+ Well Nourished ⎮ Adrenal fatigue - how stress makes you sick

Adrenal fatigue – how stress makes you sick

Life, in our modern day world, can be stressful.  I often marvel at how ‘being stressed’ has become a marker of being successful or even almost an achievement.  In fact, many people sadly function in a constant state of stress and worry, and the health implications of this are disastrous.  I speak from personal experience here!

Feeling ‘stressed’ has become an insidious undercurrent to so many modern day diseases and disorders.  One of my key goals as a Naturopath in treating a patient holistically is to treat the underlying cause of disease.  When I was in clinical practice, one of the most common drivers of many of the health complaints I saw was ‘stress’ or adrenal fatigue.

How does stress cause adrenal fatigue and make you sick:
So the aim of this post is to help you gain an understanding of one aspect of the human stress response and how it may be impacting on your health.  Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress and it has an important role to play to enhance our reactions (and improve our survival) in stressful times.  In order to explain how cortisol affects your body,  I’d like you to consider our stress responses as cavemen and cavewomen.  Living in these times, your main stressors would have been three-fold: war (territory takeovers), drought and famine.  The modern human, however, experiences many more stressful events and with much more frequency.

So where the caveman produced cortisol in these (rarely) stressful occasions,  we now produce it often.  Where being ‘stressed’ becomes chronic for many people and cortisol levels remain elevated and unchecked, a number of common health problems may result.   So elevated cortisol levels or exhausted adrenal glands become a key consideration when holistically assessing any ‘chronically stressed’ person who is unwell.

To further explain the symptoms of adrenal fatigue…

Poor sleep and fatigue
Our cortisol levels generally drop at night time to allow us to sleep.  When they are elevated, deep sleep is not possible – this heightened awareness is a primitive response to war or threat.  Good in the short term (for a caveman needing to keep alert for any impending attack) but exhausting in our modern world where every night finds elevated cortisol levels and disrupted sleep patterns.

Weight gain
In a primitive man stressed by drought, famine and war, elevated cortisol allows the body to store fat (especially abdominal) – that is, to build a larder for tough times ahead.  It also promotes the storage of extracellular fluid (to prepare for drought), we’d refer to this as fluid retention or bloat. The older you are the worse this becomes as, in primitive times, the elderly were last in line for scarce food.  So elevated cortisol reduces your metabolic rate and acts as an antidiuretic to store fat and fluid.

Obviously, during times of war, drought and famine, having more mouths to feed was not so desirable to the cave man and woman.  So elevated cortisol also reduces both male and female fertility by reducing testosterone, progesterone, and oestrogen.  Cortisol plays havoc on the menstrual cycle, libido, ability to conceive and energy levels.  In fact, it impacts on all hormone driven disorders including PCOS, endometriosis, PMS, thyroid disorders and also makes for a symptomatic menopause.

Anxiety and depression
High levels of cortisol cause anxiety and also suppresses the hormone serotonin (good mood hormone), which can leave your spirits low.

Cardiac health
Cortisol drives up the blood pressure and blood sugar levels (leaving you with sugar cravings and a predisposition to diabetes);  combined with the before mentioned weight gain,  is a key factor in the development of cardiac disease.

Stress hormones also adversely affect all stages of digestion, weakens immune responses, accelerates ageing, joint degeneration and reduces muscle tone and bone density.

A clinical example…
So a clinical example, a real anonymous case (but very common scenario).  A woman presents  with ‘bad menopausal symptoms’ – flushes, insomnia, weight gain, depression, fatigue, hypertension, arthritis, indigestion, and IBS.  Her history reveals chronic stress.  I do nothing but treat her adrenal glands, make some minor dietary adjustments and we discuss stress management techniques.  Four weeks later, she no longer flushes, sleeps soundly, is happy, energised and has no joint pain or digestive upset.  By simply addressing the underlying cause, she ‘feels like a new woman.’  This is one example that could apply to any number of cases I have seen over the years – from infertility to insomnia to depression, digestive disorder or any of the before mentioned disorders; by treating the individual holistically and addressing the adrenals, health can be restored.

This is by no means a complete list of all of the conditions caused or impacted by stress.  The symptoms of adrenal stress are diverse and nonspecific and effect pretty much EVERY system of the body.

