Adrenals & Adrenal Fatigue
Hormones of the Adrenal Cortex
The adrenal cortex consists of three different regions, with each region producing a different group or type of hormones. Chemically, all the cortical hormones are considered steroids.
- Mineralocorticoids are secreted by the outermost region. The principal mineralocorticoid is aldosterone, which acts to conserve sodium ions and water in the body.
- Glucocorticoids are secreted by the middle region. The principal glucocorticoid is cortisol, which increases blood glucose levels.
- Gonadocorticoids, or sex hormones, is secreted by the innermost region.
Male hormones, androgens, and female hormones, estrogens, are secreted in minimal amounts in both sexes by the adrenal cortex, but their effect is usually masked by the hormones from the testes and ovaries. In females, the masculinization effect of androgen secretion may become evident after menopause, when estrogen levels from the ovaries decrease.
Hormones of the Adrenal Medulla
The adrenal medulla develops from neural tissue and secretes two hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These two hormones are secreted in response to stimulation by sympathetic nerve, particularly during stressful situations. A lack of hormones from the adrenal medulla produces no significant effects. Hypersecretion, usually from a tumor, causes prolonged or continual sympathetic responses.
Do You Have Adrenal Fatigue?
- Balance Your Blood Sugar With Your Diet
- Other Supplements That Help
- About the Adrenal Glands
Your two adrenal glands are small, triangular-shaped endocrine glands located on the top of each kidney. Each adrenal gland is approximately 3 inches wide, and a half inch high.
Each gland is divided into an outer cortex and an inner medulla. The cortex and medulla of the adrenal gland secrete different hormones. The adrenal cortex is essential to life, but the medulla may be removed with no life-threatening effects.
When the adrenal glands are not functioning optimally, you can have a condition that is known as adrenal fatigue, or adrenal exhaustion. Adrenal fatigue often develops after periods of intense or lengthy physical or emotional stress, when over stimulation if the glands leave them unable to meet your body’s needs.
Some other names for the syndrome include non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, sub-clinical hypoadrenia, hypoadrenalism, and neurasthenia.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
• Excessive fatigue and exhaustion
• Non-refreshing sleep (you get sufficient hours of sleep, but wake fatigued)
• Overwhelmed by or unable to cope with stressors
• Feeling rundown or overwhelmed
• Craving salty and sweet foods
• You feel most energetic in the evening
• A feeling of not being restored after a full night’s sleep or having sleep disturbances
• Low stamina, slow to recover from exercise
• Slow to recover from injury, illness or stress
• Difficulty concentrating, brain fog
• Poor digestion
• Low immune function
• Premenstrual syndrome or difficulties that develop during menopause
• Consistent low blood pressure
• Extreme sensitivity to cold
Understanding the Basics of Hypothyroidism
According to the American Thyroid Association, hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone and, just like other hormone deficiencies, it can affect almost every aspect of your wellbeing. It can make you feel weak & fatigued, cause unordinary weight gain, and can lead to even more serious health concerns in left untreated. Low thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy can even harm the baby!
I know this is a scary thing to fathom but through understanding this disease, we have a better chance of catching, treating and preventing hypothyroidism all together. So let’s start with from the beginning.
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
With hypothyroidism being such an all-encompassing disease, it is often hard for us to pinpoint the exact root of the problem. The range of things that have been shown to cause low thyroid hormone levels are blood sugar imbalances, poor gastrointestinal health (aka gut health), and even elevated stress levels caused by the adrenal glands. Thyroid diseases can even be caused by separate diseases all together such as the case with Hashimoto’s disease.
According to WebMD, “Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease, a disorder in which the immune system turns against the body’s own tissues. In people with Hashimoto’s, the immune system attacks the thyroid. This can lead to hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid does not make enough hormones for the body’s needs.”
I think you can now begin to grasp the vast depth of this disease. Due to the complex nature of hypothyroidism we will begin to shift to one aspect of the cause of this disease and start to focus solely on the role that the adrenal glands, stress and cortisol levels play in hypothyroidism. (We will come back to the other causes in later posts so keep checking back.)
Since the endocrine system is devised of glands that produce and send hormones to all areas of our body to regulate the essential functions of our body (such as temperature, reproduction, growth, immunity, and aging), it stands to reason that this should be the hub of vitality, longevity and well-being. Many individuals are getting remarkable results from having their hormones optimized. Specialized hormonal testing can be utilized to bring the hormones into optimal ranges.
Understanding the Adrenal Glands and Stress
The Adrenal Glands
It really doesn’t matter whether you are thinking about stress in an emotional vs physical way or even short-term vs chronic. Your body reacts to stress in much of the same way regardless of the source or duration of the stress induced. The National Institute of Mental Health describes stress as, “the brain’s response to any demand.”
These demands cause your adrenal glands to fire out hormones the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which are also the hormones associated with the ‘flight-or-fight’ response you learned about in school. These two adrenal hormones are described by the Mayo Clinic as, “Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.” This response worked great when we either had to outrun predators or conserve our energy during harsh winter conditions. Yet in today’s world of rest and relaxation it can cause unhealthy responses, especially when these stressors are chronic ones such as work or financial worries.
Stress and Its Effect on Health
Obvious daily stressors, like described above, are not the only factors to consider when thinking about stressing the body. Even internal happenings like sharp changes in blood sugar levels, allergies and ordinary inflammation can alert your adrenals to secrete more stress hormones. In essence, stress can be anything that disrupts your body’s natural balance.
Even though dysfunction of the adrenal glands due to stress is so common today, adrenal disorders are often missed by general physicians because its list of symptoms are so broad and mirror other problems or disorders. Adrenal problems are often not even tested for because these hormones play a role in every system in the body and it will hide behind other systems that it is affecting, such as menopause or food sensitivities.
You should consult with a specialist if you are experiencing one or more of these problems caused by adrenal stress:
- Decreased immunity
- Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up
- Mood swings
- Sugar and caffeine cravings
- Irritability or lightheadedness between meals
- Eating to relieve fatigue
- Dizziness when moving from sitting or lying to standing
- Gastric ulcers