By Yuri Elkaim in Well Being Journal, Vol. 23, No. 6.
Whether you’re worrying about paying your bills, consistently engaging in insanely intense workouts, drinking coffee or energy drinks, or throwing back a few sugary treats every day, you’re “stressing” your adrenals. Because of that, they respond the same way they did 10,000 years ago when our ancestors were hunting that bison. One of the challenges today is that while the human body evolves linearly, technology increases exponentially. Thus, we have basically the same biology we had hundreds of thousands of years ago, which isn’t necessarily best suited for handling the increasingly rapid, nonstop stresses of the modern world.
Collectively, here’s how the aforementioned stressors negatively affect your adrenals (and, by default, drain your energy over time).
Excessive stimulation and stress cause your adrenals to release adrenaline and cortisol—two catabolic hormones, which break down your energy reserves for immediate use. Remember, your body thinks it’s in a state where it needs to fight or flee—so it needs that readily available energy. Cortisol, when chronically elevated in your bloodstream, is a detrimental hormone, leading to quick glycogen (stored glucose) depletion, a rise in blood sugar, and eventual weight gain—especially abdominal weight gain. Even when less cortisol is present, as in a state of adrenal fatigue, adrenaline (epinephrine) may pick up the slack, yielding the same problems.
Although adrenaline has similar energy-depleting effects as cortisol, it initially gives you that feeling often described as a “natural high” because it temporarily increases your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and carbohydrate breakdown into blood sugar. Within a few minutes, you feel alive and ready to take on the world. But that quick surge in energy is soon followed by a debilitating crash in which your body does its best to recover from the stressor, whether it’s your morning coffee or a near fender bender on your way to work. Can you remember the last time you felt that crash? It probably wasn’t too long ago.
With respect to these hormones, balance is key. We don’t want excessively elevated levels (that is, acute stress), nor do we want excessively low levels (chronic stress, leading to adrenal fatigue).
If you ever feel exhausted after an argument, a bout of physical exercise, or a stressful day at work—or a few hours after your morning coffee—then you can be sure that your adrenals are crying out for help. Everything you feel is a message from your body. In this case, your adrenals are asking for some sorely needed rest and relaxation. They don’t want more stimulation, and they certainly don’t want to keep up with an intense workout regimen. They simply can’t.
To learn how to test your adrenals at home, see the full article in Vol. 23, No. 6, November/December 2014 (available in print or digital format).