Take Charge of Your Health, with Dr. Jocelyn Land-Murphy, ND
Adrenal fatigue and the downhill spiral of chronic stress
As a Naturopathic Doctor in Whitehorse with a focus on women’s health, I see a lot of burnout caused by chronic stress. Often my patients don’t realize that their daily pressures are adversely affecting their physical health.
Our bodies are built to cope with tense situations, but struggle when the stressors become persistent.
The good news is that burnout can be beat if it is understood and treated properly.
It all centres around the endocrine system, including the adrenal glands that sit on top of your kidneys. Their primary role is to produce the stress-response hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
With healthy adrenal function, cortisol helps you get out of bed and face the day’s challenges, as well as balance blood sugars and regulate your metabolism, blood pressure and immune system.
But when the adrenal glands are over-stimulated by chronic stress, they overproduce cortisol until they “burn out” through three stages of progressive deterioration.
Stage One is called Adrenal Alarm: this is your body’s normal reaction to stress that sends out a burst of cortisol and launches your “fight or flight mode.” Your heart beats faster, your muscles receive extra fuel and your body goes on high alert. In a healthy state, this natural coping mechanism will recede once you’ve dealt with the stress and moved on.
But if the stress becomes constant or severe, your adrenal glands start to suffer.
Your body can only maintain this prolonged cortisol response for so long before you enter Stage Two: Adrenal Resistance.
Your cortisol levels fluctuate erratically, often with low energy in the morning and “wired and tired” symptoms at night when you’re exhausted but can’t fall (or stay) asleep, because your mind won’t calm down. This excess cortisol leads to other health problems such as decreased thyroid function, fertility issues, weight gain, cravings and fluctuations in blood sugar and blood pressure.
Over an extended time in the Adrenal Resistance stage, your adrenals can no longer keep up, and you enter Stage Three: Adrenal Exhaustion. Now your body is no longer able to produce sufficient cortisol for you to function. You are physically and mentally drained, progressively depleted of the vital nutrients and resources required to get you through your day. People in this phase experience debilitating fatigue, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, frequent infections, brain fog, and low to non-existent libido.
Adrenal fatigue isn’t something you can “tough out.” It’s a condition that can be diagnosed and treated. For my patients, my preference is to run a full Adrenal Function Panel, which measures four cortisol points throughout the day and gives us a functional perspective of what is happening in your body.
Treatment options depend largely on the stage of adrenal fatigue, but of course the basics apply to everyone, including:
- sleeping at least 7 hours per night
- eating a whole-foods, low-glycemic diet
- moving exercise to the morning (to mimic a more natural cortisol curve which would peak in the morning and then gradually decrease)
- incorporating stress-coping strategies like meditation, yoga, counselling or journaling (a bedtime worry journal lets you write down your troubles and then resolve to not think of them again until morning)
As a Naturopathic Doctor I also employ nutrition-based treatments to replace the specific vitamins and minerals depleted by adrenal fatigue, including intravenous nutrient support; herbal medicines that serve as adaptogens to help the body respond to and recover from stress; and checking on thyroid function and hormone balance that are also disrupted by adrenal fatigue and contribute to the downhill health spiral.
The first step for anyone struggling with burnout is to get more information on what’s happening in your body. It’s easy to write off exhaustion as “just stress,” but it’s important to know if you are indeed struggling with adrenal fatigue, what stage you are in, what else might be at the root of your symptoms and what your options are to recover and return to sustainable health.
Dr Jocelyn Land-Murphy is a Whitehorse-based Naturopathic Doctor with a focus on women’s health.
You can learn more about her clinic at www.TerraLife.ca.