Is Adrenal Exhaustion Affecting Your Menopause?
Is poor adrenal health affecting your menopause?
Stress … now there’s a word we are all familiar with!
Most of us could probably describe what stress feels like and the number of times we experience it on a daily basis. But do you actually know how your body responds to stress? And what adrenal exhaustion is?
Adrenal exhaustion is a modern day condition characterised by a deficiency in the function of the adrenal glands. It is commonly associated with overwork and high stress but is rarely diagnosed by doctors.
What are the adrenal glands and what is their role?
The adrenal glands are two small triangular-shaped structures that are found sitting on the top of the kidneys (around the lower back). Each adrenal gland weighs around 5 grams, but just because they are small, don’t let these little glands fool you into thinking they are not important! The adrenals form part of the endocrine system and their main function is to handle stress, be it mental, physical, long-term or short-term.
The adrenal glands have the vital job of producing many important hormones including:
- Adrenaline and noradrenaline
- Sex hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone
Adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are commonly referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ hormones. These hormones are released at potentially stressful situations and prepare us for action when faced with a stressor. These hormones directly impact heart rate, blood pressure and the supply of blood to important organs. Taking into account the amount of stress we are under, we can make a good assumption that these little glands are always hard at work. Obviously, there is a problem with this. Over time consistent stress forces the adrenal glands to sustain high levels of cortisol. The body can only do this for so long before it starts to suffer. Eventually the adrenals become overworked and can no longer regulate hormones, resulting in hormonal disruption. Adrenal fatigue sets in and if the stress continues then eventually adrenal exhaustion occurs.
How do I know if I am suffering from adrenal exhaustion?
Common signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue/exhaustion include:
- Feeling tired all the time (even after a long sleep)
- Morning fatigue and experiencing an afternoon slump
- Jumping at the slightest sound or touch
- Lack of energy
- Decreased ability to handle stress, both mental and physical
- Poor memory or ‘brain fog’
- Cravings for salty and sugary foods
- Reliance on stimulants such as caffeine and sugar to get you through the day
- Loss of libido
- Hair loss
- Light-headedness when standing up
- Poor immunity
- Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar)
- Difficulty with PMS and menopause
The role of the adrenals in menopause and our hormonal health
The adrenal glands play an important role in helping the body’s transition into menopause: they take on the role of producing oestrogen after the ovaries cease to do so. The adrenal glands are also the primary source of progesterone, which has a calming, natural anti-depressant effect on the body. If our adrenal glands are too weak to take over as prime producers of oestrogen and progesterone, a woman’s menopausal symptoms become more intensive. Stress over a period of time can also weaken the adrenals. It is therefore wise to make sure our adrenal system is tuned up and functioning properly before menopause; however, by the time most women get to peri menopause they have already lived through many years of chronic stress and come to menopause depleted and already (unknowingly) adrenally exhausted.
Restoring adrenal function
Adrenal function is helped greatly by proper stress management, a nutritious diet, gentle exercise and healthy living.
For a smooth transition during menopause and to keep our adrenal system strong and healthy, it is absolutely crucial to address our stress levels. Too much stress can exhaust the adrenals to the point where they can no longer function properly. In reality, for most of us there is no way of escaping stress. Stress is a part of our daily lives. What we can do is learn to manage stress appropriately so that we can control it, rather than letting it control us.
How can we do this?
By simplify your life as much as possible! Finding ways to minimise stress and increase relaxation is a necessity. By making little pockets of time to rest in your day, even if it is for only 10 minutes, you will notice a change in your energy levels and your body (particularly your adrenals) will thank you on the inside.
One of the most effective forms of stress relief is meditation, a technique for relaxing the body and calming the mind, which anyone can learn and enjoy. Meditation is good for your health, both physically and mentally. It replaces stress and anxiety with fresh energy, perspective, and an appetite for life. You can buy a guided meditation CD to listen to at home or try to find a class in your local area.
