Chronic stress & ageing

by | September 16, 2009

Feeling fatigued and can’t cope with life’s demands, you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue syndrome.

BY: Dr Karen Soh


Do you have difficulty waking up in the morning? Do you sleep without getting rest? Do you crave carbohydrates or salty food? Is your sex life suffering? Do you fly off the handle easily? Do you yell at your kids all the time? Do you take a long time to recover from the flu? Do you feel sleepy until it is about 10am and then again in the late afternoon? Do you have a ‘second wind’ till 2am or 3am if only you can stay awake past 11pm? Do you feel run down and unable to cope with life’s demands? If you have answered in the affirmative in any of the above questions, then you may have adrenal fatigue syndrome.

Adrenal fatigue is caused by a deficiency of the functioning of the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands are small organs situated on top of the kidneys and are responsible for secretion of minute, precise and balanced amount of steroid hormones, including cortisol. Cortisol is an important hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, controls inflammatory processes in the body, and contributes to the optimal functioning of the heart and the blood vessels. Adrenal glands are also responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ hormone – adrenaline. Chronically-fatigued adrenal glands decreases the body’s ability to deal with additional or sudden stress. Adrenal fatigue syndrome is a disorder often missed out by doctors because its symptoms are not specific – chronic fatigue, vague muscular aches, low energy levels, reduced sex drive and weight gain (especially around the middle).

What causes your adrenals to underperform? What causes it to crash and burn? In a single word – stress. Stress comes in many forms: Physical, emotional, social, financial, infectious and environmental. In today’s fast-paced society, it is not difficult to identify some or all of these stresses in our lives. It is important to note that the body does not differentiate between the different types of stress. And the different stresses add up. The number of stresses, the intensity of this stress, the frequency with which it occurs, and the length of time it is present, all combine to contribute to your cumulative stress load. It only takes the last straw to break the camel’s back.

If this sounds like you, then you are at risk of adrenal fatigue:

1. Lack of sleep.

2. Eating nutrient-deficient food.

3. Using caffeinated or sugary food and drinks as stimulants when tired.

4. Staying up late even when fatigued.

5. Being constantly in a position of powerlessness.

6. Constantly driving yourself to achieve more and better.

7. Being a perfectionist.

8. Lack of leisure and rejuvenating activities.


Do you know that you can be born with weak adrenals to start with? 

The mother may be suffering from excessive stress during pregnancy, or the foetus may be exposed to various challenges in the womb (eg: trauma, placental insufficiency, maternal drug and alcohol abuse). These people tend to be born with a lower ‘adrenal reserve’ and have less capacity to deal with stress in their own lives and so are prone to adrenal fatigue throughout their lives.


Do you know that a poor diet reduces the ability of the adrenals to respond to stress?

Excessive intake of refined starches and sugars causes blood sugar spikes and dips, and stimulates the secretion of insulin. Other than predisposing the individual to overt diabetes mellitus, it stresses the already burnt-out adrenals to maintain cortisol levels in an attempt to maintain blood sugar levels. Drinking more than three cups of coffee or caffeinated drinks daily puts already over-stimulated adrenals into overdrive.


Do I have adrenal fatigue?

Identifying risk factors and symptoms is the first step to a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue. There is a simple questionnaire available in your anti-ageing doctor’s office which will score the probability of a positive diagnosis.  Your doctor will also order a saliva hormone test, with samples of saliva collected throughout different times of the day. This will show the amount and the trend of important hormones such as cortisol and DHEA, and your doctor can use this information to customise a treatment plan for you.

So how can you improve your adrenal function? Here’s some ways:

• Lifestyle: Removing stressors in your life, whether it is a situation at home or at work, or even people around you. You can either change the situation, change yourself to better cope with the situation, or as a last resort, leave the situation.

• Slow down: Take time, literally, to smell the flowers. Set aside a half hour of ‘me-time’ everyday to do the things you truly enjoy, whether it be putting brush to canvas, listening to jazz, doing  deep-breathing exercises or yoga, or simply in prayer.

• Take a vacation: Taking time off work and everyday stressors once a year to rest, renew and rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit does wonders to your health.

• Sleep: Make sure you get enough sleep. To ensure the body has time to heal, it is important to have at least seven straight hours of deep, restful sleep. For people already suffering from adrenal fatigue, you should aim to get to bed before your second wind hits at 11pm. In fact, if possible, sleep in till 8.30am or 9am.  This will allow the natural spike of early morning cortisol to occur before you wake up.

• Exercise: Do an exercise that you enjoy and that you can fit into your everyday routine.  While you are recovering, do not take part in sports that are stressful or demanding or highly competitive. What you want is something that improves lung capacity, cardiovascular function, muscle tone and flexibility, while you are having fun.

• Eat well: Good quality lean protein, complex carbohydrates and a balance of essential fatty acids such as those found in sardines, soybeans, walnuts and flax seeds. Buy organic whenever you can to reduce the pesticide load to the body. Also, get tested for food allergies. You may not be aware that you are allergic to some of the most common foods around. Chronic allergies stimulate the release of histamine, which in turn causes inflammation and the stimulation of more cortisol to control the inflammation.

• Get good supplements: Consult a doctor trained in anti-ageing medicine or a certified nutritionist for the appropriate and good quality supplements that are important for optimal adrenal function. Other than vitamins C, E and B, certain herbs like licorice root, ashwagandha root, Korean and Siberian ginseng and gingko biloba have been shown to support the adrenal healing in chronically-stressed individuals. Doctors are also able to prescribe adrenal cell extracts, DHEA or other hormonal therapy as needed.


Dr Karen Soh from Pacific Wellness Centre specialises in health screening, general medicine and age management.




Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *