The brain plays a huge role in adrenal fatigue. The axis that controls cortisol release is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). The hypothalamus sits in a key position in the brain. It has connections to the eyes, the autonomic nervous system and the pituitary gland (along with proopiomelanocortin (POMC), melanin, and many other vital pathways).
This means that in order for the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, a signal needs to get initiated in the hypothalamus. Light entering the eye is a primary input into the hypothalamus. This is why we are designed to have a robust circadian cortisol release during the day that wanes as the evening appears.
It’s also why artificial light at night can drive up a “second wind” in people: physically exhausted but mentally wired and unable to fall asleep.
The hypothalamus connects to the eyes via the retinohypothalamic tract. This means that the signals entering the eyes directly impact all pathways initiated in the hypothalamus. Hence light entering the eye is foundational for health.
The idea that glands controlled by hypothalamic signaling (adrenal glands, the thyroid gland, the gonads, etc.) fail and get dysfunctional randomly is nonsense. When the input to the hypothalamus is off (light), the rest of the cascade is off. Not only that but when the signaling gets chaotic, certain parts of the hypothalamus downregulate. Neurogenesis is impaired.
Could a condition like adrenal fatigue result from faulty light signals and an inability to strengthen the appropriate neuronal pathways and stimulate neurogenesis? You bet.
You see, my entire health journey involved overcoming debilitating fatigue, brain fog, digestive distress, insomnia and pain that comes with adrenal fatigue. I am beyond grateful that Dr Kruse pointed me to the need to understand light, neurogenesis, paraventricular nucleus (PVN) activation, syncing signals and more.
It completely changed my health when I finally figured out how to apply this effectively. Instead of painstakingly focusing on what I eat (which only made my symptoms mildly better), I now have a toolbox full of things involving circadian signaling and brain pathway optimization that allow me to thrive.
Adrenal fatigue needs to be addressed from the brain. If you are dealing with adrenal fatigue, start optimizing the light entering your eyes, especially morning light.
Another system that interfaces with the HPA axis is called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). In response to stress, the parasympathetic branch of the ANS releases its inhibition of the stress response in order to allow the sympathetic branch to coordinate appropriate signals that would allow us to fight or flee a life-threatening situation.
The body needs to balance the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the ANS. When one system dominates, many downstream symptoms are seemingly unrelated: digestive issues, weakened immunity, hypothyroidism, etc.
We do not want one side to dominate at any one time and instead rely heavily on the interplay between both branches. One way this is measured is via heart-rate variability (HRV). We want HRV to be high, indicating a strong back-and-forth interplay between both branches.
One way in which we can enhance HRV is through breathing exercises. Another way is improving sleep quality. Understanding my poor breathing mechanics, plus some simple exercises to improve it (6-second breaths, for example), allowed me to balance my ANS, support higher HRV, and improve HPA axis signaling.
You can do the same. You can tackle adrenal fatigue using light, breath and sleep. These are just some of the tools and strategies I teach in my course The Adrenal Fatigue Fix. Check it out.