Updated: Aug 26
Adrenal fatigue has become a bit of a catchphrase in the natural health community, and while that terminology isn’t the most precise, many women are struggling with the very real symptoms of HPA Axis Dysfunction.
Some common symptoms are:
- Feeling tired but wired at night
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions
- Lack of “willpower”
- Cravings for sweets and carbs
When we think of hormones we typically think of the sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, but these are not the only hormones that are affecting us on a daily basis. Cortisol and Adrenaline are two common hormones that are produced by the adrenal glands, that have a direct influence on the balance of our sex hormones.
Adrenaline is the hormone that is produced in an emergency situation, when we are startled, when we nearly rear-end the car in front of us, or when we ride a rollercoaster. It is meant to spike to help our minds and bodies perform at their peak in a dangerous situation, but then to subside once the danger is over.
Cortisol is released when we have a prolonged stressor and is meant to offset some of the effects of adrenaline as well as continue to provide energy and mental clarity. It is also the hormone that helps us to wake up in the morning and gives us a slight boost in the afternoon. It tapers off as evening arrives to make way for melatonin and makes itself scarce until around 6am the next morning when a cortisol spike will help us to wake up naturally.
However for many of us living in today’s society, the low levels of stress that we live under daily cause cortisol to be circulating constantly, and after an extended period of time, the adrenal glands become overstimulated causing dysfunction throughout the entire HPA axis! (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis) This often means that cortisol is too low during the times that it should be high, leading to fatigue and brain fog, and/or it is being released when it shouldn’t be leading to wakefulness in the evenings.
So, what are these common stressors that lead to this prolonged cortisol release and eventual “burnout”? Well other than the things that we already know are causing us mental and emotional stress, there are many things that are causing us physical stress that we might not realize. Things like:
- Blood Sugar Dysregulation
- Disrupted Sleep
- Blue Lights After Dark
But how does all of this impact your sex hormones? Well, cortisol is manufactured in your body from building blocks that you get from the foods that you eat. (mostly cholesterol!) It isn’t the only hormone manufactured from these building blocks though, progesterone also uses the same basic materials. However, if your body is under chronic stress, it will prioritize cortisol to help you survive, while reproduction and therefore progesterone production, falls to the bottom of the to-do list. This contributes to the huge epidemic of estrogen dominance that women are experiencing today which has symptoms like: irregular periods, cramping, breakouts, and migraines.
Good news is that this is not a life sentence! There are ways to nourish the adrenals and get the HPA axis back into rhythm.
3 Ways to Nourish the Adrenals
1.) Pinpoint your biggest stressors and brainstorm ways to remove them from your daily life. Maybe you can’t change that big deadline that is coming up, but you can wean yourself from 3+ cups of caffeinated coffee every morning down to one cup of decaf. (Don’t shoot the messenger!) Or maybe you have a newborn and a solid night of uninterrupted sleep is not up to you, but you can choose nutrient dense meals throughout the day that will keep your blood sugar stable.
2.) Add in a B-Vitamin Complex. Vitamin B5 helps to promote healthy adrenal function, and the B vitamins overall are known for being natural energy boosters. Since they absorb best together, I usually recommend taking them as a complex.
3.) Be intentional about sleep. It can be so easy for us to decide that we have other things that we need to be doing in the evenings, and that is sometimes valid. But during this time of depletion it is crucial to prioritize sleep. Start by shutting off blue lights (cell phone, computer, television, ect…) at least an hour before bed. If you regularly feel like you get a second wind in the evenings, you can try supplementing with melatonin about 30 minutes before bedtime until you get your circadian clock reset. Just remember that with melatonin less is more, if you aren’t getting results with the dosage you are using, try tapering down instead of up.
If this post resonated with you and you recognized yourself in the symptoms I have mentioned, then I encourage you to sign up for my 4-Day Hormone Jumpstart. It is four days of nourishing our bodies and jump-starting our energy by bring balance back to our hormones and our lives!