What Happens to Our Adrenals Under Chronic Stress?
The adrenal glands are small glands that sit on top of each kidney. They primarily produce hormones that help regulate our body’s stress response. However, the current epidemic of constant stress in the modern world may be overstimulating some people’s adrenal glands, which could set you up for a handful of health problems.
The main hormones produced by the adrenal glands are released when we are in “fight or flight” mode, otherwise known as the sympathetic response. Hormones such as cortisol affect metabolism, increasing the supply of glucose in the blood, as it might be needed during a stressful event. Other traditional “fight or flight” symptoms, such as elevated heart and breathing rate, are caused by other adrenal hormones such as adrenaline.
Back in simpler times, these functions were useful when hunting-and-gathering humans had to avoid predators. When their body perceived the stress of being chased by a lion, hormones from the adrenal glands would allow for additional blood flow, faster breathing, and more fuel to the muscles of the body. When they escaped danger, the “fight or flight” response would stop, allowing their body’s systems to return to baseline. Despite the fact that most modern stresses do not involve avoiding a physical obstacle, our body still responds in the same way, whether the stress involves being chased by a bear or a nasty phone call from your boss.
When we undergo long-term stress of any sort, whether at work, from personal or family illness, from the loss of a loved one, or any other form of prolonged stress, the adrenal glands may get burned out. These glands are constantly in a state of producing cortisol, initially resulting in higher cortisol levels. High cortisol levels are associated with weight gain, poor cardiovascular health, and chronic inflammation, so finding a way to manage your stress is important for your overall health.
Aside from stress management techniques, you can rebalance your cortisol through eating a healthier balanced diet, elimination of sugar, and the elimination of caffeine. Magnesium supplementation may also be useful. Give these lifestyle modifications a few months to start taking effect, since hormones can take time to rebalance. If, after that time, you are not feeling a significant improvement in your energy, seek out a functional medicine provider who specializes in hormone issues, as they will be able to tailor a treatment for your needs.