Everyone goes through bouts of tiredness and fatigue. When workload, stress and demand on your output increases it becomes an inevitability. However when tiredness and fatigue becomes chronic, it poses a greater threat to our physical and psychological health on a long-term basis.
The adrenal glands play the pivotal role within the body when it comes to stress management. The adrenal glands provide the necessary stress coping mechanisms needed to deal with a threat or situation we’re confronted with. It’s a primitive, survival system embedded within us to trigger an adequate physiological state to fend off predators and other threats, however the whole process becomes antagonised far easier and far more frequent in modern day society, which can lead to some chronic health issues.
What are the adrenal glands?
The adrenal glands sit on the kidneys and the shape of each of them differs slightly. The adrenal glands perform a vital role within our endocrine system and are split into two sections:
Adrenal Medulla – The adrenal medulla is positioned in the center of the gland and secretes norepinephrine to induce a ‘fight or flight’ response.
Adrenal Cortex – Secretes corticosteroids in response to stress stimulus:
Mineralocorticoids – aldosterone is secreted by the adrenal cortex, which is a mineralocorticoid essential for up-regulating salt balance within the blood and increasing blood pressure via nephron sodium distribution from the kidneys.
Glucocorticoids – cortisol is the primary glucocorticoid secreted by the adrenal glands.
Cortisol up-regulates blood sugar levels (glucose), through the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and proteins (gluconeogenesis) leading to hyper-glycaemia.
Asides from metabolic function, cortisol also have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and down regulate the immune system. This helps with regulating pain however can lead to an increased risk of developing infections.
Stress and the adrenal glands?
Stress arises from many different source within the context of many modern societies. It can be a physical stress like an illness your body is wrestling with, or psychological stress that can typically arise with careers and relationships.
Stress can be grouped into two different sub-types: chronic stress and acute stress, your body responds to both uniquely.
Acute Stress – The adrenal glands are split into two sections: the adrenal medulla and the adrenal cortex. The adrenal medulla is responsible for addressing acute stress, which is typically an unpredictable event that triggers an immediate response of ‘fight or flight’. Because speed is imperative here in reacting to the event, the adrenal medulla is prompted by the sympathetic nervous system to secrete norepinephrine and epinephrine.
Chronic Stress – Chronic stress differs slightly from acute stress, in that it effects on the body’s endocrine system is prolonged and the adrenal response is triggered slightly differently.
The chronic stress response is driven through the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis:
1) The neuroendocrine cascade chain starts at the hypothalamus corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF).
2) CRF then binds with receptors on the pituitary gland leading to the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).
3) ACTH then binds with receptors on the adrenal cortex leading to the secretion of cortisol, androgens and aldosterone.
4) Cortisol is then released progressively for many post-stress encounter until a threshold of cortisol blood concentration is reached and detected, which creates negative feedback preventing the hypothalamus releasing CRF and leading back to homeostasis.
When we’re healthy and stress levels are manageable the HPA axis is able to deal with the typical chronic stress triggers and we recover. However when the stresses in your life exceed your stress management faculties (which can differ from person-to-person) it may lead to a desensitisation within this recovery loop and the adrenal glands may become less able to response to stress adequately. When this happens in can lead to adrenal fatigue symptoms that can reduce quality of life.
Adrenal fatigue can sometimes be hard to qualify because medical bodies typically recognise only the extreme cases of either elevated or reduced adrenal function as having basis for medical intervention.
Addison’s Disease and Cushing Syndrome are the medical terms for low and high adrenal function respectively.
This approach fails to recognise others hampered by insufficient adrenal function, but don’t quite fall into the 2 extremes.
Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms
- A difficulty waking up in the mornings despite sufficient good quality sleep
- Continual fatigue
- Craving salty foods
- Increased susceptibility to illness as immune function is impaired
- Over-consuming sugary foods and caffeine to elicit immediate, quick fix energy.
Overcoming adrenal fatigue and preventative measures
The obvious factor that contributes to adrenal fatigue is stress.
Stress is and its influence on the adrenal glands is cumulative and can build up over the course of time.
The biggest and most obvious types of stress are physical stresses such as accidents and operations. It’s vital for get sufficient rest after a traumatic event such as this to allow the body to return to homeostasis before plunging back into regular life where your body is more susceptible to further stress.
It’s for this same reason why it’s important to get sufficient rest and recovery in between workouts and bouts of physical exertion.
Both personal life and career at times can often be contributors to stress. It’s important to take steps to manage these and other elements within your personal life before it spills over to health issues, which can compound these problems further.
Ensure that the relationships in your life are positive ones and not psychological burdens. I t can be a tough process to be honest with yourself and begin to be more selective with who you spend time with but for long-term health and general well-being, it is a necessary process.
Career stresses are inevitable at times, but when a role greatly exceeds your competencies and support it can become an ongoing issue. Ensure that your ambition is high and calculated when considering career moves to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Be honest with both yourself and your peers and management team when your career becomes a burden on your health.
For more severe emotional stresses it’s advisable to seek professional help to address the underlying cause of the problem.
Where you’re situated can heavily influence environmental stress as it accounts for pollutants that can cause free-radical damage and inflammation. If you live within an area