The Far Reaching Impacts of Stress on Health
The adrenal glands are two organs that are part of the endocrine system. These essential organs are composed of two parts, the cortex and medulla, each responsible for the production of different hormones. The hormones that these organs produce help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and other necessary functions. As mentioned, these organs help the body deal with stress and in fact, every time stress is experienced, the adrenal glands are always involved in giving the body the boost it needs to deal with the stress. However when Sympathetic Dominance is concerned, these organs go on overdrive as this condition is accompanied by chronic stress.
Three Stages of Stress (General Adaptation Syndrome)
Stage 1: Alarm
In the first stage a stressor activates the Sympathetic Nervous System. This is more commonly known as the fight or flight response. The adrenal glands produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol to give the body a boost of energy. In addition, heart rate increases and blood pressure rises.
Stage 2: Resistance
In the second stage the body tries to recoup after the alarm stage response. The Autonomic Nervous System switches to the parasympathetic state in order to let the body rest and heal. Cortisol production is reduced and heart rate and blood pressure return to normal levels. However, if the stressful situation persists the body will stay in a state of alert and the adrenal glands will still produce the stress hormones.
Stage 3: Exhaustion
The final stage occurs after a prolonged state of stress, often seen with Sympathetic Dominance cases. The adrenal glands are tired and the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol can’t be produced. Energy resources have also been used up as the body tried but couldn’t rest and heal in the resistance stage due to the stressor still being present. As a result, the body can’t fight stress and is more susceptible to stress related illnesses. In this stage, often times the stress has long been present before the symptoms reveal themselves.
Some symptoms may include:
- Tiredness that isn’t resolved with sleep, resulting in low energy levels
- Difficulty getting up or getting going in the morning
- Increased effort to do day to day tasks
- Feeling more awake or alert in early evening than any other time of the day
- Difficulty bouncing back from stress
- Feeling easily overwhelmed & difficulty focusing
- Muscle weakness & lethargy
- Increased recovery time after illness
- Wanting salt and sweet snacks and increasing thirst
- Changes in carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism
- Changes in fluid and electrolyte balance
Importance of cortisol
Cortisol is one of the primary hormones produced by the adrenal glands. In addition to helping with stress, it also functions to help control blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation. While there as some systems is helps with, it also decreases bone formation and suppresses the immune system. This is also one of the reasons why those who experience chronic stress are susceptible to illnesses not related to the stress, as their immune system is being suppressed and can’t effectively protect the body’s systems.
When cortisol production increases…
Hormones need cholesterol to be produced, however when Sympathetic Nervous System activates cortisol production ramps up. This is important because the majority of good cholesterol is used to ramp up this production. As a result, other essential hormones don’t have enough cholesterol to be produced as much.
Food & Adrenal Fatigue
There are some foods, whether spicy foods, greasy and fatty foods, uncultured dairy products, that can cause upset stomachs. Furthermore, these offending foods can cause inflammation in the gut lining that when not dealt with can cause some serious digestive issues. Thankfully, with well rested adrenal glands, cortisol will be produced to deal with the inflammation. This all changes when there’s adrenal fatigue. Since there’s not enough cortisol to deal with the inflammation, it persists and gets worse. Furthermore, the gut lining becomes permeable, and toxins and food particles can leak into the bloodstream which can cause a multitude of illnesses such as diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.
The adrenal glands are essential organs, but they can get overworked and be in desperate need of a break. This is especially evident when Sympathetic Dominance is present as it is accompanied with chronic stress. Being aware of and managing stress is an important step to take in dealing with this condition on the road to better health. In the case of the adrenal glands, the important thing to remember is not the stress, but how long the stressor persists. For the sake of the adrenal glands in general, it’s important to deal with the stressor in the best way possible to allow the adrenal glands to get a break.