Overstressed? Things You Should Know About Adrenal Burnout and Fertility

February 4, 2010

in All Things Fertility

We are excited to host our first guest blogger: Ginger Garner, founder of Professional Yoga Therapy with this very interesting post about being overstressed and having the condition known as Adrenal Burnout.

I am Ginger Garner, founder of Professional Yoga Therapy and a holistic therapist. I specialize in women’s health and am a longtime advocate for mothers and women. I am the mother of two wonderful young sons, and am currently working on a book to empower women during their season of Motherhood.

Planning a family can be a stressful event for the 7.3 million women and their partners who are affected by infertility in America1. Women certainly do not need the double whammy of stress from fertility issues heaped atop the stress of everyday life. However, it is the compounding stress which can significantly contribute to infertility through a condition called Adrenal Burnout.
Family Fertiity Photo
I have myself been personally affected by adrenal burnout. The photograph in this blog tells the story. It was taken when I was expecting my second child. It is a poignant photo for me, because only 2 years prior I had been fighting a 10 year battle with infertility. I attribute my success in overcoming infertility in large part to recognizing and overcoming adrenal burnout with holistic methods. So I do hope this blog is a boost to your maternal spirit and tenacity.

What is Adrenal Burnout?

Both the hypothalamus and adrenal glands work closely with the pituitary gland to regulate corticotrophin hormones. The adrenal glands are small glands, also called suprarenal glands, and are situated on top of the kidneys. Specifically, the hypothalamus has a role in producing corticotrophin-releasing hormones, which in turn stimulate the pituitary gland to produce actual cortico-tropic hormones. Then, this action stimulates the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroid hormones.

The adrenal glands produce corticosterone and hydrocortisone, or cortisol, which function in metabolism, suppressing inflammation in the body and managing the immune system. The adrenal medulla produces epinephrine/adrenaline and norepinehrpine/noradrenaline, which allows us to respond to physical or emotional stress2. In other words, the adrenals allow for the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. However, after a stressful incident, the levels of hormones should return to normal. In many cases this does not happen, especially in our fast paced, over-stimulated society.

Sustained, high levels of cortisol damages the body in many ways, including bone loss, decreased sex drive, increased risk for diabetes, and even difficulty with focus, concentration, weight management, and memory. There has even been question of this imbalance increasing risk of schizophrenia in offspring3.

There are other bad side effects of sustained high cortisol levels. They affect women’s hormone regulation by lowering progesterone, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), and estrogen. Once the adrenals become exhausted from this high output, a woman is set up for Adrenal Burnout (AB), or part of a complex dysfunction called HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis dysregulation.

AB is a modern day problem, because we can carry our work with us anywhere – cell phones, paging, fax machines, laptops, Blackberries, and the internet makes it possible for us to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. For many of us, that is exactly what we do. Work ourselves too quickly toward death – by burning out our body’s ability to cope. In addition, rising pollution and decreasing nutrient density in foods from lackluster soil make it difficult to get the vitamins and minerals we need.
The combination of all these variables can cause the body to attack itself in many ways. This is not to say that stress is only derived from external influences, like work, relationships, and environment. Stress can certainly result from a combination of “eustress or distress” (positive or negative) from within. Nonetheless, whether stress is born, it is a problem, and methods for treating it depend on which “medical model” you subscribe.

As a woman on the move toward family planning, it is critical that you learn to recognize the signs of AB. More importantly, if you feel you have AB, you need to seek treatment and empower yourself with methods for treating it.

Recognize Adrenal Burnout Symptoms5

Low cortisol/hormone levels – Fatigue, low blood pressure, use of stimulants to get through the day; joint pain, cravings for sweets or other unhealthy foods, low back pain, excessive thirst; emotional and psychological symptoms (depression, mood swings, bipolar disorder, emotional instability, anxiety); loss of faith in people and the world (hopelessness); compulsiveness and obsessive-compulsiveness; addiction; fertility problems; impaired endocrine function
Copper toxicity – chronic infections; degenerative conditions (cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s); panic attacks, bipolar disorder, mood swings, schizophrenia
Thyroid imbalance – premenstrual syndrome, hot flashes, hypothyroidism
Reduced cellular energy production – depression, apathy

