What happens when you lift too much weight or walk for a really long time? Your muscles get tired. Similarly, when an endocrine gland in your body is forced to produce an abnormally high amount of hormones for a prolonged time, it depletes its inner resources and, eventually, gets “tired” and unable to perform its main functions properly anymore.
That’s exactly what adrenal fatigue is: exhaustion of the adrenal glands, an extremely unpleasant condition. Although reversible, it can easily compromise your testosterone levels while it ravages on the early stages of its development.
How can adrenal fatigue decrease testosterone production?
The adrenals are a pair of endocrine glands located directly above your kidneys—that’s why they are sometimes called suprarenal glands. They produce the three major types of steroid hormones in your body (mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, and androgens) and catecholamines, such as adrenaline and noradrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine respectively).
During the early stages of adrenal fatigue, the adrenal glands produce an abnormally high amount of glucocorticoids, mainly cortisol, usually in response to significant or chronic stress. This hormone is one of your body’s primary means of dealing with any kind of threats and challenges, because:
- Cortisol increases blood glucose levels to provide your body with the extra energy needed to either fight the problem or flee from it.
- Cortisol leads to vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels), thus increasing blood pressure and blood supply to your organs, preparing them to the abovementioned “fight-or-flight” reaction.
- Cortisol reduces inflammation. From an evolutionary point of view, this could be beneficial in cases when, for example, you break a bone while running away from a predator: by temporarily suffering less from the inflammation and pain, you could be able to escape the problem much more efficiently and deal with the fracture later, after reaching a safe place.
In other words, by producing a lot of cortisol, your adrenal glands give you a powerful weapon to combat stress. If the matter is resolved and you manage to get out of the stressful zone, eventually your hormone levels get back to normal and everyone is happy. During adrenal fatigue, however, this is how your testosterone is impaired:
- On the early stages of adrenal fatigue, abnormally high levels of cortisol can drop down your T far below the normal range. It was scientifically confirmed that cortisol directly compromises both free and total testosterone
- On the other hand, your adrenal glands will produce less dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which is a precursor of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone, thus lowering their levels. This is observed both during the early and late stages of adrenal fatigue.
As you see, this condition can have a huge impact on the health of any man, especially considering the fact that modern life is almost pure stress. We experience it at work, we fight it at home, hell, the very streets are flooded with the matter. According to the American Institute of Stress, 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms of stress (such as fatigue, headache, muscle tension, upset stomach), and 73% regularly feel the psychological impact of it (irritability, anger, lack of energy, desire to cry).
How many of these poor fellows suffer from adrenal fatigue and low testosterone? We can only guess. The good news is that if you listen carefully to your body, you might notice the development of the condition still in its early stages and, luckily, to something to prevent it from crushing your T.
Signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue
During the early stages of adrenal fatigue, the vast majority of symptoms and signs are orchestrated either by the increased cortisol or by the abnormally low amount of other hormones that are usually produced by the adrenal glands:
- Increased blood pressure
- High blood glucose, increased insulin resistance, worsening of diabetes (if present previously)
- Impaired immunity, high susceptibility to infections (both viral and bacterial), worsening of chronic infections (if any)
- Weight gain, often accompanied by wasting of muscle
- Waking up in the morning already feeling weak. Mild sleep disturbances
- Psychological symptoms: irritability, mood swings, anxiety, depression
As the condition progresses, the adrenal glands become unable to produce even cortisol, so the signs and symptoms of advanced adrenal fatigue are explained by an insufficiency of all adrenal hormones plus the impact of the “cortisol storm” during the beginning of the condition:
- Low blood pressure, palpitations, irregular heartbeat
- Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels)
- Severely impaired immunity (frequent and prolonged infections), allergies
- Fatigue, exhaustion, weakness
- Significant sleep disturbances including insomnia
- Loss of libido, impairment of erectile function
- Dryness of skin
All in all, most of the listed symptoms are traditionally associated with stress by the majority of people, so they are quite easy to notice and start ringing the alarms. The next step in treating the condition is to spotlight its cause and do your best to eliminate it from your life or at least alleviate its impact on your health.
Causes of adrenal fatigue
The two main causes of adrenal fatigue are:
- Stress, especially chronic. If you feel like your work leaves you exhausted and nervous by the end of each day, or that you cannot handle the huge amount of tasks in your everyday routine, or that you have an emotionally distorted relationship with your current romantic partner, be aware that these are all factors that might contribute to chronic stress and result in adrenal fatigue.
- A diet deprived of saturated fats and cholesterol. Although “low-fat” has become a dietary trend over the last decades, you should remember that all steroid hormones including testosterone are produced from cholesterol. In other words: you NEED those fats, so be sure to take enough of them regardless of your diet.
Although certain sources affirm that infections and toxins might also contribute to the development of adrenal fatigue, this is not true. The mentioned factors may result in adrenal failure, but this is a totally different condition, life-threatening in most of the cases. On the other hand, adrenal fatigue is absolutely reversible and does not put your life at risk.
Now that you know the basics, let’s move on to the really useful part: natural ways to decrease adrenal fatigue and bring back your testosterone levels to where they should be!
Natural ways to decrease adrenal fatigue
- If possible, get rid of the stress source.
What’s the point in taking painkillers if you have a nail stuck in your foot? Wouldn’t it be wiser to just extract the thing and get back to normal for good? Likewise, if you feel like your job, romantic relationship, or any other aspect of your life gradually became too much of a routine stress, consider getting rid of it. Get a job you would feel comfortable doing, start a healthy relationship with a pleasant and interesting person, and you’ll immediately feel the huge impact that this change will make in your life.
- Get enough sleep every night
Sleeping is among the top ways to restore energy and relieve stress, regardless of its source and duration. Whenever you feel like you’re wired and tired, go to bed early and get enough rest to prevent the stress from taking a tangible toll on your health in general and testosterone particularly.
- Stick to a healthy diet
This means three main things:
- Get enough of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, as they increase testosterone.
- Eat a lot of vegetables to make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals.
- Include enough carbs in your diet, as a low-carb eating regime is always stressful for the body. You need that carbs for energy to fight the stress away.
- Get acquainted with natural adaptogens
Adaptogens are just what the name implies: substances that help you to adapt to stress better, either coping with it or fighting it much more effectively. For example, ashwagandha, Eleutherococcus and Rhodiola, as well as Schisandra Chinensis (five-flavor berry) were scientifically confirmed to improve stress tolerance and decrease fatigue, both mental and physical.
Stress is an essential part of life, and our bodies developed delicate mechanisms to fight it: perhaps the most powerful of them are the so-called stress hormones produced by your adrenal glands, cortisol being the top dog. Thanks to cortisol, we are able to either combat or eliminate stress effectively throughout the famous “fight-or-flight” reaction.
But what happens when the stress gets chronic or too severe? The adrenal glands produce absurd amounts of cortisol to resolve the situation, and eventually get their inner resources drained: that’s exactly what adrenal fatigue is.
During the early phase, cortisol directly impairs your testosterone levels, while on the advanced and severe stages of adrenal fatigue the glands are unable to produce neither cortisol nor testosterone. These are the two main mechanisms behind low T levels due to adrenal fatigue.
The best ways to prevent and treat this dreadful condition are:
- If possible, get rid of the source of chronic stress
- Get enough sleep and rest
- Adopt a healthy diet
- Try taking natural adaptogens to better deal with stress without hurting your T
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