The Effects Of Stress

February 16, 2010

It seems that as time goes on, stress levels rise. Women feel stress intensely these days as many are in high pressure jobs and have family responsibilities and demands that require more and more of their lives, leaving little time or energy for self-care. While we are all-too-familiar with the effects of stress in our lives, what we don't always grasp is the profound effect stress has on our bodies.

The Function Of The Adrenal Glands

Many times women chalk up the fatigue, weight gain and inability to get a good night's sleep to the pressure of their lives. What they fail to realize is that a small gland in their body is bearing the brunt of the pressure and the result is the outward sensations they experience. The adrenal gland, a small gland that sits above the kidneys, monitors our stress response to crises and stressful events in our lives. Adrenaline, which makes us more focused and alert, is excreted by the adrenal gland. So is cortisol, which converts protein to energy in the form of glycogen, giving our bodies fuel to burn.

When we are faced with a threatening situation and the flight or fight response kicks in, then our adrenal glands work in concert with other parts of our bodies to either get us out of there or give us the fight we need-whichever is necessary. Once the threat is gone, the body returns to normal.

They Need To Rest, Too

Today, women have more stress on their plates than they can deal with and as a result, the adrenal glands are in a constant state of preparedness for action. Chronic stress forces the the adrenals to maintain high levels of cortisol, which affects the production of estrogen and other hormones. If all of the adrenal glands' energy goes to cortisol maintenance, then hormonal balance is disrupted. Cortisol then begins to damage healthy tissues. The adrenal glands get fatigued from overwork and the result manifests in symptoms such as weight gain, insomnia, fuzzy brain, depression, mood swings, cravings, and fatigue. If left to run its course, the adrenal glands can become depleted and adrenal exhaustion results, leading to even more serious physical symptoms.

Healthy Adrenal Function vs. Unhealthy Adrenal Function

Healthy adrenal function sees cortisol elevated in the morning to stimulate the body into motion. Throughout the day it is lower but steady, sustaining energy, and then at night it drops off to enable a good night's sleep. This is healthy adrenal function. When adrenal dysfunction happens, the pattern is disrupted. Instead of lowering and leveling off through the day, the cortisol levels rise and continue to do so throughout the day and into the evening. As the body struggles to stay balanced the levels may rise and fall in conjunction with the intake of caffeine, carbs and stress leaving the levels are abnormally high at night.

Get Tested When...

An adrenal test is a wise choice if energy drops during the day, emotions are out of whack most of the time, sleeplessness is the norm, pick-me-ups like caffeine and sugar are necessary a few times through the day, and weight loss, even with dieting, is illusive.

The good news is that adrenal dysfunction can be addressed naturally with vitamins, dietary changes, and supplemental support. If stress is taking its toll on everyday life and happiness, then a visit to a physician who can address adrenal dysfunction early is a good decision.

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