If you identify with this post (or know someone who might), there are many natural ways to address adrenal imbalance (and therefore treat the before mentioned conditions). Click here for more on treating adrenal fatigue.

Does this post resonate with you?  Post your comments below…

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Adrenal fatigue

Disclaimer – this information is not intended to diagnose or take the place of medical advice.  If you feel unwell, please seek the advice of your health care practitioner.  Full terms and conditions below.

  • Holly Simpson

    Love the synchronicity of this post Georgia, only recently it has occurred to me that I’m not actually going nuts, I’m more than likely suffering from adrenal fatigue. It all adds up. My realisation has been rather slow, probably coming on for years, especially post baby, but here I am. Taaaadaaaaaaahhhh!!!! 😉

    Desperately need my life back so am off to my naturopath stat!

  • Bridget

    Hi Georgia, great article! I feel like I have taken some massive steps to overcoming this condition, cutting ALL caffeine including chocolate had really helped me, diet etc but I still feel like I am not there yet and I don’t know how long I can keep going on like this… Sometimes I feel like I can’t leave the house. Do you have any advice on who I could go see for this in Melbourne? It’s really taken a toll on my life both personally and professionally and I just want to get better and put it behind me. I havnt had much luck with Naturopaths in the past. Any advice would be so helpful. Xx Bridget

  • Sharene

    I tick all those boxes.

  • Hi Holly. It’s easy to get lost and confused with adrenal fatigue. For me I start with loads of energy, but not good balanced energy, more manic energy. But you sort of feel invincible which makes you push harder and then begin to flail and other symptoms appear.
    I’m glad you’ve had your taddaah moment and can now hit the path of recovery. All the best G x

  • Hi Bridgette, yes caffeine wreaks havoc with my adrenals too. I can recommend Galia Atteslander (Caulfelid Natural Health), Wendy Richards (Vital Chi, Blackburn),
    Mandi Azoulay (Chinese med/naturopath – Caulfield) in Melbourne. Whilst diet is crucial, in my experience herbal medicine makes the biggest difference in supporting your body to heal. I also love acupuncture. Wishing you all the best in healing G xx

  • That’s no good Sharene, hopefully you can set yourself on the path to healing. Adrenal fatigue can be resolved (I speak from personal exp as well as professionally). Take care Gx

    • Sharene

      I plan on taking this advice. I believe it’s been going on for years as a mum, a wife, and employee, a student and life long learner. It eventually catches up and now at this point in my life I have some space to notice. Notice what my body is saying. I really appreciate your passion of helping others by creating this space of sharing. Thanks X

      • Glad to be of help Sharene. Good on you for finding the space as that really is the tricky part with the path to healing adrenal fatigue (chaining those old ingrained ‘do it all’ patterns). All the best G x.

  • Andreza

    Georgia, firstly I’m so sorry for your loss. I do hope that you take some time soon to grieve but also just to take some time for yourself. Secondly thank you for the informative post and open and honest email newsletter. Some of those points resonate with me (particularly stress) and are important to keep in mind when us mums/wonder women take on everything and sometimes think we’re going crazy. ‘You cannot poor from an empty cup’ or so says the magnet on my sisters fridge. So true. I’ve been working my way to a healthier and happier me over the past few years and feel I’ve made real progress with help from people like yourself.
    Lastly we are loving the well nousirsed lunchbox ebook. Well done – it’s totally awesome!

  • Trudy Spreadborough

    Hi Georgia,
    I found your article very interesting. I have been suffering for 12 years but only just diagnosed in the last 2.5 years with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Even after all this time it’s still hard to accept. I have seen Naturopaths and Drs etc but am just told that I am just depressed and they’re quick to prescribe antidepressants, which help in absolutely no way! I don’t FEEL depressed, if that makes sense…I just feel extremely frustrated. Frustrated that I’m just brushed off, frustrated that there is nothing obviously wrong with me, frustrated that I can’t do what I want to do, frustrated that I can’t be a better mum to my beautiful little girl (who has endless amounts of energy, of course!) and just frustrated that I’m so frustrated haha
    Anyway, I have been reading a few articles lately and adrenal fatigue has been mentioned a few times. I’d just like to know, is there any way your adrenal levels can be tested? Are there specific tests I might be able to mention to my Dr? I feel as if I sound crazy (and actually do feel a bit crazy in myself at times, yes) but I want to know that everything that can be done has been done. I don’t want to continue living like this if it turns out there may be a simple answer out there.
    Sorry for the big ramble 🙂 xx

