Is Adrenal Fatigue Ruining Your Digestion?

The longer I am in the health world, the more I realize that everything is connected in the body. Two seemingly completely different symptoms might have the same root cause - or one may be causing the other. I’m also starting to pay more attention to the impact our thoughts and the stories we have on repeat in our head have on our health (but more to come on that another day).

Here are some examples of connections:

  • Poor blood sugar management —> Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer’s is now being called Type 3 diabetes)
  • Antibiotics —> Weakened immune system and getting sick more often (yet, we took the antibiotics in the first place to fight something off)
  • IBS and other digestive symptoms —> Depression and anxiety
  • Childhood abuse --> Arthritis (more here and here)
  • Stress —> IBS and other digestive symptoms
  • Leaky gut —> Thyroid conditions (Hypothyroid and hashimoto’s)
  • Food sensitivities —> Fatigue

With my clients, they often come to me for one specific reason, but once we really look closer, there are actually many other symptoms impacting how they’re feeling. For example, many come to me because they’re exhausted, sluggish, not sleeping well, but then once I start asking questions, it turns out they also experience bloating, indigestion and/or IBS symptoms. Or, they come to me for digestive problems, and then it turns out they are really low energy, have brain fog and possibly poor sleep. I think you get the point!

So, today I want to talk about the connection between chronic stress, low energy and digestive problems. This is a bit of a chicken and the egg question. Was it the stress that caused digestive symptoms, or the digestive symptoms leading us to feel more stressed? 

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue:

Adrenal fatigue is a result of being under chronic stress for a long period of time. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue are different for every person, but here are some of them:

  • Difficulty sleeping - trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep 
  • Chronically low energy - even if you sleep enough
  • Low motivation
  • Anxiety / depression
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Decreased libido
  • Frequent colds / flus
  • Mood swings
  • Brain fog

How Stress Wreaks Havoc on Digestion:

To start, it helps to understand what happens under stress. Under stress, your body creates a fight or flight response telling your adrenal glands to release cortisol. Of course, if the stressful experience is short and sweet, your body can easily move on (and that cortisol response was probably beneficial). Throw in chronic stress that doesn’t really ever subside, and that’s where the problem occurs.

When cortisol is released chronically, it alters the way your immune system functions and creates systemic inflammation. An overactive immune system and inflammation damage the digestive tract. Now, 70-80% of your immune system is actually located along the digestive tract.

To add fuel to the fire, cortisol can actually work to open up something called tight junctions in the gut. Tight junctions are one of the things that keep your digestive tract from being leaky. You’ve likely heard of the term leaky gut, right? Cortisol can directly contribute to leaky gut, and leaky gut is often at the root of gas, bloating and IBS.

What You Can Do:

For starters, I recommend you test your hormones to understand where they are at. I’ve outlined the best tests I can help you with here.

Once you have a baseline for your hormones - particularly cortisol - you can take steps to bring it back into balance with specific foods and herbs. This will improve your energy, brain fog, sleep, mood and SO much more.

Then, you’ve got to take steps to keep that stress in control, particularly around food. Here are some suggestions:

  • Eat your meals mindfully - this means away from technology. According to Harvard, eating while we're distracted by activities like driving or typing may slow down or stop digestion in a manner similar to how the "fight or flight" response does. 
  • Try taking a few rounds of 4 second belly breaths prior to eating to calm your nervous system. Breathing from the belly, inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds.
  • Journal your thoughts. Brain scans on volunteers showed that putting feelings down on paper reduces activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for controlling the intensity of our emotions.

Lastly, if there has been damage to your digestive system, I can help you implement a gut healing protocol. You can read this case study on healing IBS I wrote with a client of mine.

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