In this post, we shall be having a thorough insight on adrenal fatigue. We shall be having an overview on sub topics such as; what the adrenal glands are all about, together with the causes and symptoms of adrenal fatigue. The information contained in this page will be very useful to as many that are concerned about their healthy living. It will expand your knowledge in issues related to adrenal fatigue and how the adrenal glands functions. Though the content might be too long for many, but reading it carefully to the end will be a worthwhile experience.
Before we proceed further, I will like you to ponder and ask yourselves some of the following questions:
- Do you get constantly tired without having a genuine reason or explanation for the tiredness?
- Do you feel overwhelmed by stressful situations and you find yourself lacking the strength and vitality that you used to enjoy?
- Do you struggle to get out of bed every morning even after a very long sleep? (most people are victims of this situation)
If in your case most of these situations are true, then there is a possibility that you are suffering from the condition that is our topic of today, which is adrenal fatigue.
Before i will proceed in giving you the bits by bits insight of what adrenal fatigue is all about, let me draw you back so that you can have a primary knowledge of what the adrenal glands are, and their various functions.
What Are The Adrenal Glands?
Adrenal glands is a pair of complex endocrine glands, which is situated at the top of each kidney, secreting hormones which controls our blood pressure, heart rate, and metabolism. The adrenal glands are absolutely vital to the wellbeing of humans. Just like i stated earlier, each human being have two of them (a pair), and they play a very important role in the production of hormones that we need, particularly during the period of stress.
Location of the adrenal glands in the human body
The adrenal glands might be a part of the HPA axis, but they are located far away from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. To be precise, they are located just above your kidneys, which is found in the middle of your lower back area. One adrenal gland is located on each kidney.
Though you might be thinking that the adrenal glands are symmetrical in shape, but this is quite wrong. The right adrenal gland is triangular in shape, while the left adrenal gland has a half moon shape. They are approximately 2.5 inches long and 1 inch wide. They both have a yellow colour.
Now, before we proceed further, here is a big question. Why are the adrenal glands located close to the kidneys?
Well, the answer is simply because they have a strong influence on the functions of the kidney (as well as many other functions) through the secretion of aldosterone. The word "adrenal" is actually derived from the Latin word "ad renes", which means near the kidney.
Different parts of the adrenal gland
A simple illustration to fully understand the structure of the adrenal glands is to compare them with a fruit like an avocado. The adrenal gland structure is comprised of three distinct layers, and below is a brief discussion of each of them with their respective functions.
1. The Capsule
The adipose capsule is a protective layer of fat that surrounds each adrenal gland. You can easily equate this as being like the out skin of the avocado. Although the capsules are not strictly a part of the adrenal glands themselves, the main function of the layer is to enclose and protect each of the adrenal glands.
2. The Cortex
Still using the avocado as a case study, you can easily compare this layer to the fleshy part of the avocado. It comprises about 80% of the total volume of the adrenal gland and it surrounds the medulla completely. The medulla lies in the center. The cortex is made up of 3 separate zones, which are:
- Zona glomerulosa
- Zona fasciculate, and
- Zona reticularis
Each of these zones has slightly different functions but they are all found within the cortex.
Functions of the cortex
- Production of DHEA (dehydro-epiandrosterone) and other sex hormones. This occurs in the innermost layer of the cortex, the zona reticularis.
- Production of corticosteroids. The middle section of the cortex, the zona fasciculate, controls our corticosteroids levels.
- Production of mineralocorticoids. This is the last role of the cortex is to produce mineralocorticoids such as aldosterone, which regulates our fluid and mineral excretion. The zona glomerulosa is in charge of this function.
3. The Medulla
The very last and innermost layer of the adrenal gland is the medulla. This layer is engulfed by the cortex as it sits in the middle. It is just about 20% of the total volume of the adrenal gland. Unlike the cortex, the medulla does not have separate zones with diverse functions.
Function of the medulla
Even though the medulla is just 20% of the adrenal gland, it is just as important as the large cortex. Whereas the functions of the cortex is more targeted to the regulation of different levels in our bodies and maintaining the proper functionality of our bodies, the main function of the medulla is all about managing our response to stress.
The medulla secrets 3 different catecholamines, which includes adrenaline (epinephrine), norepinephrine, and dopamine. These stress hormones are also known as neurotransmitters, they generate the primitive stress response that helps us alive in moments of danger or trauma.
Whenever we are experiencing stress, our brain sends a signal to the adrenal glands which will react instantly by releasing these 3 stress hormones. Among other things, the medulla slows down our digestion, increase our awareness and divert blood flow to important areas e.g. our muscles and brain.
Now that i have taken you through a rollercoaster ride, revealing the primary knowledge of what the adrenal glands are all about, let us go back to the topic of this page, "Adrenal fatigue".
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue can simply be defined as a stress-related condition which occurs when the adrenal glands, hypothalamus and pituitary gland (including the HPA axis) are functioning below their optimal level.
When the adrenal glands gets over-stimulated for a long period of time, they began to weaken and loose strength. Some major causes of adrenal fatigue includes long term stress from jobs, relationship issues, or even chronic diseases. As a result of these, the adrenals get weakened so much that they are unable to respond effectively when we need them. At this stage, sufferers of adrenal fatigue begin to have symptoms like mild depression, lack of enthusiasm, and a feeling of constant tiredness. Even if they sleep for long hours, it does not make any difference, because they normally wake up as tired as when they went to bed.
