Fatigue is a symptom of a myriad of illnesses, but if you’re plagued by near constant exhaustion and often feel “stressed out,” you might consider taking a look at your adrenal gland function.
What are the adrenal glands?
The adrenal glands are walnut-shaped organs that sit on top of the kidneys and are responsible for releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in response to a fight-or-flight stressful event. This biological process is designed to respond to short-lived stress caused by immediate threats (i.e. being chased by a dog, avoiding a car wreck).
What is adrenal fatigue?
First coined by Dr. James Wilson in 1998, adrenal fatigue occurs when our adrenal glands are taxed. They were designed to handle the occasional fight-or-flight scenarios, but when our bodies are under constant stress from life events such as an illness, a demanding job, or an unhappy marriage, our adrenals get out of whack and fatigued. Modern society calls for us to be on-the-go and constantly plugged in, and our adrenals are paying the price.
- Being tired during day, but having more energy after 6pm (this is due to a disrupted cortisol cycle).
- Exhausted at night, but have trouble falling asleep
- The need for stimulants like caffeine or sugar to get going
- Tired upon waking, no matter how much sleep you got
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Memory issues and trouble concentrating
- Sugar and salt cravings
- Low libido
- Depression and irritability
- Weakened immune system
Aside from stress, other facets of our modern day lifestyle drain the adrenals: environmental toxins and the overuse of refined sugar, vegetable oils and processed grains in our food system.
Adrenal fatigue occurs over a long period of time, as the adrenals gradually weaken. In fact, your adrenal glands can function at a sub-optimal rate for years.
How it is diagnosed?
If you suspect adrenal insufficiency, seek treatment from a healthcare provider trained in functional medicine, a naturopath or a nutritional therapy specialist. Salivary tests measure the physiologically active form of the hormone cortisol. Salivary testing is also non-invasive and less expensive than traditional blood testing. Especially helpful is looking at your cortisol levels upon waking. If you have adrenal fatigue, your cortisol will be low. Your body is still asleep!
Reversing adrenal fatigue usually takes months, if not years, but it is possible! There is no quick fix, but diet and lifestyle modifications can help strengthen your adrenals and get you on the right path.
- Adaptogenic herbs – plant compounds that have a normalizing effect on the body while it is under stress. Examples include Rhodiola, ashwagandha and licorice root
- Protomorphogens, cytosols or glandulars that help support healing
- Magnesium – most of us are probably magnesium deficient due to stress and depleted soil levels. When we’re stressed, our body uses more of this mineral, so those with adrenal fatigue can really benefit from supplementation.
- Probiotics – good for the immune system. Adrenal fatigue sufferers need that extra boost.
- People with adrenal fatigue often benefit from a multi-vitamin and B-complex as well.
- Light exercise – it seems counterintuitive, but vigorous exercise is not recommended when trying to heal your adrenals. In fact, it can contribute to adrenal fatigue since rigorous exercise taxes the body. Instead, focus on activities like walking, yoga, Tai Chi and light swimming to keep your body moving in a gentle way during recovery.
- Reduce and learn to handle stress – work prayer and/or meditation into your daily routine. If constant stress is due to prior emotional trauma, consider counseling.
- Get enough sleep – If you have adrenal fatigue, you may need more than the recommended 7+ hours of sleep per night, at least while you’re recovering. Shoot for 8-10 hours and try to be in bed before 10pm.
- Detoxification techniques – try dry brushing and castor oil packs, both of which support the lymphatic system and help fight inflammation. You might also consider using an infrared sauna which induces a detoxifying sweat at the cellular level. Not to mention, it’s very relaxing.
- Less technology – try to limit your time on screens because of the stress the electromagnetic fields (EMF) can have on your body.
- And then, of course, there are nutritional protocols that will aid in your recovery:
- Mind the blood sugar – it’s important to keep your blood sugar levels steady, since fluctuating levels causes the body to secrete cortisol. Eat several smaller meals and snacks throughout the day and consume enough high quality carbs.
- Focus on breakfast – that first meal is especially important since your body wakes needing fuel. I recommend at least 30 grams of protein first thing in the morning to help energy levels throughout the day.
- Avoid processed foods and refined sugar. Sugar taxes your adrenals because excess sugars have to be controlled by cortisol. Focus on whole, non-processed foods.
- Cut out caffeine – it’s a stimulant, so it taxes the adrenal glands
- Avoiding stress altogether is not realistic, but managing it and nourishing your adrenals through diet is a good way to support those hard working organs!
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