Overburdened with too much stress and not enough sleep, our adrenal glands are struggling just to keep up.
It’s 3 PM. You’re fading fast. The pot of coffee you started only a few minutes ago doesn’t seem to be brewing fast enough, and your patience is waning. Maybe you should run out and buy something to get you through the rest of the day. You know you have options: an energy drink, a shot of espresso, a large soda. But you still don’t move. It’s not that you didn’t try to get to bed early the night before; it’s just that staring at the ceiling doesn’t really constitute sleep. Why isn’t that coffee finished? Your co-worker walks by and casually drops a folder on your desk. Now you’re really irritated. The last thing you can think about right now is work! You shove the growing pile of papers on your desk aside and look for today’s date on your oversized calendar. It’s only Tuesday. The coffee finally starts brewing, but the familiar sound offers little relief as you drop your head in surrender. Clearly, it’s going to be a long week.
Sound familiar? That’s not surprising. “We’re burnt out, plain and simple,” says Dr. Lam. “We have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, and even feeling rested when we do get sleep.” At the root of it all, behind the cranky exhaustion, are our overworked adrenal glands. Vital components of our endocrine system, they are responsible for releasing hormones and monitoring the affairs of the body. “Excessive stress and little sleep tax our adrenal glands and deplete our reserves,” Dr. Lam continues. “When you put too many demands on your body, they eventually become exhausted and can no longer manifest the energy required.” Think of a jockey and his horse in a race with no finish line. What would happen? The horse would just keep running, trying to put out the energy and speed the jockey demands. But with no end in sight, the eventual outcome is inevitable: horse and jockey collapse.
Adrenal fatigue is much more than the occasional feeling of lethargy that might come after a long week. It is an outward manifestation of the diminishing resources within, mainly, cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, and DHEA, the most abundant circulating steroid in the body. “When people are under chronic stress, everything suffers,” says Dr. Lam, “Their bodies cannot reset themselves.” They are, quite literally, running on empty. Indications that you could be suffering from adrenal fatigue include trouble sleeping, unexplained morning fatigue, a significant drop in the middle of the day, lack of energy, mood swings, and the constant need for stimulants. Less obvious symptoms can range from muscle weakness and a decreased sex drive to depression and increased food allergies.
Weight loss, or the lack thereof, is also directly impacted by the condition of your adrenal glands. Exhaustion inevitably leads to improper digestion and hormone dysregulation, so a person will keep gaining weight without the proper functioning tools to get rid of it. “A large percentage of people who complain about thyroid problems are actually experiencing adrenal problems first,” explains Dr. Lam. The adrenal glands actually tell the thyroid what to do and are also integral to the immune system. In fact, they affect every major system in the body, so when they run out of steam, an endless array of issues can surface. Dr. Lam remembers two specific patients: one had been told she could not have children and the other no longer slept more than a couple of hours a night since her husband passed away. Both women were told that something was wrong, but neither knew that their adrenal glands were fried.
So I know what you’re thinking…because it’s what this writer was thinking. Listening to Dr. Lam rattle off all that adrenal fatigue is and everything it will do, I couldn’t help but think about my sleep patterns (non-existent) and stress levels (code red). With a tinge of trepidation, I disguised my own concern in the form of my next question: Is there anything our readers can do?
“Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!” Dr. Lam says unequivocally. “It is a restorative process that takes time, but your adrenal glands can rebind.” The two women mentioned above were both patients whose lives changed dramatically after rebuilding their adrenal glands. The first is now expecting twins, and the second now get eight solid hours of sleep every night. At his upcoming NAVEL Expo lecture, Dr. Lam will discuss what your body needs to start combating adrenal fatigue and its repercussions. Attendees will also receive take-home saliva kits that are designed to deliver accurate assessments of hormone levels throughout the day.
Taking care of yourself and your body should be your number one priority, but all too often it takes a backseat to stress. You begin to take what your body is capable of doing for granted, essentially starving it in the process. To stop the cycle you need to demand change. Just getting by every day can no longer be the norm. So listen to your body, give it what it needs, and trust that you will have the energy to handle whatever you are faced with next. And, just as important, get some sleep!