I know that the title of this article sounds a little farfetched. Stress is a natural part of life, but I have been hearing a lot of talk from my clients lately about gaining weight easily, feeling tired, weak, stress and anxious. Most of them are calling it adrenal fatigue. Which by all accounts is the result of their adrenal glands being worn out from the stress of modern life. There is a huge supplement industry that is growing up around this theory and plenty of marketing materials to support it.
The adrenal glands are small lumps that sit on top of our kidneys. There primary function is to secrete various hormones including the most popular hormonal response to stress, cortisol. These days who hasn’t heard about cortisol? It is true that the adrenal glands can stop working. In an autoimmune condition called Addison’s disease the immune system destroys the adrenal glands. The public is led to believe that adrenal fatigue is a mild version of Addison’s disease that is caused by stress.
Stress has been named as the primary or contributing cause in diseases such as heart disease, weight gain, insomnia and anxiety. Stress can have a profound effect on the adrenals but the adrenals do not get tired or burn out from overwork; there is something much more complicated taking place. The adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system and they work in conjunction with other glands in order to regulate our energy and metabolism. The other glands are the hypothalamus and pituitary which are considered master glands that affect every hormone in the body. This trinity works in tandem to adjust the amount of adrenal hormones needed to meet your immediate needs. If this is not possible it is called adrenal stress. While adrenal fatigue assumes that the adrenal glands are too tired to make cortisol; adrenal stress says that the rhythm and responsiveness of your adrenal glands has been compromised. Modern research confirms that adrenal stress leads to fatigue, sickness and premature aging.
So what do I mean by rhythm? The adrenal glands work in tandem with the hypothalamus and pituitary in order to match our circadian rhythms and secrete cortisol when we need it most. For example in non-stressed adrenals our cortisol rises in the early morning helping us to get motivated and start our days. In Ayurveda we have mapped out times of the day relating to each Dosha. See table below. Although the Pitta Dosha is primarily associated with the adrenal glands, because of the rhythmic phenomenon of their function Vata is also at play in adrenal stress. Factors that disturb Vata and pitta are: