The Story of Adrenal Fatigue - June 2015
By Carine Pieterse MTech(Homeopathy)
South African Fellowship of Integrative Medicine
Member Australian Natural Therapies Association
Every day, when we are under stress, be it emotional, physical, mental stress or stress from a disease, our adrenal glands functions and performs to help us cope with these stressors to help us to survive. During a high stress period, an alarm reaction is triggered and the adrenal glands release stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline to give us the extra capacity to deal with that stress. This will result in an increased blood supply to the muscles and brain for increased oxygenation and glucose transport to improve our performance and capability during the increased stressful period. Cortisol, which has a more prolonged action than adrenaline, is also released to provide further glucose from protein and fat breakdown; it dampens the inflammatory response and elevates the pain threshold. When the high stress period has passed, the body should be able to go into a recovery phase and the stress hormones should normalise. We go through these two stages repeatedly in life as there will always be stress. However, if the stress is prolonged or intense, the body can become overwhelmed and become incapable to return to equilibrium - this is where exhaustion or adrenal fatigue sets in and due to a decline in cortisol and adrenaline levels the body is more vulnerable to disease. Prolonged stress places a tremendous load on many organ systems in our bodies, especially the heart, blood vessels, adrenals and immune system.
If the adrenal glandular system goes through continuous and prolonged stress, it can lead to a collapse and the person may start to develop symptoms such as tiredness, feeling unrefreshed in the mornings, muscle aches, insomnia, feelings of anxiety and depression and a general feeling of impending doom and inability to cope with the daily tasks. “With our present partial knowledge of the function of the endocrine chain of glands, it appears as though the suprarenals were the first to show signs of fatigue, for the simple reason that they seem to have most of the work to do in the auto protective functions”. (McNulty, J., New York Medical Journal, 1921 XCIII, pg. 288)
In this instance it may be appropriate to assess the possible adrenal dysfunction more accurately with functional pathology methods. Salivary cortisol tests may be done over a 24 hour period at select times to determine the severity of the adrenal dysfunction. For example a person who struggles to get up in the morning may have very low cortisol levels which can give an indication that the adrenal glands are not able to produce sufficient cortisol needed to help that person to start the day with energy and motivation. On the other hand, high cortisol levels in the evening, which may be due to increased stress and worry at night, may suppress melatonin (the hormone needed to become sleepy at night levels), causing a person to struggle to sleep. A salivary cortisol and melatonin test may be very helpful in this instance.
How can Naturopathy help? A combination of herbal and nutraceutical substances can support and nourish the adrenal system by helping to increase the physical and mental stamina of the person and support the hormones of the adrenal system to become more adaptable to the different stresses the person is exposed to. Therefore, it will enhance the adrenal system’s capacity to recover and tolerate stress.