Do you often wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 2 a.m.? Do you drink a cup of coffee to wake up in the morning and a glass of wine to unwind at night? If sugar were actually a nutrient, would you be the “healthiest” person around? These are all good indicators that your adrenal glands may be causing imbalances in your body.
The adrenal glands, often described as the “little hats” worn by the kidneys, are famous for the adrenaline response we know all too well.
It is that feeling on the freeway when someone cuts you off, you slam on your breaks, and your life flashes before your eyes. The adrenal glands are responsible those cat-like reflexes which kept you alive in this scenario. In addition, they are also responsible for the trembling hands, racing heart, shallow breathing, and overall feeling of stun.
While this stress response can keep us alive on the freeway, this same stress response on a chronic, day-to-day level can actually lead to health problems — heart disease, auto-immune disease, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome and osteoporosis, to name a few.
In general, our nervous system is divided into two categories — the fight-or-flight or “sympathetic” nervous system, and the rest and digest or “parasympathetic” nervous system. The sympathetic reaction increases heart rate, blood pressure and shallow breathing, and decreases digestion. Blood supply is shunted from the gastrointestinal system to the skeletal muscles, thus slowing gut motility and nutrient absorption. The sympathetic nervous system also decreases bile, stomach acid, and digestive enzyme production, which means you are too stressed to digest. The cortisol component of the sympathetic nervous system increases blood glucose, which promotes fat storage.
The parasympathetic nervous response is responsible for the relaxed state of our nervous system, which involves decreasing heart rate and blood pressure, and stimulating digestion, nutrient absorption, up-regulating bile, stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Your body’s own tranquilizing neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) is also unregulated and a fat-burning, muscle-building metabolism is promoted with the parasympathetic response.
In the body, the sympathetic response is really designed to be short-lived.
The real stress to the adrenal system comes into play when we are being chased by a bunch of little tigers chronically throughout the day (metaphorically speaking). When this occurs, the recovery and resting parasympathetic response does not become activated, which means we stay in a continual heightened state of stress.
With a sympathetically dominated nervous system, adrenal fatigue develops. Adrenal fatigue is not the inability to produce cortisol, but rather the misappropriation of cortisol funds. Certain symptoms and behaviors can be a characteristic of adrenal problems. Inability to lose weight, sleeplessness, sugar, caffeine and salt cravings, fatigue, brain fog and irritability are signals that stress your body has been enduring has been beyond a healthy range.
Supporting your adrenal response is not only important for immediate energy support, but is vital for balancing out a sympathetic dominant state and preventing chronic disease. Assisting the adrenals starts with taking a quality B complex such as B Complex Plus by Pure Encapsulations and drinking adequate water (half your body’s weight in ounces). An herbal support, such as Cortisol Manager by Integrative Therapeutics Institute can help normalize adrenaline levels, and combination formulas such as Adapten All by Ortho Molecular are restorative for depleted adrenals. Gaia Adrenal Health is also a great option and is on sale this month for 30 percent off at our stores
You can also have your adrenal function tested through one of our Peoples Rx Practitioners (by appointment only). To schedule an appointment, call 512.219.8600 or visit our website.
Don’t wait for metabolic, immune or cardiac changes to occur before you give attention to your adrenals. Break the sympathetic dominate cycle and enjoy your life. Speak to one of our knowledgeable wellness team members and find out what may work best for you!
By Dr. Amy Nelson, ND*
*Naturopathic doctors not currently licensed in the state of Texas.