What does it say about our society when the most commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs include, anti inflammatory, sleeping pills and antidepressants? This begs the question, what went wrong and why have we turned to these medications for support? These drugs represent pain, insomnia, depression and anxiety, all of which are symptoms associated with a silent but very real epidemic, known as Adrenal Insufficiency Syndrome.
Adrenal Insufficiency Syndrome (AIS) is described as the inability to produce adequate adrenal hormones, in particular cortisol. Cortisol is a stress response hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It plays a vital role in allowing our bodies to deal with stress - better known as the 'fight or flight response'. It is true that stress is a normal and actually healthy part of our lives, but the human body is not designed to cope with ongoing or chronically high stress levels that are now an all too familiar part of living in western society.
Research is showing we are working longer hours yet our productivity is actually suffering, and more and more employees are taking mental health days due to the effects of chronic stress. Many new mothers are returning to full time work sooner, whilst juggling the demands of a new baby as a result of the financial pressures associated with today's consumer society. In other words, too many of us are taking on too much in order to ‘keep up with the Jones’ and constantly fill gaps with constant stimulus, leaving little time for ourselves and time to 'just be'.
There are many factors that have contributed to why we live in such a stressful society, but being mindful that we are responsible for driving and determining much of the stress in our lives, just as importantly as how we choose to respond to it, will make all the difference to the way we are affected by stress.
Many of us take for granted the impact our diet has on our neuro-endocrine function - our brain and hormonal activity. The body requires adequate levels of specific nutrients to be present in order to produce the majority of the hormones in our body. For instance, the body needs sufficient levels of iodine, selenium, magnesium, B vitamins, iron and vitamin D to produce adequate thyroid hormone levels. When our diet is deficient in these nutrients and or we have poor gut function and malabsorption, the body's ability to produce sufficient hormone levels will become compromised over time.
The effects of inadequate hormone production are many and vary in severity with each individual, thus require individual investigation through an experienced health practitioner. Chronic deficiencies in these specific nutrients, is one of the major underlying factors behind the hormonal imbalances related to adrenal fatigue.
The more external antagonists present in our lives - excess caffeine, sugar / refined carbohydrates, processed foods, alcohol, sleep deprivation, emotional and environmental stress, stress from the demands of work and parenthood, the greater the demand for these nutrients in order to sustain adequate production of our hormones, including the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin. If the body is kept in a state of hypercortisolemia - excessive cortisol production, for too long, it will then induce a state of hypocortisolemia - under production of cortisol which will then induce imbalances in other hormones - eg: progesterone and oestrogen, thyroid hormones etc. It is at this point that the physiological and mental / emotional symptoms associated with low cortisol production will begin to display.
Symptoms associated with Adrenal Insufficiency Syndrome include :
menstrual disturbances - irregular periods, unusually light or heavy bleeding,
regular colds and flu infections
Chronic joint and or muscular aches and pains or weakness
cold hands and feet
unexplained or frequent headaches
frequently feel the cold easily
If you suffer from at least half these symptoms on a regular basis then it is likely that your adrenal glands are not producing adequate cortisol, thyroid and sex hormones and are likely to be deficient in many of these essential nutrients listed above. If left untreated for an extended period of time, these symptoms will only progress in severity and frequency and the adrenal / endocrine recovery will take longer. Adrenal insufficiency syndrome can also progress to other chronic illnesses.
The first place to start in correcting Adrenal Insufficiency Syndrome, is with your diet and lifestyle and then seek advice from a professional healthcare practitioner experienced in treating AIS as there is no pharmaceutical medicine treatment that will work long term to correct the underlying cause of this condition.
The key to treating adrenal fatigue begins with understanding there is no single ‘cure’ or quick fix to alleviate it, instead you need to adopt a holistic treatment approach –including addressing your diet, and fixing your gut health in combination with modifying your lifestyle and relationships – starting with the one with yourself.