We’ve all heard the term “adrenal fatigue” thrown around a lot in the health world. It’s not exactly an accurate all-encompassing label for what it’s referring to, but the expression has stuck, and it seems here to stay. Simply put, it’s a way to describe when your battery has run out and you’re running on little blips and bloops of whatever juice is left. Anatomically speaking, your adrenal glands sit atop your kidneys and are responsible for many processes such as, regulating your inflammatory and immune response, sleep/wake cycle, blood sugar/insulin levels, fight or flight response and steroid hormone production. A rather tall order for a couple of little glands. They interact with the kidneys and have a wide-spread influence that seems to have ripple effect over your entire body.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, they represent the Ming Men, or the “Gate of Vitality”. Some of this vitality is inherited through your parents via genes, where the rest is influenced by lifestyle choices throughout your lifetime. Many Taoist and Chinese medicine practices are all about preserving the juice in your battery, aka your essence or your vitality as above. Practices like, tai chi, qi gong, meditation, eating appropriate foods with the seasons, TCM herbal formulas, acupuncture and massage are all part of the act of preserving your vitality as you age. In our modern world it’s not hard to see how over-stimulation from technology and the glorification of “busy” has left many of us lacking vitality.
As a mainly women’s health and fertility practitioner, I see this affecting both male and female fertility to a serious degree. All of us, including myself have pushed our bodies past the brink of exhaustion and asked for just a little more. I always ask my patients, have you ever felt exhausted and just kept pushing on? This question is all too often answered with a resounding YES. The adrenal glands supply a very important androgen called DHEA – the precursor to all your sex hormones. It’s a blood test we ask for to measure adrenal health. When it is low, I know that it could mean your hormones are suffering and in terms of fertility (both male and female) it’s imperative that this is addressed! It’s all too common that many people are incredibly drained in this department, but the good news is, it’s certainly repairable and preventable.
When it comes to treating adrenal fatigue, REST is the key. Your adrenal glands are responsible for contributing to your flight or fight response via the excretion of cortisol. If you’re consistently stressed, running on adrenaline and not getting enough sleep your body will continuously drain its deepest resources in order to keep you going. You will need to address activities that contribute to this and incorporate practices that are aimed at preserving your vitality. Any practice that stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system is ideal. For example, acupuncture, meditation, tai qi, qi gong, restorative yoga, reading a book, taking a bath and nature walks are all great ways to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system to help you get out of fight out flight and into rest and digest mode. Addressing sources of over-stimulation and participating in restorative activities like this every day will slowly recharge your battery. Be patient and kind to yourself during this time.
Exercise and adrenal fatigue also come up frequently during consults. I often hear women say, “I exercise everyday and I can’t seem to lose this weight around my middle”. This is due to your adrenal glands effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. Adrenal exhaustion can cause insulin resistance which can send fake hunger signals from the brain contributing to overeating and weight gain. It can also be over-exercising that is contributing to poor adrenal function, therefore compounding the issue. It may seem counter-intuitive to cease daily spin classes and slogging yourself on a long-distance run, but it will help to correct this imbalance. Depending on the severity of your adrenal exhaustion it may mean ceasing vigorous exercise all together and rolling out your yoga mat for some yin-yoga, or maybe you just need to tone down the amount of exercise you’re doing during the week. This is a tough ask for many people, including myself years ago! One tip off that exercise was negatively impacting my adrenal health was when I did a vigorous exercise class in the evening (around 5pm) and it would affect my sleep. I couldn’t settle enough to get a deep sleep and was twitching all night long. I now opt for restorative activities (yin) in the evening and vigorous (yang) exercise in the morning. You may need to adjust your schedule in order to accommodate. The right kind of exercise at the right times can be a bit of balancing act, but everyone has their happy-medium.
It’s important to remember we are all different and we also change. The person you were 5 years ago may have been able to work 10 hours, go to bootcamp, cook dinner for your family, take your kids to their activities and stay up past midnight to catch up with your partner, but maybe now your body is telling you, please slow down. There is no shame is saying, NO to additional work hours and skipping boot camp to stretch in your lounge room, so that you have more time to catch up with your family before retiring early for bed. If your body is sending you signals that It needs to recharge, listen. Societal pressures are FULL ON at times, but you don’t need to do it all. At the end of the day your faithful body is built to serve, but like all living things on planet earth has limited resources. You’ve got to be like David Suzuki for the rights of your health and longevity and cast aside the outdated social influences that encourage us work past our means. You will be better for it and all those around you will heed your energetic glow.
If you resonate with this and are needing to recharge, you can contact me at Mornington Chinese Medicine Tuesday-Saturday.
Andrea Murphy works Tuesday and Saturday from 9am – 2pm and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 9am-2pm.
138 Tanti Avenue, Mornington, VIC
03 5973 6886
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