In the always on-the-go, over-caffeinated, fast food society we live in these days, it’s no surprise that an estimated 80% of Americans suffer from an adrenal insufficiency. Adrenal glands, also known as suprarenal glands, are small, triangular-shaped glands located on top of both kidneys. Adrenal glands produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress, and other essential functions (1).
Adrenal Hormones and the Way You Feel
Each zone of the adrenal gland secretes a specific hormone. James L. Wilson, Ph.D., who coined the term “adrenal fatigue” in his book Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Syndrome discovered that these tiny glands produce around 50 separate hormones (2). Along with those hormones comes two that give you a little boost to get through the tough times: adrenaline, the fight-or-flight hormone, and cortisol, the stress hormone. Once your body depletes that rush of adrenaline and cortisol, much like a little child on a sugar rush, your body crashes and the effects of adrenal fatigue set in. There are warning signs that you are experiencing adrenal fatigue. More than just being “tired”, look for that mid-afternoon slump that can usually only be treated by a cup of coffee or a candy bar— a sign of blood sugar crashing. Other negative adrenal responses include:
- Brain fog, cloudy-headedness, and mild depression
- Low thyroid function
- Blood sugar imbalances, such as hypoglycemia
- Fatigue – especially morning and mid-afternoon fatigue
- Sleep disruption
- Low blood pressure
- Lowered immune function
- Inflammation (3)
All About: Cortisol
Cortisol plays a unique role in your overall well being. This glucocorticoid hormone controls the sleep/wake cycle, helps control the body’s use of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, helps to suppress inflammation, helps regulate blood pressure, and works to increase blood sugar. High levels of stress over an extended period of time result in the prolonged release of cortisol into the bloodstream. Cortisol can trigger an adrenaline response to deal with the stress which triggers triglycerides, thereby boosting “bad” cholesterol, raising blood pressure and blood sugar (4). This prolonged rise in metabolic factors are some of the most common risk factors for heart disease (5). It is my belief that this is why chronic stress can lead to an unfortunate cardiac event like a heart attack or stroke.
Final Thoughts on Adrenal Insufficiency
During the evolution of man, the release of adrenal hormones was essential for survival. The hunter-gatherers were literally running from tigers every day. But in today’s busy, tech-driven world, we are smart enough to know that there are negative consequences to prolonged stress. Ensuring that you have stress management techniques in place is essential to longevity. I have five simple steps you can follow to regulate cortisol here.