Adrenal Fatigue & How it is Affecting your Hormones and Fertility
Adrenal fatigue: What Is It?
Stressed? Tired? Craving sugar? Can’t sleep? Inability to lose weight around your midriff?
All of these can be related to the constant stress we feel in our lives. We know that stress can have a huge impact on our health and wellness. And, since our adrenal glands produce stress hormones, adrenal fatigue is a popular theme lately.
So what exactly is adrenal fatigue? Well, it is something that should more accurately be called HPA dysfunction. This is a fancy way of saying that the communication loop between our brain and our adrenals is fried. Because of this, our brain and adrenals begin to have difficulty with when and how to release our stress hormones.
Our stress response is primarily governed by this HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis. So, when a stressful event happens, it triggers our brain (the hypothalamus & pituitary) to talk our adrenals (the walnut-sized glands atop your kidney which produces many hormones) into releasing a cascade of hormones in our bodies.
It’s our adrenals job with this communication loop to keep our bodies response to stress in balance, to not be excessive or harmful.
But what happens when they become “overworked?”
Adrenaline and cortisol are the stress hormones that give you the commonly known adrenaline rush; when you feel totally alert. It is that “fleeing from a saber-toothed tiger” feeling, which is known as your body's fight or flight response.
Some people just love that intense feeling. Others may find they get a mismatch of this intense feeling when a situation doesn’t call for it.
The release of hormones in the fight or flight response is your body's normal reaction to stress. This reaction to stress can sometimes be positive, like when it helps you quickly swerve and prevent a crash. And, it can sometimes have a negative effect, like when it doesn’t get shut off.
What normally happens with this fight or flight response is that after a short amount of time is that it dissipates, your body gets back to normal, and then all is good.
But what would happen if you felt constant stress? Like all day, every day?
And what do you think happens to this communication pathway (or axis) between your brain and your adrenal glands when they are constantly being stimulated in this way? The result is an inability for that hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis to properly regulate or respond appropriately.
The adrenals may start to respond a little less quickly to what the brain is asking and the body’s ability to adapt to stress may become less resilient.
The result of this inability to adapt to stress could mean that too much or too little cortisol is made. And this can come with a host of problems. One common problem is that your circadian rhythm, which is your natural wake-sleep cycle, can become disrupted. With this disruption, you might have an intensely hard to time waking up and getting moving in the morning and/or you may get that second wind sensation at night when your body should be winding down for bed.
Adrenal Dysfunction and its Effect on Hormones and Fertility
Besides messing up your sleep, adrenal dysfunction can also signal to your body that conditions are not ideal for conception and disrupt your hormones.
One way that stress and adrenal dysfunction can exert this negative effect on the body is through the effect on DHEA. A constant state of stress can affect the amount of DHEA made in the adrenals. DHEA is a very important precursor hormone, which means that it is an upstream hormone that the body uses to transform into other major hormones (like estrogen and testosterone). So, if the levels of DHEA in the body are impacted, then levels of estrogen and testosterone can be too. And this can wreak all sorts of havoc on our state of hormone balance.
Additionally, high cortisol levels from stress can actually steal from the production of other major sex hormones in the body, potentially causing more issues with hormone balance and reproduction.
The hormone pregnenolone (which is also a precursor hormone), can be used by the adrenal glands to transform into either stress hormones or sex hormones at any given time.
When the body perceives itself to be under a high amount of stress, it will shunt production of pregnenolone away from making sex hormones (such as estrogen and even testosterone) and towards making more stress hormones (cortisol).
Do I Have an Adrenal Issue?
When your adrenal glands start becoming dysregulated after secreting stress hormones day in and out, you can start getting many different symptoms. See below for a partial list:
Difficulty waking in morning, even after a long sleep
Inability to deal with stress
Craving salty or sugary foods
Getting sick often
Feeling wired/agitated & tired
Asthma, allergies or respiratory complaints
Dark circles under the eyes
Extreme tiredness an hour after exercise
Lines in your fingertips
Loss of muscle tone
Low blood pressure
Low blood sugar
Low sex drive
Lower back pain
Numbness in your fingers / Poor circulation
To test if HPA Dysfunction or “adrenal fatigue” is an issue for you, your practitioner will likely order some blood tests. In addition, a test called an adrenal stress index test is usually ordered. This test comes as an easy, at-home kit which takes saliva samples at four different times over the course of the day and is a more detailed survey of adrenal function. In addition to measuring cortisol, it also measures DHEA and insulin, among other markers.
What To Do If I Have These Symptoms?
There are many actions you can take to reduce your stress and improve your health and energy levels.
Ideally, if you think stress is starting to burn you out, stress reduction is key. There are tons of ideas how you can reduce your stress. My favorites are meditation, walking in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or taking a bath.
Of course, I also recommend reducing sugar and processed food intake and eating more fruits and vegetables. Better nutrition is always a great way to give your body the building blocks it needs to heal itself.
Your adrenal glands produce hormones in response to stress. After long-term daily stress, their response may become desensitized.
The most important thing you can do is to get tested to rule out other potential conditions. You can also try stress reduction techniques like meditation, walks in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or even a lovely bath.
If you are wondering if adrenal fatigue is affecting your hormones and/or fertility, I invite you to book a FREE 15-minute phone consultation with me here.No strings attached, I’d love to help!
Recipe (Stress-reducing bath salt): Lavender Bath Salts
2 cups epsom salts
10 drops lavender essential oil
As you're running your warm bath water, add ingredients to the tub. Mix until dissolved
Enjoy your stress-reducing bath!
Tip: You can add a tablespoon of dried lavender flowers.