Unfortunately the answer is both! Now read on so I can explain why that is and what is adrenal fatigue?
Our adrenal glands are tiny walnut-sized glands located on our back above our kidneys. During increased times of stress, your adrenal glands are secreting the stress hormone cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) to help your body manage the stress situation. Actually, cortisol is an anti-inflammatory hormone and is released to manage inflammation that comes up with stress and that’s a good thing that your body is responding and trying to mitigate the stress-situation.
In order to put your body in a state of high alertness, cortisol and adrenaline are released and will increase your blood pressure, elevate your heart rate, raise your blood sugar levels and narrow your blood vessels…. but these can also trigger migraines!
When your brain perceives stress (work, exercise, family, activities, underlying (chronic) infections, food sensitivities, insomnia, imbalanced blood sugar….), the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis is activated to secrete hormones that help your body adapt to the stressor. Essentially, it’s your brain (hypothalamus and pituitary) reacting to stress and instructing your adrenal glands to secrete (or not to secrete) hormones (especially cortisol).
If this happens too often or all the time, you are creating a chronic state of inflammation in your body and brain and your HPA axis will become dysregulated.
Normally, there should be a negative feedback loop that signals to the brain to stop the secretion of adrenal signaling hormones, but in a situation of constant stressors, our adrenal glands are secreting more and more cortisol instead.
This can result in symptoms like:
Feeling wired but tired
Being on edge or irritable
Feeling stressed by every little thing
Feeling overwhelmed by day-to-day activities
Over time, our cells become resistant to cortisol and the negative feedback system becomes ineffective. This results in a drop of cortisol output.
What does it look like?⠀⠀⠀⠀
Trouble getting up in the morning
Low blood pressure
Afternoon energy dips
If you relate to symptoms of high AND low cortisol that’s actually quite common. Cortisol levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day and there is a range of imbalances that can happen with this hormone!
Now imagine this happening consistently and you see why chronic migraines affect the adrenals.
Don’t forget that if you suffer from migraines, you are probably already taking a cocktail of different painkillers or maybe also nausea-relief medications or botox on a regular basis. Long-term use of these will put an excessive load of toxins on your detoxification system - clogging up your liver, extracellular matrix (this will impact your mitochondria and absorption of nutrients and hormones), kidneys, and other detoxification organs.
When being in a state of chronic stress, your detoxification slows down as your body is focusing on other "more important" tasks. It also affects the detoxification response, letting toxins and metabolic byproducts accumulate in your body. The build-up of certain chemicals in the body has been associated with migraines, especially copper, mercury, and the chemical compounds linked to estrogen dominance.
Stress will also impact your gut health and trigger leaky gut syndrome. This increased inflammation can lead to migraines and make it difficult for your body to stop the inflammation once one starts.
Stress really is an oxymoron as it can cause migraines, but migraines also cause stress! A migraine is actually both type of stressors: mental AND physical.
So what can you do to better manage this?
Coffee or caffeine is a definite foe in this situation: although it can help some people mitigate a migraine attack, coffee raises your cortisol levels and therefore impacts your blood sugar balance. So it’s adding more stress and more inflammation to your body. Try matcha or other alternatives instead.
That’s why adapting your diet and eliminate external sources of stress like coffee, trigger foods and keeping your blood sugar levels stable is the first thing you should do to manage your migraine attacks: balanced blood sugar = less cravings, more (and stable) energy, no brain fog, limit brain inflammation.
Avoid refined carbohydrates, sugar..and pretty much all the things you crave when you're tired or stressed. They will indeed give you a quick energy boost, but they will just further increase the stress you put on your body and brain.
Eat regular meals: skipping meals (and yes that's right - fasting might not be a good idea if your body is under stress already), grabbing quick energy fixes and forgetting to fuel your body creates stress on an already stressed out system. Your body has no way of knowing if there is a famine versus you just got too busy and forgot to eat. Start your day with fat and protein and aim to include it with each meal to keep you feeling full longer and avoiding peaks & dips in blood sugar.
Move your body but don't strain yourself too much! Aerobic exercise or just going for walks is much less stress on your body than HIIT training.
Sleep is a bit contradictory since your adrenals might be causing you insomnia. It's crucial for recovery though and with eliminating other sources of stress like coffee for instance, you might actually find you are sleeping better too. Also try getting off all devices 1 hour before sleep, don’t eat late and use a guided body scan or other mediation to help you fall asleep.
Make sure you are hydrating properly and getting enough minerals, especially Magnesium is important in times of stress. Check out my blog article on which form of Magnesium to take.
Eliminate sources of inflammation that are stressing out your brain like blood sugar imbalance, gut infections, food sensitivities, bacterial overgrowth, parasites or else
Look at your sources of stress and see if and how you can eliminate them, also adopting stress releasing techniques is very helpful: Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, pilates, weight lifting, epsom salt baths, massage, singing out loud, time with friends, play, walks in nature, reading… the list just keeps going! Stress is always going to be a part of life. It is how you deal with it that determines how it effects you. The idea is to make sure you have the tools to handle the day-to-day stressors so when a big one hits, you've got some reserve to handle it. Try apps like Insight timer, muse, headspace or else.
Learn to say NO! You might actually enjoy this one!
Take care of yourself!
Adrenal supplements: food and lifestyle are first, but there are also specific nutrients that can further support our adrenal health like vitamin B6, B5, vitamin C, magnesium but also adaptogenic herbs like rhodiola, ashwagandha, licorice and maca are great for our adrenals. Be aware that ashwagandha and maca can stimulate testosterone production so anyone dealing with acne should consume these in moderation. Licorice will elevate blood pressure, so careful for those dealing with that.
Book a complimentary discovery call if you want to know more about how I could help you get migraine free