What does it say about our society when the most commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs include anti-inflammatories, sleeping pills and anti-depressants? What's gone wrong and why are we turning to these medications for support? These drugs are prescribed to help alleviate pain, insomnia, depression and anxiety, all of which are symptoms associated with a silent but very real epidemic known as Adrenal Exhaustion or Adrenal Insufficiency Syndrome.
Adrenal Exhaustion or Adrenal Insufficiency Syndrome is described as the inability to produce adequate adrenal hormones, in particular cortisol. Cortisol is a stress response hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It plays a vital role in allowing our bodies to deal with stress – better known as the "fight or flight response". While the human body is designed to handle a degree of stress, it is not designed to cope with ongoing or chronically high stress levels that are now an all too familiar part of living in western society.
Research is showing we are working longer hours yet our productivity is suffering, and more and more employees are taking "mental health days" due to the effects of chronic stress. Many new mothers are returning to full time work sooner, whilst juggling the demands of a new baby due to financial and personal pressures. The evolution of living in a consumer based society is also contributing to this increasing syndrome, as our propensity to take on too much in order to 'keep up with the Jones' and constantly fill gaps with stimulus, leaves little time for ourselves and the recuperation our body requires.
Many of us take for granted the impact diet has on our neuro-endocrine function – our brain and hormonal activity. The body requires adequate levels of specific nutrients to be present in order to produce the majority of the hormones in our body. When our diet is deficient in these nutrients and or our digestive function is suboptimal, the body's ability to produce sufficient hormone levels will become compromised over time. The effects of inadequate hormonal production are many and varied, however nutritional deficiencies are one of the major contributing factors to imbalances in our hormonal cascade, responsible for the central nervous and endocrine function.
The more external antagonists present in our lives – excess caffeine, sugar/refined carbohydrates and processed foods, alcohol, sleep deprivation, emotional and environmental stress, stress related to work and parenthood -- the greater the demand for specific nutrients in order to sustain adequate production of our hormones, including the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin.
The effects of chronic stress stimulate the excess production of cortisol - "hyper-cortisolemia" which will eventually induce a state of hypo-cortisolemia – under production of cortisol. Imbalances in other hormones – such our sex and metabolic hormones eg: progesterone, oestrogen, and testosterone and thyroid hormones will then follow and so the process of
Adrenal Exhaustion Syndrome begins to manifest. It is around this point that the physiological and mental/emotional symptoms associated with low cortisol production will also begin to display.
Adrenal Exhaustion Symptoms include:
- chronic fatigue
- unexplained weight gain or loss
- poor tolerance to stress, easily irritated
- chronic irritable bowel – lose bowels / constipation
- poor motivation
- cognitive disturbances – memory, concentration, comprehension
- carbohydrate and or salt cravings
- coffee, cola or chocolate cravings
- dry skin
- weak brittle nails
- menstrual disturbances - irregular periods, unusually light or heavy bleeding,
- PMS - premenstrual syndrome
- hair loss
- recurrent colds and flu infections
- recurrent thrush
- Chronic joint and or muscular aches and pains or weakness
- bruise easily
- fluid retention
- cold hands and feet
- unexplained or frequent headaches
- frequently feel the cold easily
If you suffer from at least 50% of these symptoms on a regular basis then it is likely that you are suffering from Adrenal Exhaustion/Insufficiency Syndrome. If left untreated for an extended period of time, these symptoms will only increase in severity and frequency and the recovery from adrenal exhaustion will become more complex and prolonged. Adrenal Exhaustion Syndrome can also progress to other chronic illnesses and syndromes such as unexplained infertility, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Auto Immune disease - Hashimoto's, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Diabetes.
Can you relate to any of the above? Let me know below.
In part two of this post I will be writing about how your diet and lifestyle choices can impact on causing and alleviating adrenal exhaustion. In the mean time you can find more specific information about the healthiest diet for treating and avoiding adrenal exhaustion and fatigue in my e-book Eat Yourself Healthy In 28 Days and register for my upcoming webinar series on Adrenal Exhaustion Syndrome.
Sally Joseph is a leading qualified clinical nutritionist, speaker & blogger with over 13 years experience using Nutritional Medicine & detox in the treatment of chronic health conditions, including auto immune, adrenal fatigue and thyroid disorders. Sally has a special focus on using food as medicine through her program Eat Yourself Healthy. Click here to follow Sally on Facebook