The term adrenal fatigue has gained a lot of attention in recent years so I wanted to break it down and do an Adrenal Fatigue 101 post. What it really is, is hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation. Your HPA axis helps regulate the output of cortisol.
Many people think it's when we have too much cortisol, which may have been the case at one point in time but HPA axis dysregulation is actually linked to too little cortisol. Here are some basics and the differences between too much and too little cortisol:
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands
- Cortisol is usually seen as a bad guy but it does play a role in immune health, blood sugar, and blood pressure (both good and bad)
- Too much cortisol can look like when your mind won't stop racing but you are physically tired
- Too little cortisol can look like when exhaustion, poor immune function, headaches, and so on
I try to stay away from the term "adrenal fatigue" because it is often misunderstood and seems to be a buzzword in the health and wellness space.
Although your cortisol is important for responding to inflammation and regulating your immune cells, fluctuations in your cortisol levels can greatly impact your health, as I briefly touched on above.
Why is adrenal fatigue seen as such a scary thing to have? Adrenal fatigue has been linked to autoimmune diseases, gut-related conditions, and overall increased inflammation in the body.
What causes "adrenal fatigue"? There are a variety of things that can cause adrenal fatigue, including but not limited to:
- physical stress (overdoing workouts, injuries, etc)
- mental stress (working long hours at work)
- emotional stress (going through a bad breakup)
- even medications such as the birth control pill
- general chronic stress (traffic, social media, workload, timelines, the news, everything above, etc)
These chronic stressors disrupt the ability of our brains to communicate with our adrenal glands. Our adrenals will also release cortisol whenever we are stressed which is not ideal if you are someone who is facing constant stress whether it's real or perceived. Let me just note that some stress is ok and if you are not chronically stressed, then your body should be able to calm itself and go back to normal. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many of us.
Eventually, your cortisol levels will actually decrease which is where a lot of misinformation comes from about adrenal fatigue. Think about it, your adrenals are fatigued because they have been overworked.
- overall weakness
- digestive issues
- low blood pressure
- muscle and joint pain
- changes in mood
- First and foremost, manage stress. This may mean meditation and
- mindfulness practices, getting outside in nature, prioritizing what actually needs to get done with your work and business, yoga etc.
- Reduce high-intensity training and switch to yoga, pilates, and more weight-bearing activities
- Manage your blood sugar
- Prioritize sleep
- Consider supplementation