Is it me, or has the pace of life increased beyond recognition? As a young adult back in the early 1980’s, ‘YUPPIEs’ (short for “young urban professional” or “young upwardly mobile professional”) were known to work all hours. They put in added over-time in order to make a mark in their profession and move to the top of their industry. Fast-forward 35 years, and working extra hours is no longer an optional extra to get-to-the-top, it is now essential if you just want to keep your job.
On top of being successful in business, we are expected to keep the family running without hitch, and hold wonderful children’s parties, which will wow everyone on Facebook!
Maybe stress isn’t work related but arising from struggling relationships, poor health, financial demands or a house-move. Sources of stress are many, and can even include happy scenarios, such as holidays, promotions and weddings. Exercise, although important in supporting health, can actually put an added stress on the body – especially if you are regularly pushing your limits, such as preparing for a marathon or triathlon.
To help our bodies deal with ongoing, chronic stress, the adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol. This hormone should be released in a steady circadian rhythm, high in the mornings (to wake us up) and then trailing off through the day, reaching its lowest point at bedtime – allowing us to rest peacefully. In response to stress, the adrenal glands produce a greater output of cortisol, to help the body keep coping. This can result in that perfect rhythm getting upset, first rising too high, and then after many months or years, dropping too low.
When cortisol is elevated it can cause you to feel ‘wired’ and unable to rest, disturbing sleep, and making mood anxious and panicky. Cortisol is often referred to as the “belly fat hormone” because too much cortisol causes you to gain weight, especially around your tummy. Elevated cortisol can also result in a number of health issues, particularly frequent infections.
Cortisol overload is mostly associated with adrenal fatigue. You will feel physically beat up and achy at times, very tense and on edge as well as overwhelmed. Your brain refuses to comply, your memory slips and you probably have trouble sleeping. Sugar, salt and fat cravings are also pronounced, so you feel like eating a bag of sea salt potato chips and chasing them down with a giant soda.
After time, the adrenal glands can no longer support this output of cortisol, and it can drop too low. This can result in low mood or depression, and ongoing fatigue – particularly affecting your ability to get up in the morning. Low cortisol can often be an issue where there is a diagnosis of CFS or ME.
This scenario can take years to develop, but it is unusual for those of us living in the West, not to need adrenal support at some level. The good news is that diet changes and nutritional supplements can help support the body to regain the proper rhythm of cortisol output.
The first step to supporting the adrenal glands is to get onto a healthy diet to support good blood-sugar balance. If blood sugar is up and down through the day and night, cortisol will be called upon to help balance this out, working to keep the body from tipping into hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
Key nutrients encourage adrenal health, such as vitamin C, the family of B vitamins, Magnesium and omega 3 fatty acids. These nutrients may need to added in supplemental form to provide the optimum levels the body requires. Alongside these micronutrients herbs, known as ‘adaptogens’ can be used. These help the adrenal glands adapt back to correct hormonal output.
Because it is impossible to know exactly what level of cortisol the adrenal glands are producing it may be helpful to have a lab test. Simply providing 4 saliva samples at set times through the day enables the lab to record your cortisol output. From here, I can suggest certain nutrients to encourage either a reduction or increase in cortisol, depending on the results. This is important, since some nutrients, such as liquorice, encourages an increase in production of cortisol. Therefore you don’t want to be taking this, if your cortisol is already sky-high.
So if you are feeling that stress is pushing you around, and is affecting health and mental outlook, get in touch to book a nutritional consultation (email@example.com). We can decide whether an Adrenal lab test might be of benefit, and put diet changes and nutritional supplements in place to encourage your body to cope with the demands that life is bringing.
In the meantime, take practical steps to reduce your stress load. Set boundaries on your working time and reduce unnecessary demands. Find activities to help you relax and build some down-time into each day. Do something each day to make you smile!