  • Jacky Haworth

    I am sorry to hear you have been through such a difficult time Georgia. Maybe you forgot that I still offer sTREss Away Classes which is such a help in addressing the symptoms you describe. At the top of the list is Better Sleep! Classes or individual sessions available http://www.healingfromtheheart.com.au/training/stress-away/ . Trusting you are on the way back to a healthy and happy life. With the passing of a friend, one of the small consolations is that we see how much we have to live for. I feel for you and send love xx

  • Emily Elizabeth Holler

    I have recently been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue and SIBO after years and years of health challenges. I had been in a state of constant stress for many years ignorant to the fact that this would be the outcome. I think after losing my mother suddenly and tragically in 2000, I went into workaholic mode and didn’t really emerge until my failing health forced me to wake up to it. One night a couple of months ago my adrenals went into overdrive and I barely slept for almost 3 weeks. It was a living nightmare and I didn’t think it would ever stop, I lost my job and my rented house. Now I am resting and I finally feel I am on the path to recovery. Adrenal fatigue is a very scary and very real concern for people in this modern age of glorified busyness. I am so grateful I am on the road to recovery, thank you for sharing your experience Georgia.

  • I worked in advertising as a graphic designer, which meant really long hours and put me under a lot of pressure but nothing ever prepared me for being a mother (of a 4.5 year old) and breast-feeding until she was just over two years old (so constant wakes in the night) and trying to run my business as a graphic designer from home. Back then (when breast-feeding) was sleep deprivation and now is the growing independence and defiance. I often wonder when things are going to improve … And I often also think of myself as one of the lucky ones and very grateful for my lot in life in comparison to some who have to go off and work full time/long hours AND run a family on top of that.

  • Lara

    Hi Georgia – I have suffered from adrenal fatigue in the past and wonder whether I’m still experiencing some effects – this article is very helpful for me in confirming I need to ‘join the dots’ with some of my health concerns. Can you recommend any Brisbane based naturopaths that would specialise in this area that I can see? I know you are GC based, which is not that far from Brisbane but with 2 very young kids I’m not sure I could travel down your way (although I would love to book in with you as I’m a big fan!)

    • Hi Lara, I’m actually not currently practicing but I can recommend Alecia Humphries – Vibe Natural Health in Brisbane. All the best G x

  • Lisa Schmierer

    I’m wondering if I might have this. I lost my baby girl 7 weeks ago at 35 weeks gestation. Needless to say, it has been a very difficult time. I’ve also been trying to lose weight; I’ve been doing the right things, but nothing is happening. I have also been sleeping poorly, having difficulty winding down and then having very restless sleeps. I’ve never seen a naturopath before, but think it might be a good idea. Thanks for the article x

    • Hi Lisa, I’m SO SO very sorry for your loss. I think a Naturopath will support your body during this horrendously tough time but also please seek psychological support (I’m sure you probably are). Wishing you all the very best, G x

  • Thanks for your comment Bridgette. I know loads of mums suffer with adrenal fatigue off the back of those early years of parenting. It really is the toughest job of them all. I’m currently in the taxi phase of parenthood – running my two from activity to activity 7 days a week.
    But they do grow up so fast so it’s important to be well enough yourself to be able to parent and respond to them from a good place. I also don’t want my kids to see me racing around like a maniac, never relaxing and model themselves on thats how it is growing up. I have to keep reminding myself of this (as I am prone to taking on too much and then always rushing here and there). Life’s a balancing act that’s for sure G x

    • Yep, they model off you for sure. I know I modeled myself off my Mum. I keep thinking it’s going to get easier soon but yes, then I hear you become a taxi service. My Mum and Dad were a different kettle of fish – surfing background. I wasn’t allowed to take on any group sports as it was going to interrupt our holidays to the south for surfing. And any sport / activities I did take on, I had to get to by myself. Mainly on my pushbike. It didn’t stop me from doing sport. I swam with my mum at the local pool in the early hours of the morning, did ballet (which my Mum took me to??), did gymnastics at school (after school) and was involved in the school athletics and swimming as well as trying my hand at a bit of Boogie Boarding / Body Surfing with my family. I’m dreading the day I have to stand around watching sports as I’ve only ever been involved in it. I say that now but when I think about it, I’d probably love watching my daughter develop skills in whatever she calls to do so and will encourage it. I already do. She’s a good swimmer already. Yep, I’m the same – trying to squeeze in little jobs between others and then stressing due to the pressure I’ve put on myself. Ha!!

