Period problems, insomnia, infertility, headaches, weight gain, acne, backne, hair loss, moodiness, fatigue, and chronic stress are all sure-fire signs your hormones are out of balance. What’s a modern woman to do?
Every day we wake up expecting to be stressed out. If it’s not our inconsiderate boss, it’s the bags under our eyes. If it’s not the latest news on COVID, it’s the latest win of a social media star. And the effects of stress are…well…stressful. Stress has a major impact on our hormones, and not just the well-known stress hormone cortisol—stress impacts all other hormones as well. You could say it is the root of the root of hormonal imbalance.
In this article, we’re going to geek out a bit—in an easy and understandable way. I will talk about the close and devious relationship between adrenal fatigue and hormone imbalances. After you finish reading this, you’ll understand 6 ways stress and adrenal fatigue impacts hormones and health. You’ll walk away (see: shut your laptop screen) with tangible tips for supporting adrenal health for overall hormone health.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Let’s start with the basics. As the name suggests, adrenal fatigue (AF) means low adrenal function. AF is also known as hypoadrenia, which encompasses the medically recognized extreme low Addison’s disease. Addison’s disease is life-threatening if untreated and can involve structural and physiological damage to the adrenal glands. My goal is to help people heal before they get to Addison’s.
AF is the most common form of hypoadrenia and commonly manifests with a broad spectrum of less serious yet often debilitating symptoms. While not considered a medical emergency, AF can wreak havoc on your life. The activity of the adrenal glands impacts every single organ in the body. Think metabolism, fluid balance, cardiovascular health, sex drive, and more. Many other issues can happen on the biochemical and cellular levels. Crazy enough, even your body shape can change.
Adrenal fatigue is the all too common syndrome most people have who feel run down and unable to keep up with life’s demands. It’s a collection of signs and symptoms that seem normal, but aren’t. Remember: just because something is common doesn’t make it normal.
AF usually happens after long, chronic periods of stress or trauma. The adrenal glands are all impacted by:
- psychological (or perceived) stress
- death of a loved one
- emotional stress
- poor eating habits
- wound healing
- lack of or excessive exercise
- unwanted employment
- marital stress
- lack of healthy food
- prescription drugs
- negative attitudes and beliefs
And that folks, is why adrenal fatigue is often called the 21st century stress syndrome.
Symptoms and Effects of Adrenal Fatigue
- Difficulty getting up in the morning
- Chronic fatigue not helped with sleep
- Craving salt or salty foods
- Inability to handle stress
- Increased effort to do everyday tasks
- Lethargy, lack of energy
- Low libido
- Mild depression, anxiety
- Light-headed when standing up
- Increased recovery time from illness, injury, or trauma
- Less enjoyment or zest for life
- Increased PMS
- Symptoms increase if meals are skipped or not balanced
- Brain fog
- Memory problems
- Irritated easily
- Afternoon slump around 3pm
- Feel wired, energized after dinner
Adrenal Fatigue and Hormone Imbalance
Now that you have a good understanding of what adrenal fatigue is, let’s look a little closer at how the adrenal glands work. Then, we’ll dive into the specific ways adrenals impact hormones.
For starters, the adrenal glands are responsible for regulating and producing hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, DHEA, aldosterone, and norepinephrine. They manage stress, regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, and even produce sex hormones. Yeah, I know, that’s a lot of responsibility. And with all of that responsibility comes a lot of risks. For when the adrenal glands are out of whack, your whole body can suffer.
6 Ways Adrenals Impact Hormones & Health
The hormone aldosterone is in charge of regulating fluid balance and electrolytes. Aldosterone is largely regulated by cortisol. When cortisol is imbalanced due to adrenal fatigue, aldosterone gets all messed up, and we can suffer from chronic dehydration. When we are dehydrated, our entire body suffers. The fix here is to carry a water bottle and drink half of your body weight in ounces of water per day. It’s also extremely important to heal your adrenals so that your body can properly hydrate itself when you are keeping up with your water intake.
Cortisol is also responsible for controlling blood sugar levels. When our cortisol levels are out of whack, it can cause high insulin resulting in the ovaries making more testosterone. It can also contribute to excess estrogen, leading to hair loss, acne, heavy menses, intense PMS symptoms, infertility, PCOS, and more. Keeping cortisol levels in check is essential for healthy blood sugar and hormones.
When struggling with adrenal fatigue, it’s essential to keep blood sugar levels balanced. You can do this by consuming 3-4 small, consistent meals throughout the day. Make sure they are balanced with healthy fat and protein.
Fertility and Libido
As you just learned, imbalanced cortisol can lead to an excess of estrogen. Excess estrogen can have a huge impact on women’s fertility. But that’s not all. The adrenals also produce sex hormones, and when they are struggling, they can have a hard time producing them! These sex hormones include androgens like male sex hormones DHEA and testosterone, and estrogen. When testosterone and DHEA production is down, we can experience low sex drive.
For proper production of sex hormones, it’s necessary to support adrenal health. We can do this by avoiding hormone-disrupting chemicals from conventional cosmetics and plastic products. We can also support ourselves with proper rest and rejuvenation. There are also wonderful herbal allies like nettles, schisandra, maca, and ashwagandha that all nourish hormones and support adrenals.
At the root of adrenal fatigue is HPA axis dysregulation. When our adrenal glands are struggling, the entire endocrine system is. That means that hormones like melatonin are also going to be affected. Insomnia and poor sleep is a common symptom of people suffering from AF. Not only is it a cause, but it is also an effect. Regulating melatonin production is necessary in this case. You can support healthy melatonin production by wearing blue light glasses when the sun goes down and shutting off all electronics 2-3 hours before bed. Light candles and relax the nervous system with tea, self-massage, or stretching.
One of the sure signs you have adrenal fatigue is cravings for processed foods, sugars, and salts. If you are partaking in processed foods and caffeinated beverages like coffee, you are further disrupting cortisol levels and other important hormones. It’s not news that a healthy diet is necessary for happy hormones. When we are feeding ourselves with processed sugars and salts, our hormones can suffer. One of the reasons for this is conventional foods. Conventional, non-organic foods are loaded with GMOs, pesticides, and herbicides, all which include endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can mess with estrogen levels.
When healing adrenal fatigue, it’s necessary to focus on healthy, whole, nourishing foods. Check out our guide to Healthy Food for Happy Hormones here, to learn about specific foods to incorporate into your diet.
Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in the world. Recent studies have shown a relationship between adrenal insufficiency and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. This is all thanks to too low cortisol levels. Cortisol is responsible for regulating blood pressure. When our cortisol levels are struggling due to adrenal fatigue, our heart is taking the heat.
For more adrenal and hormone support, check out our Superfood Supplement Collection, formulated to specifically help decrease stress and increase nourishment. You can also download our Happy Hormones Guide for free, and follow us on instagram for further education.