The Role of Cortisol and Adrenal Fatigue Recovery:
- Our adrenal glands control our ability to handle stress
- Long-term stress raises cortisol stress hormone levels which disrupts our hormonal balance and affects blood sugar, blood pressure, libido, sleep etc.
- If excess cortisol is not brought to normal then we can suffer from metabolic diseases and premature ageing.
- There are definite steps we can take to restore hormonal balance.
We’ve all heard it said that stress can bring on illness and plays a role in all chronic illnesses. A deeper understanding of the process by which emotional and physical stresses impact us is one of the keys to raising health and vitality. Our adrenal glands play a central role in our quality of life as they enable us to adapt to physical and emotional stress. When functioning optimally we have higher tolerance and positivity towards dealing with stressful situations, greater energy levels, better sleep and balanced blood sugar. The adrenal glands that sit above our kidneys are a tiny 5cm in size yet the hormones they produce impact every system in our body. They are composed of several layers producing different hormones with distinct physiological responses.
Our adrenal glands are the first responders of the body to a stressful situation. When faced with any shock, such as when a car swerves into our lane, then within a fraction of a second the brain has signaled the adrenals to produce adrenaline and norepinephrine and our focus, heart rate and muscular energy has been activated to avoid the life threatening situation. At the same time, the shock also prompted the the release of cortisol via a sequence beginning with corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) from the hypothalamus signalling the pituitary gland to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This instructs the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, the hormone that regulates many bodily functions, including blood sugar and metabolism (that determines fat storage), blood pressure, nervous system activation, controls inflammation, immune responses and heart and blood vessel tone and contraction. While necessary for health at normal levels that cycle during the day, cortisol production may become chronically elevated in times of extended emotional or physical stress and do not return to normal levels even after the source of stress had subsided. The high stress levels of modern living and the increase in highly refined inflammatory foods aggravates excess cortisol production and initially this causes problems due to excess cortisol production which if prolonged can then result in too little cortisol being produced, a condition known as adrenal fatigue. The downward spiral of long-term stress and elevated cortisol. As we all know, short-term stress contributes to temporary headaches, minor digestive problems, emotional irritability and so on. When stress is prolonged and cortisol remains elevated, for example in instances or work, financial or family related problems then our physical and emotional health can start its downward spiral. This occurs due to excess cortisol production causing subsequent drops in DHEA and testosterone, because the same precursor hormones are used to produce both cortisol and the sex hormones. At this point in prolonged stress, we may suffer from sleeping difficulties from being tired yet alert, immunity drops and colds and flus are picked up easily, blood pressure can be elevated and blood sugar problems may be detected (and a lifetime of pharmaceutical drugs prescribed). A low libido, due to reduced testosterone in men and estrogen / progesterone hormonal imbalance in women may also start causing issues in relationships and mood.
Conditions due to excess cortisol production and adrenal stress may include:
- Anxiety and inability to handle stress
- Increased appetite, especially for salty and sugary foods and refined cabohydrates
- Metabolic imbalances, lowered thyroid function and weight gain, especially abdominal fat
- Raised blood pressure
- Reduced immune function and frequent colds and flus.
- Allergies, asthma and intolerances to foods such as gluten and dairy
- Problems with libido
- loss of muscle tone
- Frequent urination
- Easily feeling of cold
- Low testosterone in men
- Female reproductive problems, infertility, fibroids & cysts
- Dark circles under eyes
- Craving for coffee and caffeinated drinks
- Joint and muscle pains of unknown origin
With advanced adrenal exhaustion the symptoms above may fluctuate with:
- Fatigue, brain fog and depression
- Low blood sugar
- Increased inflammation and inflammatory / autoimmune diseases
- Sleep problems and difficulty waking up in the mornings
- Lack of sexual interest
The downward spiral of long term stress and adrenal exhaustion
As is often the case during prolonged stress during middle-age, medicines prescribed by one’s doctor for blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes further reduces testosterone production in men (for which Viagra may then be prescribed) and accelerate premature ageing. The decline in health due to metabolic disease and obesity and pharmaceutical drugs then becomes a viscous cycle. At this point our lowered ability to handle stress and anxiety may lead to addictive behaviours, such as abuse of alcohol or overeating that further compounds health issues. The cumulative effects of elevated stress / cortisol, processed food diet and lack of exercise contributes to premature ageing, gastrointestinal disease, cardiovascular disease and cancerous conditions.
How to Strengthen our Adrenals?
There is no quick fix when it comes to strengthening our adrenals. The awareness that adrenal fatigue is a major part of our health or weight issue is the first step in the right direction. The adrenal glands are the most overworked and under appreciated organs in our body and they need to be supported on a long term basis. Herbs, diet and lifestyle form the basis of our Rainforest Balance Program for adrenal recovery.
Herbs and Adrenal Fatigue:
Many of the most famous energy herbs from Asian herbal systems are in fact “adaptogens” that support adrenals and the bodies ability to handle stress. Tongkat Ali is the most well researched adaptogenic herb from the Malaysian rainforest that supports the stress response and adrenal function. Click here to see the study entitled “Effect of Tongkat Ali on stress hormones and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects“.
Rainforest Herbs Tongkat Ali Plus proprietary formula contains standardized extracts of Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia) also known as Malaysian Ginseng, along with 2 well known adrenal adaptogen herbs, Licorice Root and Gotu Kola (Pegaga) herb. For over 20 years this product has been assisting energy and well-being.
Diet for Adrenal Fatigue:
Adrenal fatigue also puts more stress on the gastrointestinal system and encourages inflammation, colitis, irritable bowel conditions and infection and dysbiosis from yeasts (such as candida), unhealthy bacteria (H. pylori), parasites and other intestinal microbes. An inflamed GI tract also aggravates cortisol production and further contributes to adrenal fatigue in a viscous cycle. To counteract the damaging effects of the modern diet we recommend a diet that provides nutrient rich, fresh unprocessed foods that reduce inflammation and balance blood sugar. Central to this is Virgin Coconut Oil that supports energy, metabolism and digestive function and intestinal health. It’s essential to start ones day with a healthy breakfast to stabilize blood sugar and avoid refined carbohydrates and excess caffeine. There’s a wealth of information on foods that support adrenal function and for more info on our recommended foods, please click here.
Exercise and Lifestyle:
Exercise such as swimming, walks in nature, yoga, tai chi and going to the gym are very important aspects in strengthening adrenal function, especially to bring down excess cortisol. To avoid energy spikes in the evening and subsequent sleep disturbances, try exercising in the mornings rather than evenings. Relaxation techniques, positive thinking and prayer / meditation help retrain the brain to experience joy in the moment and release negative fears and worries. Adrenal fatigue is our bodies way of informing us to develop regular habits of relaxation and sufficient sleep in balance with our natural circadian rhythms.