Symptoms Of Adrenal Fatigue
Each of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be connected to a deficiency in one or more of the hormones produced by the adrenal glands. The common symptoms of adrenal fatigue are as follows:
1. Difficulty getting up from bed each morning, even after a long sleep
Getting insufficient sleep is one of the major causes of adrenal fatigue, and subjecting yourself to more slumber is also one of the best ways of recovering from it. However, when someone is suffering from adrenal fatigue, they woke up extremely tired and "foggy" even after they have gotten a long sleep. This symptoms is caused by alterations in the adrenaline and cortisol levels.
2. High levels of fatigue each day
In the later stages of adrenal fatigue, the adrenals is incapable of producing enough of the hormones needed by the body. This means that the levels of cortisol, along with neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and adrenaline, are quite lower than they should originally be.
The low production of these critical hormones explains the reason why patients suffering from adrenal fatigue finds it difficult to lift themselves or maintain a reasonable energy level in their daily living.
3. Inability of handling stress
People suffering from adrenal fatigue always find it difficult to handle physical or emotional stress. The main reason is still because of their unrelenting feeling of tiredness. When we are experiencing stress, we solely depend on our adrenals to release hormones like cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline. These hormones regulates the way we respond to stress by allowing us to increase our strength, focus and awareness when we need it. However, in a situation where the adrenals are fatigued, they find it difficult to release the required amount of these hormones.
4. Cravings for salty foods
In the adrenals, the cortex is in charge for the production of aldosterone, which works with the kidney in the regulation of our fluid and mineral excretion. When the adrenals gets fatigued, the body produces less aldosterone and we tend to excrete large amount of important minerals in the urine.
This means that people suffering from adrenal fatigue looses their abilities to balance the levels of important minerals like sodium, magnesium and potassium in their blood. As result of this, it leads them craving for foods which will replace the sodium loss that they have experienced. If you notice that you are frequently craving for salty snacks, then you could be suffering from adrenal fatigue.
5. Higher energy levels in the evenings
Lower levels of cortisol can be detrimental to our energy levels throughout the day. In a normal healthy individual, cortisol reaches its peak early in the morning before declining gradually throughout the day. However, people suffering from adrenal fatigue experiences in increase in cortisol in the late afternoon and evening.
6. Weakened immune system
Cortisol helps in regulating the immune system because it has an anti-inflammatory effect. Inflammation is primarily a sign that the body is fighting an infection, but the duty of cortisol is to prevent this reaction from getting out of control. Maintaining a balance in the level of cortisol (not too high and not too low) is an important part of our healthy living.
If the level of your cortisol is increasing as a result of stress, the anti-inflammatory effect becomes too strong. This eventually stops your immune system from working effectively as it should, and this weakened state can last as long as the duration of what causes the stress. On the other hand, a low level of cortisol makes the immune system to over-react to pathogens. This can result to chronic inflammation and some number of respiratory or auto-immune diseases.
- Asthma, allergies or respiratory complaints
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Dry skin
- Extreme tiredness an hour after exercise
- Joint pain
- Frequent urination
- Lines in your fingertips
- Low blood pressure
- Loss of muscle tone
- Low sex drive
- Low blood sugar
- Numbness in your fingers
- Lower back pain
- Weight gain
We have discussed so much about the symptoms, let us move further in looking at the causes of adrenal fatigue.
What Are The Causes Of Adrenal Fatigue?
1. Emotional stress
The major cause of adrenal fatigue, in no doubt, is stress. Stress can come up in any aspect of our lives, be it relationship, in the office, travelling, sleepless nights, meeting up with the day's target etc. The effects of all these are just the same. Stress have a terrible effect on our health in the long term.
Consuming much of sugars makes us to produce extra cortisol and insulin, which puts stress on the adrenals and pancreas. Another link between excess sugar and adrenal fatigue is as follows. Consuming much sugars makes us to add weight, like we all know. Excess weight also serves as a contributing factor to adrenal fatigue, for instance, imagine the extra stress being overweight places on your body and internal organs. If being over-weight makes you feel tired, then there are chances that it is tiring your adrenals too.
3. insufficient sleep
Getting insufficient sleep is another major cause of adrenal fatigue. The body is required to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, if you are giving lesser than this amount to your night sleep, then there are possibility that it will lead to adrenal fatigue.
4. Chemicals and pollutants
Chemicals are known to directly cause an alteration in adrenal function. Often, the body (specifically the other parts of the HPA axis) will try to make a temporary adjustment to compensate this disruption. But when the adrenal glands gets disrupted or altered for a long period of time, then the possibility of acquiring adrenal fatigue is high.
5. Chronic disease
Chronic diseases causes long-term stress to our adrenal glands. Whether you are suffering from arthritis, asthma or diabetes, they all places demands on your adrenal glands. When a person suffer from this chronic diseases for a long period of time, his or her adrenals can become over-worked and fatigued.
It should not be concluded that adrenal fatigues are caused by just long term factors (chronic diseases), moments of severe physical trauma can also lead to adrenal fatigue. If you can trace the your symptoms back to an incident that occurred several years ago, you might find the original cause of your adrenal fatigue.
How Can We Treat Adrenal Fatigue?
Treatment of adrenal fatigue is not that simple, but it is certainly very possible. It can be remedied by making some simple changes to our various lifestyles and giving our adrenal glands the proper time they need to recover. You can get your energy level back to normal.
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