The Stress Response and Adrenal Fatigue
Stress is one of those things we all experience but do we really understand the effects on our body?
Well first we need to discuss your adrenal gland and it's function - your adrenal gland is an endocrine gland which produces a range of hormones including cortisol (your stress hormone), adrenaline and noradrenaline. Your adrenal gland is located just above your kidneys.
Adrenal fatigue is long term perceived stress causing your adrenal gland to continually release cortisol as a response. The overall process happens over 3 stages:
Stage 1 - Alarm Phase
This is your fight or flight response. It is triggered by reactions in the brain that cause your adrenal gland to release adrenaline and cortisol. This response is designed to counteract danger by mobilising the body’s resources for immediate physical activity.
As a result of this:
- your heart and force of contraction increase to provide blood to areas of body necessary for a stressful situation
- blood is taken away from the skin, digestive system and other major organs supplying the muscles and brain preferentially
- your rate of breathing increases to supply necessary oxygen to the heart, brain and exercising muscle
- sweat production increases to eliminate toxic compounds produced by the body and to lower body temperature
- production of digestive secretions is reduced as this is not critical during stress
- blood sugar levels increase dramatically to ensure adequate glucose levels are ready to be released into blood stream
Stage 2 - Resistance Phase
Resistance allows your body to continue fighting a stressor long after the effects of stage 1 would normally wear off. Cortisol is largely responsible for this.
As a result:
- cortisol stimulates the conversion of protein to energy so the body has energy after glucose levels have been used up
- cortisol promotes retention of sodium to keep your blood pressure elevated
- also promotes the necessary changes to meet emotional crisis, perform strenuous tasks and fight infection
Prolonged resistance phase then leads to Stage 3.
Stage 3 - Exhaustion Phase
This can manifest as partial or total collapse of a body function or specific organ.
During this phase:
- potassium ions lost resulting in cellular dysfunction
- depletion of glucose control leading to hypoglycaemia
As a mobile naturopath around Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula, we mostly see clients in the chronic resistance stage and the symptoms shown most commonly include:
- past history of chronic stress
This is incredibly common and with some herbal medicine, food as medicine and some lifestyle amendments we can assist to support your adrenal health.
Things that you can do yourself from a food and lifestyle perspective include:
- increasing vitamin C rich foods such as citrus foods, kiwi fruit, capsicum, broccoli, cabbage as vitamin C has an affinity for the adrenal gland
- supporting you stress levels with relaxation techniques including meditation, holidays, mindfulness
- reducing physically exhausting exercise to slower more controlled exercise such as pilates and yoga
- ensure eating enough protein (every meal)
- eating meals that are well cooked to ease digestion - e.g. stews or soups
- ensuring you are getting enough sleep
If you are worried about your adrenal health, please click the Book Now button to talk to a naturopath about your health.