In today's world, we are exposed to huge amounts of stress. This can lead to persistent tension and constant nervousness. It can even cause illness. Each person has a different source of stress - everyone is stressed about something different. These sources can include fear, worry, the need to conform, certain past traumas, fast-paced lifestyles and too much work.
The adrenal gland produces a lot of cortisol (that so-called "stress hormone") when it is "stressed". If we fail to manage the sources of stress over the long term, the adrenal gland will eventually become damaged, 'fatigued' and no longer able to secrete sufficient amounts of cortisol, which is when cortisol defficiency occurs.
To understand this, let's look at an example of what happens to our body under stress. Imagine you are walking down the street and you are being attacked and robbed. What happnes in our body?
All of sudden our heart rate increases, our blood pressure rises, we start to sweat, our pupils dilate, we concentrate on the task at hand, to fend off the attacker, and all the energy is transferred to our muscles, we find we are musch stronger than usual. It's called the "fight or flight" response and it's hardwired into us for survival. Two hormones are most responsible for this, adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline raises our heart rate and blood pressure, getting more blood to the muscles. Cortisol is responsible for energising the muscles and the brain, increasing the supply of nutrients to any damaged cells.
As you can see, cortisol and adrenaline are essential for survival, and these hormones are constantly being produced. From the moment we wake up they help us stay energetic and fit throughout the day. It makes us feel fit and energetised after exercise.
However, constant stress makes the cortisol and adrenaline receptors increasingly insensitive, and then adrenalin fatigue sets in - there's an official name for this: hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal regulatory disorder.
There's good news: magnesium plays a key role in this pathway (hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal gland), so taking it can improve the function and help with stress management.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue:
- Main ones: constant tiredness, lethargy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty getting up
- Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine dependence
- Loss of appetite
To prevent this, in addition to taking magnesium, we need to manage the sources of stress in our lives. In order to balance cortisol and adrenaline, we need to stimulate serotonin and dopamine hormone levels.
Serotonin (5-HT) is one of the 'happy hormones', we don't know all the effects of this hormone, but it plays a role in regulating mood, appetite, sexuality, sleep, pain and the reward system.
Serotonin deficiency has been linked to a number of neurological disorders:
- Bipolar disorder
- Fibromyalgia (chronic, body-wide pain)
Serotonin is made by the body from an amino acid called tryptophan. Therefore, supplementing with tryptophan and 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) can stimulate serotonin levels, improving mood and helping to manage stress.
Dopamine also has multifaceted effects, including a role in motivation, memory, movement and the reward system, and thus in the development of addiction. Dopamine cells are destroyed in Parkinson's disease.
A non-consciousness-altering agent extracted from cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), may help in the treatment of Parkinson's. There is no consensus on whether CBD acts on the dopamine pathway. There have been studies that have shown that CBD may be able to bind to small amounts of dopamine-sensing receptors. In addition, CBD may also bind to serotonin receptors. This may help to induce a better mood and help with stress management.
Stress management is also greatly influenced by our sleep. Sleep is an essential process for our bodies and brains to function properly, during sleep serotonin production is greatly increased. This is where the 'sleep hormone' melatonin, responsible for the feeling of sleepiness and for triggering sleep, comes in handy. Melatonin also imroves the quality of sleep, so it can improve many sleep disorders.