By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Do you feel that your stress is impacting your health? So many people are feeling “tired and wired”, or burned out and depleted. It seems to be the extremely common consequence of our overly busy and productive lifestyles. In these cases, the system that needs extra support is your adrenal glands and “HPA-axis” (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis).
Your adrenal glands are your stress organs, producing hormones such as adrenalin, cortisol and DHEA. They are extremely important for overall hormonal health, and from my clinical experience are often at the source of many health issues ranging from: PMS, infertility, digestive complaints, headaches, fatigue, insomnia and anxiety. Stress can also worsen or aggravate many other health conditions such as arthritis, asthma, allergies and irritable bowel syndrome.
The term now used to describe issues with adrenal hormone output is “HPA-axis dysfunction,” meaning that the adrenal hormones may be elevated, reduced, or there may be normal levels but a change in receptor sensitivity. These imbalances are all caused by stress on the body – this includes mental emotional stress, pain, chronic infection, toxin exposure, over or under-exercise, lack of sleep, blood sugar imbalance, and more.
The adrenal glands and stress hormones are one of the most neglected systems in conventional medicine, and yet addressing adrenal health can have a profound effect on your well-being.
Below is a quick questionnaire with common signs and symptoms of adrenal imbalance:
- Are you under emotional stress? (job stress, relationship stress, family stress, etc.)
- Do you have chronic pain of any type? (injury, migraine, menstrual, joint, etc.)
- Do you have anxiety and/ or panic attacks?
- Do you have a burned out, tired or exhausted feeling that is not relieved by sleep?
- Are your eyes sensitive to light?
- Do you experience dizziness when you stand up quickly?
- Do you find that your tolerance for stress is very low, meaning that you over-react to small stressors?
- Have your allergies worsened?
- Do you have weight gain around the middle of your abdomen?
- Are you craving salt?
- Do you feel “tired but wired”?
- Do you have heart palpitations or high blood pressure?
- Do you experience difficulty falling or staying asleep at night?
- Do you have restless legs (muscle aches / twitching) at night?
- Do you have premature menopause symptoms (under age 45)? – hot flashes, night sweats, changes in menstrual cycle.
- Have your menstrual cycles changed: shorter duration, heavier, lighter, worse PMS, especially after a period of stress lasting more than 6 months?
- If you are past menopause, have your symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings) lasted more than 5 years without letting up?
If you experience 3 or more of these symptoms regularly, and you have been exposed to high levels of stress or chronic pain, your adrenal glands may need some support.
Support for your adrenals
The best first step is to test adrenal gland function with blood, saliva or urine testing. This will confirm whether your symptoms are indeed stress and adrenal related. Once confirmed, a treatment plan will vary depending on whether the adrenal system is running too high, or is depleted. It may include:
- Changes in nutrition (especially supporting stable blood sugar levels, and including regular protein intake).
- Practicing stress-reducing techniques: breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, prayer, mindfulness.
- Balanced exercise: if you are exercising very intensely, you may need to ease up while the adrenal glands are healing; if you are not exercising, then regular gentle exercise is important to include.
- Supplements to support adrenal function: to rebuild and repair the adrenals, to improve your stress tolerance and to nourish your adrenal glands. This can include vitamins, minerals and adaptogen herbs.
Having balanced stress hormones is essential to your overall health, and in particular for energy, mood and hormone balance. The good news is that adrenal gland issues are something we can address. Please ask if you need more information – this is an area where you can feel so much better with the correct support.
If you’ve been going through a long period of stress, and are feeling depleted, or the classic “tired and wired”, there is so much we can do to restore your energy and vitality. Remember that a naturopathic approach will be comprehensive: addressing correct nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management techniques, and especially looking at the life circumstances that got you to this place. In the time of the constant hustle, and extreme productivity, it is especially important to take care of our adrenals so we are not putting our health at risk.
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