Yoga Nidra is becoming increasingly popular and is now prescribed by doctors in many countries as a preventive and curative therapy in stress-related diseases. Yoga Nidra is a useful tool in relaxing the mind and body and is particularly good at promoting a state of conscious deep sleep. Again, Yoga Nidra can be practiced via an instructional CD or from a trained practitioner.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for healthy adrenals. On average we require at least 8 hours of sleep per night (this may vary depending on the individual). If we fall short on our sleep quota then our energy and mood starts to decline, stress increases and the adrenals get placed under pressure. For your adrenals to get the restoration they require, try to get to bed by ten o’clock and get the amount of sleep you require. Yoga Nidra done just before sleeping time ensures good quality sleep.
Did you know that laughter helps restore your adrenals back to health? Sometimes it can be easy to get stuck in a glum, monotonous routine and this in itself can become a stressor. Below are some ways to inject little pockets of rest or fun into your week. Some take as little as 10 minutes, others take a bit longer. Choose activities that suit you most.
- Have an afternoon siesta
- Listen to your favourite song or CD
- Read a book or magazine (the trashier the better!)
- Read a joke book
- Play with your pet
- Sit in your garden or a park and admire the beauty of nature
- Get a cuddle from someone you love
- Take a holiday
- Soak your feet in a footbath
- Look at old photo albums
- Play a game of cards
- Do a crossword
- Visit an art gallery or Museum
- Have a picnic down by the beach or in a peaceful setting
- Relax in a warm bubble bath with candles, aromatic oils and incense
- Have a facial
- Get a pedicure or manicure
A nutrient-poor diet contributes to adrenal exhaustion as do low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia). Hypoglycaemia occurs when meals are not taken regularly or if there are large amounts of sugary and highly-refined carbohydrates (e.g. pasta, white bread, cakes) in the diet. Sugar and highly refined carbohydrates place stress upon the adrenal glands due to rapidly changing blood sugar levels
To restore adrenal health, sufferers of adrenal fatigue need the right balance of lean protein, good fats and low-glycaemic carbohydrates. One of the best ways of accomplishing this is to follow a low-glycaemic diet that contains lots of unrefined carbohydrates (whole grains) with a heavy emphasis on vegetables and some sort of protein with each meal. Eating potassium-rich foods such as bananas and vegetables will also help to recharge your adrenals, as will partaking of smaller, more frequently eaten meals. For this to work effectively refined carbohydrates and sugary foods must be avoided.
Often women suffering from adrenal depletion will tend to abuse stimulants such as coffee and fizzy drinks to make themselves feel more ‘awake’ and alert throughout the day. Unfortunately these effects are short-lived; whilst they produce an initial high they often make you feel more exhausted. Caffeine is the adrenals worst enemy, so cut down on your intake and replace with 2L of water (preferably filtered) and adrenal restorative herbal teas. Teas containing liquorice and ginseng are particularly good for the adrenals.
- Vitamin C (3000-5000mg/d in split doses throughout the day). The adrenal glands are among the organs with the highest concentration of vitamin C in the body, they also use vitamin C at a higher rate than any other cells.
- A high-potency multivitamin designed specifically for women is essential to ensure your body is supported appropriately during periods of stress.
- B vitamins are specific for energy production in the body. Taken in the morning they may help to combat feelings of fatigue, particularly during the afternoon. Look for a sustained release vitamin B complex with high amounts of vitamin B5 as this vitamin in particular is specific for stress reduction
- Tyrosine (500mg/d) is an amino acid that aids adrenal gland function and relieves excess stress put on the glands. Take on an empty stomach.
- Magnesium (300mg/d) is required for cellular energy and aids with relaxation. Exercise
Studies show us that regular exercise is a major stress buster! If you are already suffering from adrenal exhaustion then do not engage in strenuous, competitive exercise that will exhaust you further. Strenuous exercise during adrenal fatigue only exacerbates the problem; rather try gentle (and regular) exercise as detailed below:
Example of a 7-day exercise plan:
- 30-45 minutes of exercise each day is recommended
- Variety and group activities may keep you more motivated
- Always remember to stretch before and after exercising