The Devastating Effects of Adrenal Fatigue
Written By Dr. David Jockers
The adrenal glands are responsible for producing major hormones that help the body reproduce and adapt to stress. The adrenal glands produce over 50 hormones that are absolutely essential to your health and vitality. When the adrenals get overworked, it creates adrenal fatigue which can be devastating to the body.
The adrenal glands are no bigger than a walnut and weigh less than a grape, yet they produce some of the most important compounds in the body. Of the many different hormones secreted by the adrenals, you have steroid hormones such as adrenalin, cortisol, aldosterone, estrogen and testosterone.
Stress Hormones are More Critical Than Sex Hormones:
The adrenal glands help regulate the body's ability to adapt to stress, and they also produce hormones that regulate reproduction. The caveat is that adapting to stress overrides reproduction. Adapting to stress is critical for immediate survival, and that is the first priority. Once our physiology understands that we are not under an environmental threat, it will focus its energy on reproductive hormones.
The major stress hormones are cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones help increase energy, increase blood sugar levels and speed up circulation and respiration to help the body survive through fight or flight.
The major sex hormones produced by the adrenals are estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These are all critical for growth, metabolism, strength, endurance, mental drive, menstrual function and reproductive ability.
The master compound that is used by the body to produce cortisol and progesterone is called pregnenolone. Pregnenolone can create cortisol, progesterone or DHEA. DHEA is used by the body to produce testosterone and estrogen. When the body is under chronic stress, there is a high demand to produce cortisol, which reduces the amount of progesterone and DHEA that is produced.
What Stresses Out the Adrenal Glands?
The adrenal glands are meant to adapt the body to stressors. Our body is meant to grow stronger through daily stressors. We should have a natural stress, rest and adaptation cycle that allows the body to effectively acclimate to environmental stimuli. However, when these stressors override our ability to adapt effectively, the body becomes weaker and chronic stress becomes hardwired into our system. This can lead to adrenal fatigue.
The adrenal glands are overstressed by a number of different chronic lifestyle factors including the following:
Stages of Adrenal Fatigue:
The first stage of adrenal activity is called the alarm reaction, which is when the system becomes hyperactive in order to increase cortisol levels to adapt to the demands of stress. This is a healthy survival-based response that everyone encounters throughout a typical day.
The second phase is the resistance stage, where the body adapts to prolonged stress. During this phase, the body steals pregnenolone from cholesterol to make more cortisol. This phenomenon is called "pregnenolone steal."
Under normal circumstances, the pregnenolone helps make sex hormones such as progesterone and testosterone. When pregnenolone steal takes place, it leads to hormonal imbalances. Over time, this can cause very serious hormonal problems such as PMS, infertility, male menopause and polycystic ovary syndrome.
The third and final phase of adrenal fatigue is the exhaustion phase. This is when the adrenals are so exhausted that they are unable to adapt to stress. All the necessary cofactors to produce cortisol are depleted, so cortisol levels drop. The pregnenolone steal effect stops at this point. The body is unable to produce adequate energy, and fatigue, accelerated aging and breakdown of the body's protective barriers (skin, blood-brain barrier and gut barrier) are the hallmarks of this particular physiological state.