The adrenals are two grape-sized glands that sit atop the kidneys. They’re tiny but mighty—they help to balance more than 50 hormones and have a wide-reaching impact on our health. Their primary role is to activate the life-critical “fight or flight” response by producing stress hormones—cortisol and adrenaline—in a calculated and temporary way so that we can fight or flee. And then rest.
The problem is, today, we’re fighting and fleeing differently than our ancestors. Ideally, like them, we’d experience a surge in adrenaline and cortisol, and it would pass. For many in the modern world, it never passes. We’re not running from saber-toothed tigers, but many are experiencing periods of near-constant, intense stress and our adrenal glands are either on overdrive or depleted, both of which can wreak havoc on our health and wellbeing.
Stage one of adrenal dysfunction (sometimes called non-Addison’s hypoadrenia) incites feelings of being “tired and wired” due to the overproduction of adrenaline and cortisol. If the adrenals are overtaxed for too long and start to wear down, there is no “tired and wired”—you’re simply exhausted. It can be difficult to cope with the simplest of life’s demands. This is stage two of adrenal dysfunction.
According to Dr. Christiane Northrup, “Think of these [stress hormone] surges as withdrawals from a bank, to help you get through life’s rough spots. If you’ve gotten into the habit of withdrawing from your account too often, you’ll eventually be overdrawn and your adrenal glands will be overwhelmed. Then, you’ll have too little [stress hormones] when you really need [them].”
Symptoms of adrenal dysfunction, such as fatigue, brain fog, lack of libido, and weight gain, often mimic those of hypothyroidism and these two systems should always be addressed together. Unlike hypothyroidism, adrenal dysfunction isn’t often acknowledged by the conventional medical community because they can’t write a prescription for it. They tend to look at Addison’s Disease or Cushing’s Syndrome—two extreme ends of the adrenal health spectrum. Anything else isn’t worthy of consideration.
Although it’s the most common hormonal imbalance for women, adrenal dysfunction is the most straightforward to fix. It may take time, but some simple dietary, lifestyle, and herbal remedies—along with assessing other hormonal systems—can provide the adrenals the support and nourishment they need.
The trap that many fall into is that the overproduction of stress hormones often makes us push ourselves harder, even when we’re tired. This is completely counterproductive to healing. Adrenaline over-adrenalizes the brain and causes hypervigilance, perfectionist tendencies, monkey mind, and makes us “should” on ourselves. One of the first things people notice on an adrenal-nourishing program is how much more calm and grounded they feel and how they’re not as hard on themselves. They can let some things go.
It’s important to know that the adrenals also synthesize androgens and their precursors, such as DHEA and testosterone, as well as progesterone and estrogen. This is why it’s critical to support and nourish our adrenals as we approach perimenopause/menopause. The health of our adrenals—and thyroid—has everything to do with how a woman moves through this time of life.
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