Emotional stress is what everyone thinks of when "stress" is mentioned but stress comes in many different forms. It can be caused from over-exercising, lack of sleep, a fight with a boyfriend, or consuming too many sweets. The adrenal glands don't differentiate between any of these stressors. Whether it's too much coffee consumption or a final exam, the adrenal glands react the same way - by calling on the adrenal glands to secrete hormones.
Our adrenal glands actually secrete almost 50 hormones but we are most interested in the hormones called adrenaline, DHEA, and cortisol. These hormones work to keep our body's reaction to stress in check by having an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effect. These adrenal hormones get to work when there is swelling and inflammation, threat of mental or physical danger, infection, and in response to the presence of an autoimmune condition. But the adrenal glands have their limits. They run out of steam and produce less and less of their hormones as they are called on repeatedly by the body to help deal with chronic problems such as thyroid conditions.
When the adrenals cannot keep up, the effects can be far-reaching. Some symptoms and signs of adrenal fatigue are:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Cravings for salty or sweet foods
- Recurrent coughs, colds, flu
- Confusion, poor memory
- Low sex drive
- Blurry vision
- Reliance on coffee or energy drinks
- Feeling bloated
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Dizziness (positional - going from sitting to standing or from lying to sitting )
- Weight gain
Thyroid function is intricately tied to our adrenal health. Part of any thyroid treatment plan should include adrenal gland support for the following 5 reasons:
- Adrenal fatigue causes the thyroid receptors on cells to lose their sensitivity to thyroid hormones
- Adrenal fatigue can decrease the conversion of thyroid hormones T4 to T3
- Adrenal fatigue weakens the immune system barriers in the intestines, lungs and the blood/brain barrier
- Adrenal fatigue inhibits absorption of thyroid hormone into cells
- Adrenal fatigue disrupts the interchange between the hypothalamus and pituitary gland with the thyroid gland
What Can You Do to Help Adrenal Fatigue?
Here are some "Do's" that can help you avoid or aid adrenal fatigue. Start by managing your blood sugar levels better by:
- Eat a protein-rich breakfast within one hour of awakening.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and energy drinks.
- Keep low-glycemic snacks nearby. We recommend yogurt, nuts, raw vegetables, olives, pickles, and hard-boiled eggs. Eat something every 2-3 hours whether or not you feel hungry.
- Avoid sweets
- Eat a food allergen-free diet
Exercise and the Adrenal Glands
Our adrenal glands need the right type of exercise. It's crucial to lowering high cortisol levels. Sports that require repeated short bursts of energy as in weight lifting burn sugar and actually can stress the adrenals even more.
The type of exercise that burns fat is called aerobic exercise. Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, long slow runs, rowing, and non-competitive cycling. Burning fat with these exercises can decrease cortisol levels.
The adrenal glands' health is vitally important in any thyroid treatment plan. Assessment of the adrenals is part of a functional medicine thyroid evaluation.
Parts of this article were excerpted from Drs. Frank and Lisa Lanzisera's new book on thyroid conditions What's Wrong With My Thyroid?: 12 Steps to Detox Your Thyroid and Lose Weight (Lanzisera Center) (Volume 2)