Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Adrenal Health

May 26, 2013

For many people, unmanaged long term stress can be a causative and contributing factor to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). This is because high levels of prolonged stress can deplete the body of essential nutrients, affect the immune system’s ability to function properly and exhaust the adrenal glands.

There are two adrenal glands in the body, one sitting on top of each kidney. Weighing between 3-5g each, the adrenal glands are pyramidal in shape and are 3-5cm in height and 2-3cm wide. Despite their tiny size though, the adrenal glands play an extremely vital role in the body.

The adrenal glands are responsible for the manufacture and secretion of steroid hormones which are absolutely essential for life. They are involved in:

Electrolyte and water balance in the body
Regulate blood volume
Regulate blood pressure
Regulate the body’s metabolism
Breakdown proteins
Stimulate the breakdown and release of fats
Involved in reproductive and libido health
Stress adaptation
The body’s stress response is governed by the adrenal glands. It is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ response and produces hormones accordingly to help the body adapt in difficult and stressful situations.

In cave men days, this mechanism enabled men, women and children to quickly run whenever a threat was imminent, for example being chased by a wolly mammoth or sabre tooth tiger. Such an event would trigger the adrenal glands to release hormones like adrenalin to increase blood flow to the muscles and extremities, dilate the pupils to improve vision, reduce pain perception, increase heart rate and breathing rate and improve focus and awareness. In turn, blood flow to the internal organs such as the digestive system and reproductive organs would diminish as it isn’t necessary for immediate survival.

This stress response is intended as an innate short-term survival mechanism. Unfortunately, many people today are running on adrenalin and placing their bodies in this perpetual state of heightened stress with no off switch. The longer we maintain our bodies in this state, the adrenal glands will become depleted and their ability to cope and adapt in stressful situations is severely compromised. This can lead to adrenal exhaustion and what is commonly known as ‘burn out’.

A little bit of stress is not a bad thing though, as some people find it helps them to get things done on time. However, long-term un-managed stress can deplete energy levels, lower immunity and contribute to feelings of anxiety and changes in mood. It can also affect an individual’s fertility, blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar metabolism, weight and play havoc with the digestive system.

Naturopathically, when a person presents with long-term stress and chronic fatigue, supporting and nourishing the adrenal glands is a key treatment consideration.

Two nutrients that help to support the adrenal glands include vitamin C and magnesium. Vitamin C is rich in blackcurrants, broccoli, citrus fruits, parsley, pineapple, peppers, guava, rosehips, strawberries, kiwi fruit. Magnesium rich foods include almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, brewer’s yeast, molasses, kelp, eggs, spinach, parsley, shallots. During times of stress, the adrenal glands require higher levels of both these nutrients to function optimally and this is when a supplement may be beneficial.

Some herbs that have a tonifying and supportive effect on the adrenal glands include Siberian ginseng, Withania, Licorice, Rhodiola and Rehmmania.

It is important to note that many herbs and nutrients have cautions and can be contraindicated with certain medications. It is always best to speak with a qualified practitioner if you are thinking about commencing any supplement. Tiina, Tulsi and I are all qualified to answer any questions you may have about stress and the various nutrients and herbs that may be of benefit to you. For anyone interested in delving deeper into their health and would like a private one on one naturopathic consultation, I am available on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Please ring Saltuary to make an appointment or book online.

The best way to combat stress is prevention. So in addition to herbs and nutrients that support the adrenal glands, implementing some stress management techniques into your daily life can also be of huge value. This can include things like massage (we have Joe here three days a week offering all types of massage), meditation, breathing/pranayama, yoga (we have Sara offering vinyasa and prenatal classes), getting back to nature such as the beach or national park, reading a book, catching up with friends, floatation therapy, aromatherapy, salt therapy, gardening and exercise plus many more. The key is to find something that you enjoy doing that helps you to decompress and relax and this of course will be different for everybody. The important thing is to do things on a regular basis that help to nourish ‘you’.

We hope to see you all in Saltuary soon.

Wishing you vibrant health and happiness,


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