Are you tired of feeling tired?
Adrenal fatigue is often diagnosed in the natural health community based on a specific pattern of symptoms, but often ignored by many doctors and the mainstream medical community. Like thyroid disease, the symptoms are very real to those who have it, but difficult for others to see, so many of those suffering from adrenal fatigue are told that they are just depressed, tired, or making it up.
Having experienced adrenal fatigue myself, and taking measures to fix it, I can relate to majority of the symptoms.
The adrenal glands are walnut-sized organs that sit on top of the kidneys. Though small, the adrenals are responsible for many important functions in the body. They are vital to cortisol regulation, metabolism, keeping inflammation at bay, and energy levels.
The adrenals secrete stress hormones in fight-or-flight situations when the body needs these increased hormones to survive, but our modern lifestyle can cause the adrenals to over-secrete these hormones and eventually become “fatigued” or “exhausted” from this constant over-firing.
In short, adrenal fatigue is when the adrenal glands do not make the correct amount or type of adrenal hormones at the correct time of day.
Stage by stage of Adrenal Fatigue.
1 Stage 1- Wired and Tired: Cortisol levels should be naturally elevated in the morning. The first stage of adrenal fatigue is often characterized by elevated cortisol at night (when it should be low), leading to a “wired” feeling at night and difficulty sleeping. People in this stage may also regularly feel “on edge”.
2 Stage 2- Stressed and Tired: The second stage shows more severe cortisol disruption. You may have higher cortisol in the morning but it tends to fall quickly after lunch, leading to afternoon fog and tiredness. You may get a second wind at night, but often wake in the middle of the night unable to get back to sleep.
3 Stage 3- Full Burnout: This stage resembles how a person feels in early pregnancy or with a new baby at home – exhausted all the time! This tends to be the case no matter how you’ve slept. Cortisol patterns in stage 3 are completely disrupted or totally flat and this is especially risky because of the associated higher risk of thyroid disease and autoimmune disease, as well as gut problems.
What are the Common Symptoms?
Adrenal fatigue is often diagnosed based on symptoms. It can also be diagnosed using a salivary cortisol test that measures cortisol at different times of the day to check patterns.
Symptoms commonly associated with the various stages of adrenal fatigue are:
- The need for stimulants like caffeine to get going.
- Tiredness when waking, regardless of sleep.
- Difficulty falling asleep or waking up
- Feeling stressed more often and with reduced ability to handle it.
- Always feeling like there is too much to do
(Associated with an incurable condition known as “motherhood”)
- Decreased sex drive
- Blood sugar or digestive problems
- Reduced concentration and memory
- Dizziness when standing up too quickly
- Thyroid problems or low thyroid hormone production
- Food cravings, especially for salt and sugar
- Decreased immune function (getting sick more often)
- Body aches
What Leads to Adrenal Fatigue?
Short answer… a modern lifestyle.
Long answer… lots of things but our modern lifestyle just happens to include many of them. Emotional stress or associated trauma can lead to adrenal fatigue, especially if it continues over a time. Other less well-known factors include:
- Artificial light exposure at night (iPads and phones are a big culprit)
- Overuse of caffeine and stimulants
- Poor sleep patterns
- Poor diet that contains a lot of processed food
- Environmental pollution exposure (in air, water, home environment, etc)
- Extended low-level stress from work or family problems
The Fix Is Not So Quick
Adrenal fatigue is typically caused by years of adrenal-depleting factors, so it’s not the kind of condition you can take just take a pill for and see it go away. It often takes at least six months (sometimes years) to reverse, and it must be done by nurturing the body rather than fighting it.
The good news is that, even if you aren’t sure that you have adrenal fatigue, the things that help the body recover are generally just good common sense and good for you anyway, so they’re definitely worth a try.
Adrenal Support Diet
A diet rich in processed grains, sugars and vegetable oils can stress the adrenals, but a nutrient-rich diet can go a long way toward supporting adrenal health.
In particular, these foods are considered especially supportive to the adrenals:
- Healthy fatslike coconut oil, butter, olives, fatty fish and grass-fed meats.
- Natural Salt(and lots of it)- people with adrenal fatigue need the extra salt to help the adrenals recover and natural salts also contain beneficial trace minerals. Since adrenal fatigue reduces the hormone aldosterone, which is responsible for salt regulation in the body, many people feel better when consuming adequate levels of real salt.
- Protein in the morning – start the day with 40 grams of protein to support the adrenals throughout the day.
- Green and Brightly Coloured Veggies– Eating lots of green and brightly coloured vegetables will provide much needed nutrients.
- Eating Regular Meals– Eat small meals throughout the day and don’t fast as this can further stress the adrenals.
- Vitamin C Rich Foods– Vitamin C is vital for adrenal health and many of us do not get enough.
Lifestyle for Adrenal Health
In cases of adrenal problems, lifestyle can be just as important as diet. In fact, it can sometimes be more important.
These steps are typically recommended:
- Getting enough sleep each night and being in bed by 10pm each night – Staying up past 10:30 PM will typically cause the adrenals to give you a “second wind” and make it more difficult to sleep. You should aim for at least 8-10 hours of sleep and nap when tired if possible.
- Address The Stress– Find a way to reduce the factors that are leading to emotional or mental stress.
- Counselling– If stress is caused by past emotional trauma, counselling can be helpful.
- Hydrate Carefully– You may be mildly dehydrated. It may be helpful to add a pinch of salt to water before drinking it to help replenish the body.
- Moderate Your Exercise – This sounds counter-intuitive, but those with adrenal struggles should stick to milder forms of exercise like walking or swimming. High-intensity exercise during the first month or two of recovery should be avoided. If you’ve ever had trouble losing weight, even when exercising regularly, this might be a problem for you. Try resting for a month or two to see if it helps.
What Supplements Can Help?
It goes without saying that you should first talk to your doctor or healthcare professional before taking any supplements, especially if you have a health condition or are pregnant but these supplement have been found to have benefits for those suffering with adrenal fatigue.
Vitamin C– As previously mentioned, Vitamin C is important to aid the function of the adrenals. Take up to 5,000 mg of natural vitamin c each day during recovery.
B- Vitamins – B-vitamins especially B5, B6, B12 and folate.
Vitamin D– Also important for adrenal health.
Zinc– The adrenals depend on adequate levels of zinc in the body and many of us are deficient. Try and find foods that contain zinc such as oysters or look for a natural zinc supplement.
Ashwagandha– I know! It’s a herb known to help balance the adrenals but it isn’t recommended during pregnancy or nursing, so check with a doctor first.
Magnesium– Experts estimate that 95% or more of us are magnesium deficient. The body needs extra magnesium at times of stress and especially during adrenal fatigue.
Probiotics– Because of the gut and digestive connection, sufferers also benefit from taking a natural soil-based probiotic.
If you think you might be suffering from a fatigued adrenal system, give these suggestions a try. As I’ve said they’re good daily health practices and, so long as you’re not pregnant or nursing and have checked with your doctor, they can certainly do no harm and may be just the help you need to get back on track.