Our adrenal glands are important for many bodily processes.
We have 2 nervous systems in our body: the sympathetic and parasympathetic system. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body’s rest and digestion response when the body is relaxed, resting or feeding. When we are calm and relaxed, we are in a parasympathetic state.
Our body couldn’t survive without the sympathetic nervous system as well, which has the function of producing localized adjustments such as sweating if it is too hot and reflex adjustments of the cardiovascular system. It is activated under stress, producing the flight or fight response. This response is due to the adrenal glands which produce adrenaline which increases heart rate, muscles get more blood flowing, pupils dilate and other body parts are prepared to react so that one can respond to danger.
Another hormone that is created is cortisol which also helps in this acute stress but when we are in chronic stress, the adrenal glands produce high levels of cortisol which we shouldn’t have all day long and can result in high blood sugar, high blood pressure, adrenal fatigue and later perimenopause symptoms.
The adrenal glands are endocrine glands that are situated on top of our kidneys. They have a triangular shape and their job is to regulate our metabolism, support our immune system, regulate our blood pressure, our response to stress (flight or fight modes) and, once you reach menopause, they take over your ovaries and produce sex hormones in lower levels.
Blood levels are communicated to the brain when they need to send messages to the adrenals to lower or increase cortisol. This vital balancing action maintains blood pressure, sets sleep and wake cycles, manages inflammation and arouses physical and mental activity. Cortisol levels are highest in the early morning hours to prepare our bodies to awaken, and at their lowest in the late afternoon/evenings. When we are in chronic stress, this fine balance gets wary and we have excess cortisol. Do you know people who find it difficult to sleep at night and have trouble waking up in the morning? Their homeostasis is not balanced, their cortisol levels are opposite to what they should be so they are low in the morning and high in the evening which prevents their body from relaxing to go through their day. When your sympathetic system is activated for too long, it ends up in health issues which can lead to a condition called adrenal fatigue.
Our hypothalamus-pituitary-ovaries axis (known as HPO axis) gets signals from the amygdala gland in the brain to react. The amygdala is part of the limbic system together with the hypothalamus and its function is where our emotional response sits. You can see that the hypothalamus is in both systems which means the signals travel fast and when we are stressed, the adrenal glands secrete more and more cortisol so our reactions can be more extreme. One will be exhausted. In the long run, adrenal fatigue will look like tiredness, brain fog, trouble falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning, salt and sugar cravings and needing stimulants like caffeine to get through the day. Sadly, the medical field doesn’t recognize this condition as something that needs to be treated or a condition at all, but it is. Why?
First, the quality of our life is not good. It is a cascade of events, meaning, eventually it will cause more endocrine disorders as the adrenals are tied to our thyroid and they work together. Once a stressor triggers this cascade of hormones, cortisol and your other stress hormones redirect your body’s normal functions to essentially ignore anything that is not necessary for overcoming the stressor in front of you.
This means that functions such as digestion, immune response as well as thyroid hormone production and distribution are temporarily put on hold or slowed down until the stress has passed.
See how everything is connected? But there is more. In women, the ovaries are responsible for making the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. As we approach menopause, the adrenal glands take over and produce these hormones, but in lower levels as this is their job now. If they are exhausted, we will feel horrible the symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes, mood swings, brain fog, etc.
What must we do to reach menopause in a better shape? The first thing would be stress management. Then make sure your nutrition is good and healthy, we adopt healthy lifestyle habits, exercise, sleep well, manage our blood sugar, another big one. Our adrenal glands like routine, healthy habits and consistency. If we treat them well, they’ll treat us well when the time comes.