol. It is similar to what we see with an overtired 3-year old: once they pass the point where they should have gone down for that nap they get wired and overstimulated. During this first stage the adrenals overproduce hormone and have trouble shutting down when appropriate. People feel anxious, can have trouble sleeping, and in cases of severe stress can lose weight.
During the second stage of adrenal fatigue, the body adapts to this chronic overproduction of stress hormones. Insomnia will become chronic and more difficult to modify. The continuous mobilization of blood sugar from cortisol can cause problems with insulin resistance and lead to prediabetes. Too much sugar in the blood also will convert to triglycerides which we store as fat; this leads to less muscle mass and fatty weight gain.
If this continues to progress, the third stage of adrenal fatigue shows the adrenal glands losing ability to function. This is when we see fatigue that can be severe, weakness, intolerance to exercise, dizziness, and difficulty regulating the immune system. Sensitivities and allergies can emerge or worsen and resistance to infection will go down.
Are you wondering if you have adrenal fatigue?
Take this Quiz to see if you have some of the symptoms.