dr. phuli's blog

Adrenal Burnout

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

I always feel like the end of the summer is a good time to plan the upcoming year. Its a great time to think about gaining balance and health. So are you “burned out?” Are you overdoing? Are you consistently over-scheduled? Are you giving too much without rest and recharge? If you are thinking, “yes” to these questions you need to get a grip on your life and start understanding and appreciating your adrenal glands.

Your adrenal glands sit atop your kidneys and produce several hormones that regulate your body’s energy, metabolism, and immune function. Hormones like DHEA, cortisol, pregnenolone, epinephrine, and norepinephrine make your life run smoothly.

If you are chronically giving out more than you receive you can bet that, over time, your adrenal glands are going to tire, resulting in adrenal burnout. Signs of this are losing your temper easily, feeling irritable when stressed, trouble falling or staying asleep, and generally feeling anxious when things are actually going okay.

When your adrenals burn out you lose control over cortisol production. Its high when it should be low and low when you need it most. Some advertisements will have you believe that most of us have too much cortisol, but this is not the case. Most women over the age of 50 have too little cortisol early in the day, and too much late in the day, causing us to run out of energy mid-day and have trouble sleeping in the night.

Restoring your adrenals right starts with testing. You can take blood or saliva tests to measure adrenal hormone levels. Most women with burnout have low DHEA, low pregnenolone and variable cortisol. Chronic stress with high cortisol levels can confuse the brain overtime. The brain HPA (hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal) response is lost. Little cortisol is made during the day and too much is made in the evening, when things should be winding down for the night.

As adrenal burnout continues, we become like shift workers- tired in the day but unable to sleep at night. This is not a healthy long-term plan. High night cortisol is linked with increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and depression, not to mention many unhappy moments in an otherwise good life.

What can you do about it? First, recognize it and consider how you got this way. Are you the one constantly volunteering and offering without considering your own needs? Patterns are hard to break, especially for us women raised to believe that we can, and should, do it all. But break patterns of over giving and overdoing, we must.
What can you do? First of all, know that you cannot, nor should you try to “do it all.” Learn to ask for help, know your limits, schedule rest into your day, and build respite/vacations into your life.

Also, discover adrenal adaptogens or herbs that help the body adapt to stress. They have been used for centuries by many cultures. Here are a few examples, taken from the adrenal chapter in my book, The Natural Hormone Makeover:

1. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus): energizing and good for physical stress
2. Korean ginseng (Panax Ginseng): similar to Siberian in that it helps with physical fatigue but also considered to be a sexual tonic as well
3. Indian ginseng (Ashwaganda or Withania): calming, good for fatigue with insomnia
4. Rhodiola: good for mental stress- but beware, a low dose is energizing but high doses are calming
5. Gingko: improves blood flow to organs- especially helpful for the brain and adrenals to communicate better
6. Astragalus: supports immune function
7. Cordyceps and Rhemania: supports all adrenal hormone production

So be kind to your adrenals this summer. Recharge, refresh and look at your life. Summer is a great time to reassess your lifestyle and think about resetting your automatic responses.

Learn to delegate, set rest goals, plan the year’s vacations, and get your adrenal hormones checked out.

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  1. Skye  |  August 22nd, 2013

    Dear Dr. Cohan, I always enjoy reading your e-mails. Thank you for reaching out and for taking the time to share your knowledge explaining thyroid conditions and their remedies. I’ve been suffering for the past 6 or 7 years and have been trying, without success, to find a well-informed physician to help me. It’s really been an exhausting undertaking when you’re exhausted. Now, I’ve had to try to be my own doctor so the info is a great guide. I wish you practiced in NYC.

    Have a happy and healthy New Year.


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