  • Glad you have found your way Emily. AF really is a viscous circle. Like you I have for the past year ‘kept myself crazy busy’ to avoid facing my own grief. I though I felt great – I had so much energy, but not in a good way because I just couldn’t stop to rest and quiet my mind.
    As a passionate and driven person this as always been my nemesis – ha ha. But like you I’ve recognised it and am taking steps to slow down and re-evaluate my priorities. Thanks for sharing G x

  • Thanks Jacky, have been thinking of you and TRE, just right now the class times are not right for me. I’ll be back at some point though G x

  • Hi Trudy. There is a very strong correlation between CFS and AF. Every CFS patient I have ever treated I have always addressed their adrenal function. This website has good info on testing for AF http://adrenalfatiguesolution.com/testing-for-adrenal-fatigue/.
    It is not straight forward and always needs to be more than a single saliva sample (4 over 24hours is best). It is best to see an integrative GP as many regular GPs may not interpret the results accurately. I find a 24hr saliva test coupled with a good case history is plenty to diagnose and treat AF (often he case history is enough to be honest). All the best, it’s awful to feel frustrated. Find a great practitioner and work with them (don’t get caught up with google Dr or online courses) G x

    • Trudy Spreadborough

      Thanks so much for your reply xx
      Any chance you would know of an integrative GP in Rockhampton or surrounds? None of the GPs I’ve seen so far have been willing to do anything but basic tests – FBC, E/LFT, IRON STUDIES, TSH, TFT and hormone panel.
      I also have PCOS which, in my opinion, only complicates things further.
      I’m guilty of using Dr Google in the early days I must admit but learnt pretty quick not to trust him haha

      • Sorry Trudy, I don’t. Perhaps do a shout out on my lunchbox group page if you are a member. They are a very helpful lot. Interesting, PCOS and AF often go hand in hand. All the best G x

  • Thanks Andreza for your comment and support. Yes, mums are very often victims of AF and I love that quote! For me I have realised I don’t want my own daughter to grow up thinking that running around like a grumpy headless chook is what mums do. I want to be in a better place personally to show her a better way to manage stress and this busy life we lead.

    Thrilled you love my ebook too G x

  • Natasha

    Hi Georgia, many thanks for the article – I discovered your website only recently and already find it very useful. I can relate to a lot of these symptoms. In the past I have consulted a naturopath but it was all quite disorganised. Do you have somebody that is Sydney based who you could recommend?
    Many thanks

    • Hi Natascha, glad you liked it. In Sydney I can recommend Leah Hectman or
      Melanie Koeman. Hope they are convenient for you G x

  • Emma Hawke

    Hello. Thanks for your article. Just wondering if you could recommend a practitioner in Canberra to assist with AF

  • Simone

    I was diagnosed with AF a couple of years ago by a funtional practitioner. He put me on some treatment that was only avaible in the US or NZ and it cost the earth.
    I have feel lately that some of the “signs” of AF are starting to come back. Can you apwrhaps suggest a natropath in Perth that yoy may know that deals with AF.
    Thank you 😊

  • Trina

    Hi Georgia, as you no longer practice, I wonder if you can recommend another Naturopath on the Gold Coast? Thank you and i hope you are finding some you time. Trina

  • Oh no need to get supplements from the USA – we have plenty of great options here. I can recommend the most amazing practitioner in Perth (and close friend) Chevone Clasen at Remede in Mosman Park. She is crazy busy, all of the practitioners that work for her are world class G x

  • Emma it’s the one state I don’t have a recommendation for. Though Cass from Salus Southern Highlands does Skype consults. G x

    • Emma Hawke

      Thank you

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