Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, Stress and Migraines

General adaptation syndrome, or GAS, is how the body responds to stress.  Adrenal fatigue can do a great deal of damage to your body, especially if you suffer from chronic conditions like migraines or arthritis. Stress can make everything several times worse.  Understanding how the body generally responds to stress may give you better insight into how you can go about treating adrenal fatigue syndrome.

There are three stages of GAS: Fight or flight, the resistance reaction, and exhaustion.

Stress – Stage 1:  Fight or Flight Response

Adrenal Fatigue and StressThis is the first stage of general adaptation syndrome.  ACTH is a hormone that is released from the pituitary gland because the stress response sends an alarm straight to the brain saying “danger!”  This hormone then signals the adrenal glands to release cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and other stress hormones.  The fight or flight response tells the body to go on “red alert” and prepare itself, physically and mentally, for anticipated danger.  Your thinking becomes clearer and more focused, your muscles tighten, your heart rate speeds up, your breathing accelerates, your liver gets rid of extra glucose and glycogen giving you ample energy, and non-essential functions like digestion are slowed down.  You know the drill.  We have all felt it.

Stress – Stage 2:  The Resistance Reaction and The Role of Cortisol

This next stage can last much longer than the initial stage, which generally wears off quickly, especially if there is no imminent danger.  The primary hormone involved here is cortisol.

Cortisol is released from the adrenal glands and is used quite frequently in treating autoimmune disorders, asthma, allergies, and some sports injuries.  Cortisol increases cellular energy and works as an extremely powerful anti-inflammatory.  The cortisol that is released continuously during this stage allows the body to endure prolonged stress, such as injuries, pain, and fatigue. Another hormone released by the adrenal glands during the resistance stage is DHEA. This converts carbohydrates, fatty acids, and protein into energy.  You’ll learn later how DHEA can help restore adrenal function.

Stress – Stage 3:  Exhaustion

And finally, exhaustion. Who hasn’t felt this, right? But, I don’t mean just physical exhaustion. This is the third stage of general adaptation syndrome. Adrenal exhaustion, which can lead to physical and mental exhaustion as well, happens because of the chronic excretion of cortisol.

Adrenal fatigue syndrome will only exacerbate chronic conditions and put you on a spiral to chronic poor health, which includes symptoms such as chronic headaches, fatigue, nausea, low body temperature, chronic infections, and a laundry list of other health challenges.

Many of the patients I treat for chronic migraines suffer from adrenal exhaustion.  This is because of the chronic stress these headaches put onto your body, especially if you have a pre-warning sign like an aura. Pain is a huge stress and long time, chronic pain is not only physically overwhelming, but mentally and emotionally overwhelming as well.

If you’re one of the 30% that suffer migraine with aura, your body goes into high alert when that aura shows up, and then you move into resistance, and then finally adrenal exhaustion.

This could take several months, but eventually it will happen without proper treatment.  Stress is the primary culprit, so if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue or any of its symptoms, it’s time to consider learning new ways to cope with and reduce stress.  Treating adrenal fatigue may be able to lessen your migraines and other chronic pain symptoms.