In July I attended an industry seminar called the Adrenal Epidemic. I got the lowdown on the latest research about adrenal fatigue, otherwise known as allostatic resistance.
What you need to know about adrenal fatigue
I’ve summarised what I believe you need to know about this condition, especially if you are:
- someone who suffers from fatigue, burnout, thyroid or hormonal issues
- entering your late 30s, living in the inner city with a really full and busy life, burning the candle at both ends and want to age (in the words of the naturopath leading the seminar) “disgracefully well”
- wanting to stay fertile and juicy and have an easy menopause.
If this is you, then please get to know allostatis and cortisol.
What is allostasis and what does it have to do with adrenal fatigue?
Allostasis can be described as our adaptive plasticity.
Adaptive plasticity describes our allostatic resilience – a measure of our body’s ability to cope with stressors.
It comes down to basic law of survival in the jungle, which is adapt or die. This law – *newsflash* – governs our bodies. Yet, what our bodies have been asked to adapt to in the last 100 years has been really unusual compared to pre-industrial revolution.
We now have minimal physical labour, better working conditions and a huge array of technology to ‘help’ us, yet we have generally not used this increase in leisure time as downtime to nourish ourselves.
Our bodies work less and our minds work way more. Our senses are full with stimulations not previously known to humankind.
Chronic stress and fatigue: a modern epidemic
This inability to biologically adapt as rapidly as civilisation, human behaviour and technology are demanding of us is one of the major drivers of an epidemic of chronic stress and fatigue.
Other major culprits contributing to our lack of adaptability are:
- major shit going down in our lives
- lack of convalescence/downtime/recovery
- repeated hits of life events without time to heal in between (death of friends and family, job losses, illness, hardcore work stress, major life changes)
When you begin to lose your ability to recover and roll with life’s punches you become (my new fave word)…
What does “acopic” mean?
It means ya no cope no more. Meltdown moments, overwhelm, outbursts, stress face, breakdown, manic behaviour.
So if you’ve made it to an acopic state, this usually means you’ve entered into lack of adaptability.
Now, back to allostatic resistance. When you lose your allostatic resistance, you lose your ability to adapt. This is where disease processes start. Got it?
This is where cortisol comes into the picture.
This is the important info you got to know.
Cortisol and adrenal fatigue
Cortisol is a hormone produced in your adrenal glands. Your body releases cortisol into your blood stream as a response to stress or danger.
In the beginning stages of adrenal fatigue development, cortisol levels generally go high. When you sustain high levels of cortisol, the switch that turns off cortisol production (the hypothalamus) becomes less responsive.
Your feedback loop is now not regulating properly. If this keeps on going, your reserves of materials that make these key hormones and process them, become depleted.
Cortisol Nerd Facts
- Cortisol keeps us alert. Not alarmed, but alert. This is why people initially often like running off it. It can lead to high performance.
- Cortisol releases in brief spurts throughout the day about 7–15 spurts per day. It is at its highest between 7–8am, and wanes until it’s at its lowest around 11pm.
- There is a cortisol burst at 3am to prompt our liver to generate some sugar to keep us going through the night until breakfast.
- We have a cortisol burst after every time we eat something. So fasting between meals may be more appropriate than snacking for some cortisol-resistant people.
- Cortisol prompts the liver to break down sugar, and this causes sugar to be released into the blood stream. This is how stress can increase your fat stores, no matter what you eat or how you exercise.
- Cortisol will weaken connective tissue, leaving the body susceptible to musculoskeletal dysfunction.
- The pill increases cortisol load.
- Cortisol has a half-life in the body of 100 minutes.
- Cortisol reduces inflammation, the most potent anti-inflammatory agent we have. Decreased levels of cortisol = unchecked inflammation.
- The body preferences cortisol over other key hormones. This leads to endocrine disruptions and hormonal imbalance.
- Cortisol suppresses the immune system.
- Cortisol delays wound healing.
- Increased levels of cortisol decrease sensitivity of the tissues and cells. This is what leads to cortisol resistance.
The adrenal fatigue feedback loop
In summary, if our cortisol levels are consistently high, and our feedback loop to switch it off is skewed, we can expect our tissues to be less responsive to the amount of cortisol in our blood.
This messes with blood sugar, depositing fat into our middle and surrounding our organs. This is the really dangerous, highly metabolically active type of fat. This kind of fat becomes a factory for estrogens and can generate conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis, high blood pressure and anxiety.
On top of this, our immune system stops working well. Our skin suffers, as healing is de-prioritised.
The liver starts feeling the pump at this point and consumes key minerals in all its hard work.
Other relationships that can break down include the adrenals, thyroid and the endocrine system. Muscles aren’t recovering from exertion or being held well by the connective tissue and we are starting to get chronic pain from our stress and posture.
I see this all the time. I have been this.
Sounds lovely doesn’t it. ACOPIC. And baby it gets worse if we don’t seek intervention and break the cycle.
Adrenal fatigue and women’s health
Your adrenal reserve will also affect your ovarian reserve and menopause.
Your ovaries are not just only home to all your eggs, the most potent life force cells in your whole system. They are your back-up back up battery pack. They support the adrenals in cortisol production and the adrenals contribute to up to 35% of premenopausal hormones.
Deplete these powerhouses in your 30s and you are not setting yourself up to have a easy transition at menopause.
So now that these potentialities are in your awareness, what to do about it?
Chinese medicine and adrenal fatigue
Chinese medicine is ALL about preventative care.
We want you to “age disgracefully well”, free from pain, stress and fatigue. It’s so possible.
If you know you’re losing your adaptability, if your stress and fatigue is out of control, this is the time most people need a circuit breaker, a re-calibration, some facilitation.
Of course it’s do-able to stop, take stock and make the changes that you need to make on your own. Ideally you have the tools and practices to do that.
If that is just too hard to fathom, or the tools you have previously used aren’t working for you anymore, then please get on board with your practitioner and seek assistance to change direction.
It can be done. We’re happy to do it. It’s an honour to be part of your process and to be trusted to hold space and provide guidance.