In the last blog we looked at the 1st phase of Hans Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome, "fight or flight"

This involved mainly the inner part of the adrenal glands (situated on top of the kidneys) which release Adrenaline and Nor-adrenaline.

This week we are looking at the next 2 phases Resistance and Exhaustion. These phases involves mainly the Adrenal cortex (the outer part of the Adrenals) which releases cortisol and other corticosteroids.

Remember that as we are all individuals, we all react differently. Some people thrive on stress while others just lose the plot! We all develop our own coping patterns which can be negative (addictions to drugs, food, spending, television. Blame, anger, outbursts etc ) or positive (relaxation techniques, exercise, diet, herbs, supplements, seeking appropriate help, changing attitudes that aren't working!).


This phase allows the body to continue on it's increased physical abilities by making sure there is enough glucose available to supply the muscles with energy. The adrenal cortex is mainly targeted, via ACTH released from the pituitary gland, to release corticosteroids (Mineralocorticoids, mainly aldosterone. Glucocorticoids, mainly cortisol). More glucose is made by converting stores of protein and fat, a process called gluconeogenesis. Sodium is increased to retain water and increase blood volume. This all combines to keep blood pressure up so as to deliver nutrients to the muscles and brain to continue fighting the stressor. There are decreases in potassium and immunity.


Ongoing stressors can be such things as continued financial hardship, busy high pressured work, family disharmony, multiple births or hectic family life, imprisonment, unhappy relationships, sexual or physical abuse, mental or emotional abuse, multiple bereavements, serious or permanent illness, frequent exams and assignments, war and terrorism.

An over-committed lifestyle is very common now days!

Signs and Symptoms

These can be a bit of all 3 phases and can include fatigue, recurrent headaches, neck, shoulder and back ache, insomnia, loss of appetite or compulsive eating, anorexia, indigestion, dizziness, sexual problems, hypertension, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, loss of concentration, increased colds and infections. Prolongation of the resistance phase increases the risk of diseases such as diabetes (type 2), high blood pressure and heart disease, increased infection and cancer.

Prolonged Resistance eventually results in Exhaustion as our body's adaptation mechanisms become depleted.


May be a total collapse of body function or specific organ collapse due to loss of potassium ions and depletion of adrenal glucocorticoids (eg cortisone), resulting in lowered blood glucose levels causing hypoglycaemia. Prolonged stress puts a tremendous load om many organ systems, especially the heart, blood vessels, adrenals and the immune system, increasing the risk for associated diseases. Also damage to nerve cells in tissues and organs.

Also known as burnout, overload, adrenal fatigue and maladaption, there is an inability to manage and cope with stress leading to mental, emotional and physical exhaustion.

Signs & Symtoms

Apathy and the feeling of helplessness, hopelessness can occur. Depression, no energy, emotional detached, excessive doubt, preoccupied with worries, fears, details and order. Thinking and memory become impaired. Escapism and addictions occur in an attempt to ignore or shut out troubles.

Muscle weakness, coldness, poor circulation and a weak pulse. Eating and digestive disorders. Insomnia and tired all the time. Prone to extremes of ill health. Heart disease, immune deficiencies, blood sugar imbalances, diabetes can occur.

Remember that this varies according to environmental and genetic factors.

If you get to this stage, all is NOT lost. Your current lifestyle is not working for you so change what you can change. Seek the support you can from friends, family, health groups. The body is a working piece of art that has the ability to correct itself and bring back balance (homoeostasis).


Herbal adaptogens can help the improve the physiological action of the adrenals. They are particularly useful in the Resistance phase to avoid the Exhausted phase!! A lot also stimulate immunity and reduce anxiety and depression.

Panax (Korean) ginseng works directly on the adrenal cortex by increasing the production of cortisol, thereby increasing energy and stamina. This is strongly recommended for any one in the Exhausted phase. It also stimulates the immune system, protects the liver and is a heart and adrenal tonic.

Recommended supplements:

Licorice inhibits the breakdown of cortisol so extends its life. It also inhibits adrenal atrophy. Note: Licorice can raise the BP by retaining sodium.

Siberian ginseng is better suited to the Alarm and Resistance phase as it is gentler.

Withania (Indian Ginseng or Ashwagandha) is great for weak, sickly people

Schisandra is recommended for tonifying the adrenals as well as calming the nervous system.

Brahmi (Bacopa) aids memory, concentration and retention and is great for calming the nervous system (as is Rhodiola), especially where there is nervous exhaustion/breakdown. NOTE Gotu kola is also known as Brahmi and is an adrenal stimulant, but is a different herb!

There are a lot of good Adrenal support formulas available ranging from gentle to strong doses.

Supplements to look out for that are essential for the nutritional biochemistry to manufacture the adrenal hormones as well as supporting and maintaining the health of the adrenals are;

Vitamin C, Pantothenic acid (B5), B6, Magnesium (low in NZ soil and high depression / suicide rates, are these related...i think so!!!), L-Tyrosine and Phosphatidylcholine.

Some of these are already added to the adrenal formulas!

Other important supplements include Potassium, zinc, B1, B12, Inositol, L-Glutamine. GABA and DHEA supplements can be hard to source in NZ and you need to be sure they are suited to you.

St John's Wort it a fantastic herb for Anxiety and Depression, it is also anti-viral and an hepatic. Caution is required as it interferes with Anti-depressants eg SSRIs and shortens the half life of some meds through it's liver action of increasing cytochrome P450 to break down and eliminate.

So with these tools at the ready, combined with positive coping mechanisms like yoga, exercise, meditation, relaxation, going to your happy place and breathing can start your de-stress program!

Keep replenishing those adrenals, taking your ginsengs, B vits, Vit C, Magnesium and Potassium at the alarm and resistance stage before you exhaust yourselves.

Good Luck!