We see you. Running around, busy doing it all. Exhausted. Fatigued. Irritable. Tired & wired. Sound familiar? You may have heard of the term ‘adrenal fatigue’ being thrown around in conversation to describe just these feelings. Basically, adrenal fatigue is a term that is being used by some health professionals and general media to collectively describe a condition attributable to chronic, prolonged stress. Sometimes also referred to as burn out.
In our fast-paced society there is certainly emphasis around being continually “busy”, productive and hustling most of the time. Although, within the holistic space there is now more of a following and a growing awareness around listening to your body, pausing and slowing down. Although it may be hard to pull the handbrake sometimes, we all know how necessary slowing down is for our own health and to protect our energy.
Although, there are conflicting views as to whether adrenal fatigue is a real condition and whether it should be recognised as one. We take a look at what is actually going on and some helpful nutrients to incorporate if you’re feeling like this sounds like a bit of you.
What’s going on?
Whether you’ve been to a conventional or natural health practitioner regarding your fatigue, it is likely you actually don’t have adrenal fatigue unless you’ve been professionally diagnosed with a definite adrenal gland condition like Addison’s disease. So is adrenal fatigue a real thing?
Our adrenal glands are the major regulators of hormone production in response to stress, aka release of our stress hormone cortisol. However, the production of these hormones actually starts in the brain from our Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. Our HPA axis releases hormones that target the adrenal glands to produce hormones in response to a situation like stress. This is our bodies fight or flight response that humans have adapted and revolutionised since day dot to run away from predators in hope of survival.
Usually, our bodies are pretty good at responding to acute stress and this won’t impact us too much. However, persistent or chronic states of stress where the body is continuously producing stress hormones, and cortisol levels remain elevated, can lead to the common symptoms seen in those with ‘adrenal fatigue’. This dysregulation or loss of balance within our HPA axis may present as:
- Waking up in the morning feeling unrefreshed
- Wired but tired at night
- Low energy/libido
- Impaired immunity
- Menstrual cycle irregularities
Ways to Combat Dysregulation
The aim of the game here is to reduce stress hormone production, therefore implementing ways to reduce stress. There are some obvious stress relievers like meditation, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get up at 5am and sit on a pillow for an hour. This can look different for everyone. Your meditation might be a slow solo walk, deep belly breaths or reading your book before bed. Whatever you enjoy is going to be beneficial for your HPA axis function. In addition, there are a few fabulous nutritional recommendations that you can adopt for your own wellbeing.
B Vitamins: During chronic periods of stress, for example long-term workplace stress, this can deplete our levels of B vitamins. B vitamins such as folate, B12 and B6 are essential for energy metabolism and nervous system health. Research has shown that supplementation with certain B vitamins, such as B6, is beneficial for reducing stress and combat fatigue. B vitamins can be found abundantly in foods such as wholegrains, bananas, legumes and meats.
Caffeine: Finding yourself reaching for a coffee a bit too often? Abstaining from overloading your body with stimulants like caffeine during periods of high stress will help bring your HPA axis back into balance. Caffeine activates the stress response producing cortisol to essentially give you an energy boost. Cortisol is usually secreted in a diurnal pattern – peaking as we wake and declining across the course of the day – and is important for energy balance throughout the day. If you are spiking cortisol at various times of the day due to caffeine ingestion it can wreak havoc on your energy levels causing symptoms of tired but wired or waking feeling unrefreshed.
Ashwagandha: This powerful stress modulating, adaptogenic herb may just become your best friend. Withania somnifera is a small woody plant belonging to the Solanacae family. Its power as an adaptogen – literally meaning adapt to stress – comes from its properties that provide neurological, antidepressant and sleep aiding qualities. Within it, ashwagandha contains constituents such as withanolides and sitoinosides that are shown to downregulate blood cortisol levels in chronically stressed individuals. It also shows anxiolytic effects through its attenuation on HPA axis activity.
If your way of reducing stress or meditating involves sitting down with a warm drink you’re in luck! Active Cycle is not only a nourishing hot chocolate that you can enjoy as a substitute from your normal coffee fix (and we may even think you’ll like it more), but it also provides B complex vitamins to give you a natural, steady boost of energy and to top up stores. Plus, it contains ashwagandha to combat stress and help you wind down after busy days.
So, before you stress out about being stressed take a step back, take a deep breath and remember that you are only one person that can only do so much.
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