It’s early. The sun is just starting to show its face. There is a crispness to the air as you set out at a brisk pace. In the twilight, you can’t see clearly where you are walking. You step on a twig; the sound of it snapping in half causes you to pause, in this pause your adrenals subconsciously awaken. You hope that the deafening twig snap hasn’t draw attention to you.
Behind you, you hear a low rumble. It’s a sound you are all too familiar with; your heart quickens. Your hands tightly make fists. You start to run; you must outrun the rumbling beast. Behind you, you can hear it getting louder and louder as it chases behind you. You are running at full speed; your heart is pounding and you’re breathing hard. It catches up to you, and roars past, but you keep running.
You catch up to the roaring beast, and you get to the bus stop just as the last of the others are stepping on. You step on, find a seat, a slump down.
Despite being ‘just a short, albeit angst fueled, run for the bus’, your body has just undergone many of the same chemical reactions as though it was running from tiger.
Did you know – it is estimated that 75-90% of visits to primary care physicians, such as GPs, are related to stress? (1)
MORE THAN A FASHION ACCESSORY
Your adrenals are glands that are part of the endocrine system; they look like two little hats sitting on top of each of your kidneys. Each adrenal gland is made of two layers. The outer layer, the adrenal cortex, is divided into three sub-layers and each layer produces specific hormones. The inner portion is referred to as the adrenal medulla; it is this portion that is responsible for making our ‘stress hormones’(2). The hormones we most commonly associate with stress are nor-adrenaline and adrenaline, which are produced by the Medulla, and Cortisol which is made in the Cortex. The Better Health Channel(3) has a great little article on cortisol here.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT, OR REST AND DIGEST?
We’ve all heard about our ‘fight or flight’ response. It’s that moment when a dinosaur comes thudding across our path, and we must decide if we are going to fight it, or run like mad away from it. We often forget about the other side of “Fight or Flight’, “Rest and Digest’.
Our nervous system is made up of two ‘arms’, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). Our PNS is our ‘Rest and Digest’ state. It’s all about being in a calm state, so that our bodies can digest, recover, and regenerate. Or SNS is our driver in our ‘Fight or Flight’ scenarios; in this state our body wants to run away or fight. All the blood is diverted from our digestive system and healing state; instead our heart will pump stronger to help our legs and arms to run away or fight.
Now a long time ago, we spent most of time in our PNS state, and only ever switched into SNS state when we were up against a dinosaur, or similar level of threat. These days, however, we now perceive many more of life’s hiccups to be the same level of threat to our well-being. We constantly switch into SNS state as we deal with workplace deadlines, uni exams, the hectic afternoons of getting each of the kids to their various activities. Even doing your grocery shopping on a busy Saturday afternoon in a packed shopping center can flip us into SNS.
CAN MY ADRENALS GET TIRED?
What this constant flipping the SNS switch means is that our adrenals are firing off our stress hormones; adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, and cortisol more frequently. It is this constant stress response, and over working of our adrenals that can lead to what some may call, ‘Adrenal Fatigue’ (4). Adrenal Fatigue can result from chronic stress, or having your adrenals needing to constantly fire up throughout the day to get you through. As your adrenals are responsible for some of your sex hormones, and the corticoids that help to regulate blood pressure, blood sugar, metabolism, and immune systems; symptoms for ‘Adrenal Fatigue’ can be varied. You may experience:
- body aches and muscle weakness,
- hormone irregularities,
- decreased libido,
- brain fog,
- sugar cravings,
- difficulties sleeping.
ADRENAL HEROES AND VILLAINS
Does the above list of symptoms sound at all familiar? Never fear, there are some diet and lifestyle ideas you can put into place TODAY, to help the healing process.
- MEDITATION OR RELAXATION
- EXERCISE and MOVEMENT
- FRESH WHOLE FOODS – add more of the adrenal loving foods into your diet; avocado, coconut, broccoli and cauliflower, oily fish (think salmon and sardines), chicken and turkey, nuts (just not peanuts) and seeds.
- REFINED SUGARS
- PROCESSED FOODS
What steps do you think you can work on today, to help your adrenals cope better with tomorrow?
- Head K.A, Kelly G.S. (2009) Nutrients and Botanicals for Treatment of Stress: Adrenal Fatigue, Neurotransmitter Imbalance, Anxiety, and Restless Sleep. Alternative Medicine Review. Vol 14, Number 2.
- John Hopkins Medicine Medicine. (2017) Adrenal Glands. John Hopkins Health Library http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/endocrinology/adrenal_glands_85,p00399/
- Better Health Channel. (2016) Hormones – Cortisol. Department Health & Human Services. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/hormones-cortisol
- Axe, J. (2017) 3 Steps to Heal Adrenal Fatigue. https://draxe.com/3-steps-to-heal-adrenal-fatigue/
I am passionate about educating athletes and active people on how to get the most from their fuel so they can smash their health and fitness goals.