How to Diagnose It

Hair mineral analysis (sodium/potassium ratio; sodium/magnesium ratio; copper level) Blood, urine, saliva hormone testing, postural hypotension test, an AM cortisol test, or an ACTH stimulation test4

Facts about Adrenal Burnout

  • People with burnout can hold full time jobs, and are often found to be using stimulants in order to get through their day.
  • Burnout is not just psychological.
  • Vigorous exercise is not a solution for burnout.
  • A vacation, diet, or nutritional supplement cannot “cure” burnout.
  • Burnout occurs more commonly in women today, mostly related to the fact that most women hold both a job and are primary manager of their household, which includes childrearing. In fact, it was found that mothers who also held full time jobs outside the home still handled 75% of household management tasks (Crittenden 2002)
  • Burnout does not only occur in people who have high stress jobs.
  • Burnout does not only occur in adults.
  • Burnout can possibly have a genetic link, or be influenced by mothers’ diets during pregnancy.
  • Burnout affects all facets of one’s health, physical, emotional, psychological, social, intellectual, energetic, and spiritual.
  • Steps to Recovery

    1. Improve one’s diet

    Research suggests a diet that oxidizes slower and allows for ‘clean digestion’ (less stress on the body)- which means one that is higher in protein, lower in carbohydrates, especially simple ones, low in sugar, seasonal and organic is most beneficial. Those who suffer from AB tend to tolerate fewer carbohydrates. Nutritional & homeopathic supplements could also help the adrenals recover. Ask your pharmacist or physician about supplements which can assist in treating adrenal burnout, such as vitamin C, E, B complex, Niacin, B-6, Pantothenic acid, Mg citrate, zinc, manganese, or herbal remedies such as licorice, ashwaganda, and Siberian or Korean ginseng4. In addition, avoidance of stimulating foods/beverages (i.e. caffeine) is also prudent, since AB stems from excessive stimulation.

    2. Get adequate water intake and eliminate caffeine or other stimulants.

    Enough has been written lately on the importance of hydration in the form of plain water. Reduction of caffeinated beverages – better yet the elimination of them – will also help your body find it’s natural balance.

    3. Make lifestyle changes

    Choose rest and a more flexible work schedule i.e. working from home or telecommuting, compressed work schedules, part time, etc.
    Stop multi-tasking. Research shows it is no more efficient and usually ends with more mistakes and less work accomplished.

    4. Take a pro-biotic, organic multi-vitamin.

    Do your research and find a reputable company that others have endorsed, or seek the advice from a professional.

    5. Detoxification

    This should only be undertaken under the supervision of a holistic physician or therapist.

    6. Proactive Relaxation and Guided Visualization

    Taking the time on a daily basis to consciously relax on a physical basis, going through each body part with relaxation in mind (which is called Progressive Body Scanning). Once in this relaxed state, guided visualization of to remove stress can be very renewing. This is what the Circle+Bloom Mind+Body Program can help you accomplish.

    7. Meditation

    Such as spiritual development, involvement such as prayer, devotion, meditation, quiet time, and/or self-reflection, breathing practice, and journaling, which can be accomplished through a variety of holistic therapies such as yoga, and proactive relaxation (as in 6. above).

    8. Movement with meditation

    Such as yoga, tai chi, Pilates, or other mind based movement or breath activity

    9. Shifts in attitudes and perspectives

    Simplification, reducing mental and physical clutter, cultivating awareness of destructive interpersonal or intrapersonal communication patterns, maintaining the “big” perspective i.e. list what would be most important to you if you lost your health, or someone you love lost theirs? There are many texts which could help the “declutter and awareness” process. Books on meditation, “de”materializing/living simply, and yoga come to mind, since this is my clinical specialty.

    All of the recommendations listed are not a substitute for medical advice and cannot offer a cure for AB. Managing AB takes a team approach – usually from your physician, therapist, and other mind-body specialist. See a physician or therapist who specializes in women’s health for a full evaluation in order to identify strategies which best fit your life and needs.

