Before we begin, we must ask ourselves, what are adrenal glands?
The adrenals are small glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, and their function is to release hormones that trigger the fight-or-flight response when we’re confronted with stressors. When adrenaline floods our bodies, our muscles contract, our heart rate quickens, the body is put on alert and is made ready for action. In order to understand the link between adrenal gland fatigue and caffeine, it is important to understand what happens each time you drink a cup of coffee.
This begins the heavy stimulation of caffeine that weakens the adrenal gland system. The brain sends a message to the pituitary gland, which releases a hormone that tells your adrenals to produce adrenaline and cortisol – both stress hormones. These are exactly the same kind of stress response that the body uses when you are in imminent physical danger and the “fight or flight” response is in effect.
We start drinking coffee to give us a lift in energy level, but the issue with caffeine is that the energy it gives us is short-lived, since each high is followed by a low, and each low prompts us to ingest more caffeine. Indeed, many Adrenal Fatigue sufferers find that their coffees have less and less effect over time, so to compensate, they consume more stimulants (larger coffees, more sugary snacks), but eventually even those become ineffective.
Put simply, to treat Adrenal Fatigue effectively, avoiding caffeine is one of the first things that you need to do. If you only have the occasional cup of coffee, your adrenals will be able to react quickly and capably to this kind of stimulation. However, if you are drinking several cups of coffee each day and you begin to notice a weakened reaction, then it’s likely that your tolerance has increased and your adrenals are simply weakened and less able to respond adequately to the caffeine. Science backs this up.
A US University Study in 2005 analysed caffeine’s effect on cortisol levels. Those who had been abstaining from caffeine saw large spikes in cortisol on ingestion of coffee. On the other hand, those who had been ingesting caffeine each day saw no cortisol response at all. Giving up that morning coffee might sound daunting, but it’s an important part of recovering from Adrenal Fatigue, though many experience short-term withdrawal symptoms from caffeine, but they are generally gone within a week. After quitting coffee, most Adrenal Fatigue sufferers report a more even, consistent energy level throughout the day, higher levels of happiness, less stress and without any of the crashes associated with caffeine intake. And let’s not forget that healthy adrenal glands maintain adequate levels of the sex hormones progesterone, testosterone and estrogen. The adrenal gland cannot maintain these hormone levels when they are under attack by constant caffeine use!