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Mar 17

Adrenal Fatigue: How our Adrenal Glands Respond to 21st Century Living

Life can get chaotic. Bold understatement: in fact, life is almost ALWAYS chaotic to varying degrees. And how does your body respond? As if it’s being chased by a cave bear (yes, that’s right, a CAVE BEAR)—of course, your body is trying to help, but it’s overkill of the worst kind.

Here’s how it goes down:

Realization: SH*T. I’m so going to be late for work! GO!

Brain response: Let’s move quicker! Run, don’t walk! Skip steps (Brush teeth? Nope, not today! Clean breakfast dishes? Sorry, do it tonight!!), come on hurry—you don’t need to take a deep breath now, you need to GET GOING! Cut corners, whatever, just GO GO, you’re late!! Here. Have some extra adrenaline, that’ll help you MOVE!

Body response: What in the name of f*ck is going on here? A CAVE BEAR? Is it a cave bear? Is it a man with a big stick? A forest fire? Do I need to run? Do I need to fight? EITHER WAY WATCH HOW READY I AM: LET’S GO GO GO!! (Thanks for the hit of adrenaline, brain, I needed that!)

This also happens during an escalating argument, the moment you realize you lost your wallet/keys/iPhone, when your boss calls you into their office, or when you’re stuck in traffic (those of you who end up in arguments every single day—you know who you are—yeah, you NEED to read this!).

When I was working 8:30-4:30, this would happen to me regularly. By the time I caught the bus I was on overdrive, more bright-eyed than I should have been, and felt ready for anything….except that ominous “anything” was only the office and I was way, way OVERSTIMULATED and more full of adrenaline than would have been necessary had I been embarking on a voyage to the New World.

Here’s how it happens…

You suddenly become really stressed (running super late, arguing with your SO, sudden meeting with your boss, you’re rushing so you break your mug of coffee all over the couch…) and your brain says: Hello! We clearly have an emergency on our hands! Look how stressed we are!

Your body responds with the fight or flight response.

The response: The fight or flight response is an ancient life-saving reaction involving the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline via your adrenal glands (Body says: Hey now, don’t you worry brain, I’ve got just the hormones for this kind of situation. With enough adrenaline et al., we can do ANYTHING!). These stress hormones raise blood pressure and heart rate, among other things, and push all your blood into your peripheries so you are ready to deal with whatever threat is present (it gives you the option of staying to fight or turning to flee!). At the same time, another part of your adrenal glands release up to 30 different hormones to ensure you can deal with whatever it is that’s causing such STRESS.

Sounds like a lot of work for your glands? IT IS!

This stress response occurs extremely quickly and your body must be prepared with all the necessary hormones, precursors, and nutrients used to make those hormones (thought hormones were just airy chemicals floating about and influencing you one way or another? Think again! Hormones are made up of protein, cholesterol, and fat: you NEED these raw materials in order to create the hundreds of hormones necessary to thrive).

Over time your body starts to run short of the necessary raw materials that not only create hormones, but support the proper functioning of the glands creating them…and therefore your body’s reactions. Essentially, your glands become overburdened and tired—in particular, over time, your adrenal glands become overworked, sluggish, and fatigued. But not before your reach your peak of adrenal output.

The manic phase: During this manic phase, you feel energetic and excited most of the time. You have difficulty relaxing and sleeping (a particularly common issue, as many hormones are produced while we sleep). Sometimes, this level of over-stimulation even feels amazing because you finally have the energy to do ALL THE THINGS.

Ideally, however, you recognize the situation at this juncture and do some work to reverse the stress on your adrenal glands and develop ways to reduce stress, adapt to stress, or control your response to stress. Certain gland-nourishing and adaptogenic foods and supplements, plus relaxation techniques, are especially helpful at this time.

The crash: If you are still consistently under stress, or go through many sudden stressful moments, however, you crash, and hormone production slows down as your adrenal glands are unable to keep up with the request for fight-or-flight response hormones.

You’re tired all the time, irritable, and  pick up colds all over the place. You’re hungry for sweet foods, simple carbs, or caffeine (your body is desperately looking for energy to replace that adrenaline hit!). At the more advanced stages of adrenal fatigue, your body will respond with anxiety attacks, nervous habits/behaviours, and excess sweating (among other unwelcome changes). At this point your body needs serious TLC in the form of sleep and an increase in the foods and supplements that support your body’s glands.

Some quick tips? Force your body to relax! When you feel as if you’re reaching too-high of an adrenaline output for the level of stress you’re under, do a self-check. Sit still and close your eyes. Breathe in deeply, expanding your breath far into your lungs. Count to 4 or 5. Exhale just as deeply and again, count to 4 or 5. Repeat this process 5 times, extending the inhale and exhale to as many seconds as you can: this forces your body to breathe normally, in a non-stress-response way, and down-regulates your hormonal response accordingly.

How to heal: Foods high in certain nutrients and specific supplementation also go a long way to nourish and support your body so your stress response gets back to normal. It can take time, depending on just how fatigued your adrenals are, but it’s highly effective and worth it (trust me, I’ve been there!).

Contact me for more info on how to reduce or cope with your stress response via food combinations and herbal support (students and new moms [some of the most highly stressed in our society] will receive a discount on any protocol or personalized plan!) or visit this page:

Make your food work for you!



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  1. March 20, 2013

    Love this post, Julia!!! So funny yet informative. This is a great site.