    My own victory over infertility took recognizing the signs of AB and taking measured baby steps towards recovery. I used all of the approaches above, in addition to seeking out acupuncture, Ayurvedic treatment (which led me to later on become an Ayurvedic counselor), and and (self) prescribing my own special medical yoga sequence for AB. I spent 10 years struggling with infertility, which included failed fertility treatments. But once I recognized the problem, it took less than a year for me to both recover from AB and defeat infertility. Success required that I made some difficult, permanent decisions to change my life habits, which included abandoning anything that was bad for my health. For me, these changes were more than about diet and exercise choices. I was already a dedicated yogi, longtime physical therapist, veteran vegetarian, and was in “perfect health.” I had to make even tougher decisions – I ended a long time “dead” relationship, changed jobs, scaled back on my career plans, relocated to a new city, and recalibrated my vision for my life.

    These are just some of the drastic but very important changes you must also make. When I look back, it is those very specific personal and professional decisions I made that have made the biggest difference in my life. They are also the ones that have given me a chance to create new life.

    The best way to have optimal health is to be your own advocate. Get educated before you visit your doctor or therapist so you know your rights and all options for intervention. When in doubt, ask questions. A good therapist or doctor will always welcome questions. If they do not, you have a right to fire them and find someone who will. In addition, know your insurance coverage before you go so you are not startled with “insurance sticker shock.” Know what your co-pay is, how many visits you are allowed (visits are often limited with therapies), and if you have an annual cap or limit on benefits.

    Being proactive is the best medicine for getting and maintaining optimal health, and for nurturing a fertile life for you and your future family.

    09 Ginger Yoga Pix from Paul 005Ginger Garner MPT, ATC, ERYT is a licensed physical therapist, athletic trainer, and professional yoga therapist specializing in women’s health. She is a longtime advocate for mothers and women, and is the author of Breathing In This Life at www.gingergarner.blogspot.com and forthcoming book, “Fit & Fearless Birth.” Ginger makes her home in Emerald Isle, NC where she has a private holistic physical therapy practice, elemental renewal. She founded Professional Yoga Therapy, a medical continuing education program for licensed health care professionals who want to create a holistic clinical and community based integrative rehabilitation programs. www.professionalyogatherapy.org.   Ginger can be reached at www.gingergarner.com or ginger@gingergarner.com. She is currently taking patients and can be booked to speak in your area about women’s health and a range of other wellness topics.
    Ginger balances her life of national travel and lecturing with a quiet island life off the coast of North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, two young sons, and her geriatric, soon to be 15 year old Labrador retriever.
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    1. National Survey of Family Growth, CDC 2002
    2. University of Maryland Medical Center, Department of Endocrinology, Endocrinology Health Guide. Anatomy of the Adrenal Glands, 2009.
    3. Measure of Maternal and Fetal Infection & Inflammation Workshop May 21-24, 2004. This meeting was held in conjunction with the National Children’s Study, which is led by a consortium of federal agency partners: the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (including the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD] and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences [NIEHS], two parts of the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Cytokines and HPA Axis Hormones in the Etiology of Schizophrenia Brad Pearce, Ph.D., Emory University
    4. Wade, Vicki, Pharm D. Adrenal Burnout. Association of Women for the Advancement of Research and Education. January 2005.
    5. Wilson, MD 2007; Farin, ND 2008; Ann Crittenden The Price of Motherhood. 2002.

    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    marian May 12, 2012 at 3:05 am

    my closest friend has been diagnosed with adrenal burnout, the first time I had heard of it. i am appalled at how she suffers and trying to do my best to keep her afloat, happy and just alive..this affliction could eat her and i wont let this happen. she herself is a yoga therapist which does help, she takes all the right suppliments, eats very carefully and mindfully. i know that at this point all we can do is live each day hopefully, not look back into dark corners and claim a positive mind. sometimes not easy…

    Ginger Garner March 7, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Thank you Marian for taking the time to read this post – and for sharing the story of your dear friend. I am sorry she is suffering, but she is in good hands with yoga. It has been my gentle deliverer, combined with physical therapy and holistic nutrition, for close to 20 years now. Best of luck to you both, and take care of yourself, Ginger

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