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 small pyramid shaped organs that sit atop each kidney in the lower back. The adrenals release their own 'stress hormones' in response to certain situations or environmental conditions, and control the release of many other important hormones in the body such as DHEA, estrogen and testosterone. Their primary function is to prime the system to deal with life-threatening, stressful, or pressure-filled circumstances. They largely determine the energy level available for the necessary response.
In our fast paced western culture, an estimated 75% of individuals suffer from adrenal fatigue some time in their lives. This occurs when the glands can no longer keep up with the pace of outputting stress hormones, or when they no longer respond to repeated demands that they've heard too many times before. Signs and symptoms may include severe fatigue, lightheadedness upon standing, depression and irritability, lack of sex drive, exhaustion and general malaise. Adrenal fatigue is often associated with intense or prolonged stress, life crisis, trauma, and chronic illness. Other factors include certain lifestyle choices such as improper diet, substance abuse, and too little or irregular sleep.
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. Through continued stress, and simple aging, our thirst sense diminishes, so even though you may not feel thirsty, your fatigue level is telling you something different. Try it!
Next is slowing down the pace of things at least a few minutes a day. It's so easy to get wound up in all the day's work, errands and other pressures that we rarely take a moment to sit quietly without distraction and simply release these things from our mind. Take a walk if you can; moderate exercise can be a supportive factor in lowering stress levels. But while doing so, try to 'be present', rather than letting your mind drift to all those tasks ahead of you - this will allow the greatest regeneration.
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.
Nutritional support for the adrenal glands can be provided in supplement form. Most easily, a multivitamin with a complete vitamin B important, as it supports the manufacture of adrenal hormones from precursors in the body. The list of herbs you may consider as part of your adrenal support program is lengthy; you should investigate further to see which may be applicable to your specific condition. These herbs include Siberian Ginseng, Licorice Root (folks with blood pressure issues should proceed with caution), astragalus, Fo-ti, Triphala, and Black Cohosh root. Finally, the hormone precursors DHEA and pregnenolone may also be of use. Again, to incorporate these, do some further research and see which suit your particular conditions and needs.
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. Apply regularly to the kidney/adrenal area 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.
Misty Rae Cech ND is a practicing naturopath and iridologist in Boulder, Colorado. She is dedicated to supporting the health of others through natural means. Misty is a specialty in women's health. She is also the wellness director for The Ananda Apothecary and Ananda Aromatherapy, sources for therapeutic grade aromatherapy essential oils and blends and organic essential oils from around the world.
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