Suffering from burnout, or a lengthy bout of exhaustion you can’t seem to pull out of, but no obvious symptoms? You may be suffering from adrenal fatigue. Here’s a little primer on these very important glands and how to treat them right. Our fast-paced lifestyles push these little organs to the limit: Overtaxed by stress, stimulants, sugar and a variety of habits, our body’s energy control centers are easily maxed-out, resulting in fatigue, depression and even weight gain. In any natural health, wellness and fitness program, support for the adrenal glands is crucial.
The adrenal glands are each no bigger than a walnut and weigh less than a grape. They sit like a tiny pyramid on top of each kidney, their name ‘ad’ and ‘renal’ means ‘over’ or ‘above’ the ‘kidney’. The glands are important control centers for regulation of many of the body’s hormones, either secreting directly or controlling the release of cortisol and adrenaline, DHEA, estrogen, and testosterone, which are essential to ones health, vitality, and overall well-being. The adrenal hormones support and affect every tissue, organ, and gland in your body. Their primary purpose is to enable the body and mind to deal with various forms of stress including injury, disease, and other pressures. The adrenals largely determine the energy response of your body to every change in one’s internal and external environment, in fact, every cell in your body responds to signals from the adrenals.
An estimated 75-80% of Westerners suffer from ‘Adrenal fatigue’ at some point in their lives. Adrenal fatigue is a described as a collection of signs and symptoms classically known as a “syndrome” that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. Signs and symptoms may include severe fatigue, lightheadedness upon standing, depression and irritability, lack of sex drive, exhaustion and general malaise, loss of appetite, food cravings, and dark circles around the eyes. Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, various other situations contribute to adrenal fatigue including life crisis, trauma, lifestyle, and chronic illness. Other factors that contribute to the depletion of adrenal health include certain lifestyle choices such as improper diet, substance abuse, too little or irregular sleep or rest and increased or other on-going life-style pressures.
When healthy, your adrenals can instantly increase your heart rate and blood pressure, release energy stores for immediate use, sharpen your senses, slow digestion and various other secondary functions. This function is extremely important in emergency situations – poorly functioning, overtaxed adrenal glands can lessen your ability to deal effectively with crisis situations. Another aspect of healthy adrenals is the ability to endure long periods of physical exertion such as seen in marathon running, swimming, long distance cycling, and similarly, the day to day responsibilities of parenting! It is your adrenal glands job to react to stress in a balanced manner so that one’s response is appropriate to the situation.
The adrenal glands signal the storage and/or release of carbohydrates and fats, the conversion of fats and proteins into energy, along with the distribution of stored fat on the body. They are involved in blood sugar regulation, cardiovascular function, gastrointestinal function, and in controlling blood pressure. The adrenals are further involved by playing a part in sexual interest and response – so poorly functioning adrenals can really put a damper on things by increasing fat storage on your belly while making you disinterested in the whole process altogether!
Here are a few simple steps to supporting adrenal gland health. Many of these will support your overall wellbeing as well, relieving your body of undue stress, and in turn allowing your adrenals to replenish their stores. First, get an adequate intake of pure, clean water. You needn’t drown yourself with it, but always having a bottle around to sip on can really make a difference. So many body processes require adequate amounts of water – and this is likely more than you think. Further, natural aging and other factors can desensitize your thirst sense, so again, you’ll likely feel better drinking more often than when you only feel thirsty.
Next, and perhaps most difficult for some of us is slowing down the pace of each day, if only for a few moments. It’s quite useful to take a couple of 10 minute breaks where you just let your mind go. If thoughts come up about all your worries and your to do list, let them go. Breathe deeply and relax. Get to a point where you feel you’ve made a change in your mindset, even if only for a little while – this state will naturally flow in your life for at least a little while once you resume your normal activities, and will have a dramatic effect on your adrenals and nervous system. Incorporating regular moderate exercise is extremely helpful as well, making the body much more capable of dealing with stress. For an added bonus, combine these two and real be present when you’re exercising, relaxing your mind while invigorating your body.
Diet plays a huge role in any natural health, wellness and fitness program, and is crucial in proper adrenal gland function. You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again! Reduce your sugar intake – sugar is a poison to the system, inducing stress whenever eaten. Cut out stimulants to the best of your ability. If you have a caffeine addiction, take it moment to moment, Do you really need that next cup? Will it make you feel better? Often after the first one or two in the morning, the answer is no. And cutting them out all together will give you more energy than you thought possible in a week to 10 days.
For a soothing, regenerating treatment, take an Epsom salt bath pull out fatigue and acidity from body. Again, let your mind go and release the worries of the day, and try to incorporate this into your regular routine. Consider adding a few drops of pure Lavender essential oil to your bath and allow the relaxing aroma to help you relax and refresh. A favorite essential oil bath blend: 4 drops Lavender essential oil, 1 drop Rose essential oil. These oils are well known for their uplifting and relaxing qualities.
You may also use an essential oil blend that is said to replenish the adrenal glands without stimulation. Mix one ounce hazelnut oil plus 50 drops each of Black Spruce and Pine essential oils. For a gentle lift, reduce the Black Spruce and Pine to 30 drops each, and add 20 drops each of Cedarwood and Peppermint. Apply twice a day to the lower back for a week or two to help support glandular function – and you’ll smell great too!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, do what you can to improve your sleep routine. Getting to bed before 10pm is crucial – the hours between 10 and 12 are thought to be extremely important in rejuvenation. Try finishing your last meal as early as possible in the evening to get better rest, so the body is not spending as much effort digesting your dinner as it is replenishing all your other vital resources. Herbal sleep formulas are effective for many people, and are non-habit forming as some prescription medicines can be. Also, studies have shown that the aroma of certain essential oils in the room can have a dramatic effect on sleep quality – an easy way to experiment is to sprinkle a few drops of lavender essential oil on your comforter before retiring (be sparing, too much can actually be stimulating!)
Taking care of your adrenal glands is an important consideration in any health, wellness and fitness program when you want to feel your best and be prepared for any situation. Allowing them to replenish will help brighten your outlook on life and give you the energy you need for the things you love to do.