Circadian Genes and Adrenal Fatigue

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM; Carrie Lam, MD


Circadian genes and harmonyYour body is an incredible machine. Every system works in perfect harmony. Even tiny, seemingly insignificant changes, therefore, can have an impact on the entire system. One of these often overlooked systems are the circadian genes, the genes that control when you naturally wake and sleep.

These circadian genes, also known as circadian clock genes, are the genes in your body that create protein products essential for the regulation and generation of circadian rhythms. Fundamentally, those clocks have a major impact on keeping metabolic and physiological synchrony in your entire body; it affects your sleep, your mood, and even your energy levels.

Your body is designed to follow its natural circadian rhythm. If you have dysregulation of your cortisol levels throughout the day due to stress or adrenal fatigue, you may experience spikes and bursts of energy, followed by some moments of exhaustion. Your circadian genes directly influence your energy levels.

The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) found in the hypothalamus is the primary circadian clock, or circadian oscillator, and is otherwise known as the biological clock. These circadian clock genes have a multitude of functions in your cells. Most people?s circadian genes are designed to be most active during the day, and the least active during the night. Most of these genes are routinely turned off when there is no exposure to light. These genes all depend on your SCN for signals and to maintain rhythm in your body.

If you constantly face excessive stress, cortisol levels drastically fluctuating can eventually impact your circadian genes, and you are at higher risk for eventually developing Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). Chronic and excessive stress can lead to the dysfunction of your adrenal glands. It?s vital that you work to identify the root cause of your symptoms.

Circadian Genes and Adrenal Fatigue

Your adrenal glands also operate on a circadian clock, and the circadian genes in your adrenal glands respond best at certain times. While this circadian clock doesn?t completely control when certain hormones are released, it does regulate the sensitivity of your adrenals external stimuli. The circadian genes of your adrenal glands play a crucial role in keeping your physiological rhythms in harmony.

Your biological clock, or internal timekeeping system, allows your body to prepare for environmental changes, triggering you to behave appropriately at certain times of the night or day. Additionally, it guarantees that your physiological processes take place in coordination with all the others. It directly influences your rest-activity cycle, the variation in your metabolism, the secretion of your hormones, and your body temperature.

An adrenal hormone, known as glucocorticoid, or GC, is a steroid hormone that plays a role in your responses to stress. When you are dealing with excessive cortisol levels, and excessive stress hormones, your glucocorticoid becomes dysregulated. This can cause disruptions in lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, mood, cognitive function, cardiovascular health, and the immune system. The circulation of GC plays a critical role in your physical and mental health, and when it?s dysregulated, serious health conditions can result.

Adrenal Fatigue and Cortisol Rhythm

Your adrenal glands produce steroid hormones and influence your body?s stress response, metabolism, reproductive health, and mineral balance. The more stress you are facing, the more stress-combating hormones your adrenal glands are pumping. Your circadian genes tend to turn systems on during the day, and when there is lack of light, they automatically turn things off and slow you down. Developing AFS could cause you to experience sleep onset insomnia, or sleep maintenance insomnia, which could dysregulate your hormones and alter your biological clock.

Your circadian network and your adrenals work in synchrony with other physiological rhythms in your body. Thus, excessive and continuous stress not only affects your adrenal glands but your bodily systems as a whole.

However, it may be difficult for your health care professional to recognize you have developed AFS just from looking at your cortisol levels any time in the day, as they will fall in the normal range. However, looking at the entire cortisol rhythm clearly can demonstrate how abnormal your cortisol rhythm may be.

If you have early-stage AFS, your cortisol levels will not diminish immediately when you wake up. Instead, they will spike significantly, as your body races to catch up during the day. Your cortisol levels may be above the normal range halfway through the day. If you have AFS, once the afternoon hits, cortisol levels slowly decrease, and they ordinarily fall in the normal range. Once the evening arrives, your cortisol levels rise once more; for a person without AFS, this is usually the time when cortisol levels decrease, usually to the lowest point during the entire cycle.

Adrenal fatigue and circadian genesIt is crucial that if your cycle is out of line, you speak to your healthcare professional to change dietary habits, sleeping habits, and determine a path to recovery. Supplements such as B vitamins, methylfolate, and acetylcholine could all aid in restoring balance in your system. However, always speak to your healthcare professional prior to starting any new supplement or making drastic dietary or exercise changes to ensure safety.

Detrimental Consequences of Excessive Stress

Being stressed out day in and day out eventually begins to affect your health in numerous ways. Naturally, your body responds to stress as though your survival is at stake; consequently, your adrenal glands pump more and more hormones to prepare the body to fight or flee, ignoring and dysregulating important bodily systems.

Temporary stress is normal to experience, but when it becomes chronic, it leads to serious health consequences. Prolonged stress denigrates the function of your adrenal glands as they pump more hormones than your body can support. Your blood cortisol levels continue to spike, dysregulating your circadian genes further and leading to AFS.

Habits and Food to Diminish Stress Levels

Constant stress is so detrimental to your health that it is important to reduce it. When your body is continuously in ?fight-or-flight? mode, it shuts down your digestive system, making it hard for you to digest food and absorb the vitamins and nutrients from the foods or drinks you consume. Stress increases your risk of developing heart conditions, digestive disorders, headaches, obesity, sleep onset insomnia, and inflammation as well.

When you are in constant stress-mode, your body remains in fight-or-flight mode, leading to a chronic level of stress hormones circulating in your bloodstream. Your adrenal glands continue to work overtime. This leads to a disruption of your NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, the systems that help manage stress in your body. This leads to the development of AFS. It?s crucial that take steps to relax and turn off your fight-or-flight response so your body can regenerate.

These habits and tips can help your physical and cognitive health improve as your stress levels decrease. If you are in an advanced stage of adrenal fatigue, however, be sure to speak to your healthcare professional about the best exercise program for you, as vigorous physical activity could backfire for those with AFS.

    • Drizzle extra virgin olive oil onto your salads.
    • Reach for organic raw nuts (soak them overnight) as a snack instead of a sugar-loaded granola bar.
    • Eat every 2-3 hours to keep your blood sugar balanced.
    • Reduce if not eliminate drinking coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages.
    • Drink plenty of water to replenish your cells.

The balance of circadian genes

  • Get a good night sleep.
  • Drink herbal teas such as peppermint, chamomile, sage, or lavender to reduce stress.
  • Take a magnesium supplement.
  • Consume plenty of omega-3 fatty acids (from salmon, sardines, walnuts, chia seeds, or flaxseeds).
  • Avoid added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners in your diet.
  • Use essential oils such as lavender or peppermint.
  • Reduce your use of technological devices before sleeping.
  • Spend a lot of time in nature; take a calm walk, sit by the shore, or find a quiet neighborhood park.
  • Eliminate alcoholic beverages from your diet.
  • Get exercise; whether it?s breathing exercises, stretches, or yoga.
  • Try using Epsom salt baths for relaxation and alone time.
  • Cut out deep-fried food, hydrogenated fats, and other processed foods.
  • Aim to have a routine time for sleeping and awakening each day.

Your circadian genes play an important role in regulating when your body releases hormones, and that can have an impact on whether you develop adrenal fatigue. Constant stress can interact with your circadian genes and worsen your ability to regulate your hormones. Thus, it is important to take what steps you can to relax at the end of the day and reduce stress to keep your circadian genes rhythm in balance.

? Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Indisputably, dealing with excessive stress negatively affects your health, including your circadian genes. High levels of cortisol dysregulate your circadian rhythms and impact the health of your immune system, metabolism, mood, cardiovascular system, and brain.


Circadian genes