You may be suffering from adrenal fatigue if you…
Find it difficult to get going in the morning without that cup of coffee.
Are constantly feeling tired, moody or depressed.
Get a “second wind” around 10 or 11pm and stay up to 1am or later before going to sleep, or wake up between 2 and 4 am unable to go back to sleep.
These are just a few of the common symptoms of condition known as Adrenal Fatigue (more listed below). Adrenal fatigue is caused by prolonged physical, emotional or mental stress. As a society we are over-worked and over-stressed, and over time this impairs the adrenal gland’s ability to function properly.
It’s estimated that over 80 percent of adults experience some form of adrenal fatigue at some point during their lifetime.
WHAT ARE THE ADRENAL GLANDS ?
The adrenal glands lie atop the kidneys and produce several different types of hormones that help regulate metabolism and many functions of the body. The adrenals help control the flight or flight stress response, regulate the body’s fluid balance, maintain metabolic processes, maintain pregnancies, initiate and control sexual maturation during childhood and puberty, and produce sex steroid hormones.
The most common adrenal hormones:
• Cortisol is involved in a huge array of physiological functions including blood pressure regulation, immune system functioning and blood glucose regulation.
• Aldosterone Acts to maintain blood pressure by causing salt and water retention.
• Estrogen and Androgens, the family of “male” sex steroids that includes DHEA and testosterone are also produced in the adrenal glands and are a source of testosterone for both men and women. Testosterone is important for libido, muscle and bone health, mood, and cardiovascular function.
• Epinephrine and norepinephrine – the “stress hormones” — are involved in many physiological systems including blood pressure regulation, gastrointestinal movement and keeping the airways of the lungs open and performing optimally.
HOW DOES ADRENAL FATIGUE DEVELOP ?
The adrenal glands are designed to help us adapt and respond to changes in the environment. They secrete hormones in response to stress that help us meet a fast approaching work deadline, battle a virus, or get clear of a tiger in the bush. Sure, most of us don’t have to outrun tigers, but we have our own inner and outer threats. These can be actual or perceived threats. Doesn’t matter. The body goes into gear and calls on the adrenal glands to respond with a flood of hormones.
Common stressors include:
• Insufficient sleep
• Repeated infections
• Chronic illnesses (e.g. Lyme disease)
• Excessive work and pressure
• Career, Financial or Relationship Stress
• Poor diet
• Nutrient deficiencies
If these stresses happen too frequently, or constantly as a result of our present lifestyles, the gland eventually runs out of Oomph! What you end up with is an inability of the adrenals to meet the demands of the body. This can cause alterations in your energy levels, mood, appetite, libido, bone and muscle health, memory, ability to learn, and immune response.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ADRENAL FATIGUE ?
Since the adrenal glands affect many systems of the body, you can have symptoms in virtually every area. However here are some common ones:
• Tiredness in the morning, even after a good night’s sleep.
• Afternoon periods of low energy, tiredness and foggy thinking, usually from 2 to 4pm.
• A “second wind” or burst of energy at 10 or 11 p.m. that lasts until about 1 a.m., when you finally do go to sleep.
• Cravings for sugar, and foods high in salt and fats
• Sensitivity to cold and feeling chilled
• Chronic low blood pressure
• Lightheadedness or dizziness when getting up suddenly
• Increased PMS or menopausal symptoms
• A decreased ability to handle stress
• A decreased ability to recover from illness
• Mild depression
• Mood swings
• Mental fogginess
• Memory problems
• Frequent sighing
• Lack of energy and feeling rundown
• Muscular weakness
• Increased food and environmental allergies
• Lightheadedness when getting up from a sitting or lying down position
• Decreased libido and sex drive
Adrenal fatigue is also associated with a number of medical conditions. The following conditions can give rise to adrenal fatigue or be a result of adrenal gland dysfunction.
• Alcoholism and Addictions
• Autoimmune Disease
• Metabolic Syndrome X
• Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
• Chronic Infections
• Dental Problems
• Blood Sugar Imbalances
• Hepatitis C
• Mild Depression
• PMS and Menopause
• Rheumatoid Arthritis
• Sleep Disruptions
SO HOW IS ADRENAL FATIGUE DIAGNOSED ?
Unfortunately most conventional doctors do not diagnose or even consider adrenal fatigue. They only aware of the more serious forms or “end stages” of adrenal dysfunction such as Cushing’s Disease (too much cortisol) and Addison’s Disease (too little cortisol). Fortunately there are naturopathic physician, functional medicine doctors and certain chiropractors that can assess the adrenal glands before it’s too late.
At our office we use a wide variety of methods to diagnose adrenal fatigue and dysfunction. A good history, symptom survey and clinical exam, including orthostatic blood pressures and pupillary reflex are always taken and performed.
Then we typically order a salivary cortisol profile with DHEA. This test gives us an overview of your cortisol levels throughout the day and evening. Based on these findings we can then create a custom program to address your particular stage of adrenal dysfunction that can range from the alarm or “fight or flight” stage to complete adrenal failure. This is important because treatment strategies vary depending on where one is on the path to adrenal exhaustion.
WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR ADRENAL GLANDS
There are many ways to support these glands, and the body in general. Most are common sense.
The most important thing you can do is get adequate sleep. I recommend getting in bed by 10pm and getting a good 8 hours of sleep. Sleep in a dark room, and use a mask if necessary.
Consuming caffeine is like driving your car without recharging your battery. Eventually it won’t start. If you’re tired without the caffeine, then you need rest. If that doesn’t help restore your energy, then you should have your adrenal glands assessed.
Eat regularly. Eat low glycemic foods, and make sure you include protein with every meal. Our goal is to maintain stable blood sugar. When blood sugar dips, it causes stress on the adrenal glands.
Nutrients, Herbs and Nutraceuticals
There are several nutrients that support the adrenal glands. B-Vitamins including pantothenic acid and riboflavin, Vitamin C, bioflavonoids and foods containing them are useful. Zucchini is one of the best foods for helping restore and support adrenal function.
There are also a number of herbs and botanicals that help increase the body’s resistance to stress, trauma, anxiety and fatigue. They all fall into the category of what we call ADAPTOGENS and include herbs like Siberian Ginseng, Rehmannia, Panax Ginseng and Ashwagandha.
For more severe cases of adrenal fatigue your practitioner may recommend cortisol replacement or glandular extracts. These should only be used under the supervision of an experienced naturopathic physician or functional medicine doctor.
This is probably the single most important thing you can do to prevent and treat adrenal fatigue. Walking, Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, The Sedona Method, Release Technique, EFT, Quantum Entrainment, Self-Enquiry, Prayer, Relaxation tapes. Simplify your life. Eliminate or say “NO” to everything that does not support you and your health. You get the idea…Choose the practices that work for you. Your life will improve in every way. This is a must.
WHEN CAN YOU EXPECT TO FEEL BETTER ?
Once you’ve been evaluated and have embarked on a plan to release stress, support and rebuild your adrenal glands you can expect to feel improvement in four to six months, and even faster with cortisol replacement therapy. However, it still takes many months for the body to recover and build reserves.
WHAT TO DO NOW
No matter your current stage of health, you’ll always want to preserve your adrenal capacity and function. In order to do this you’ll need to practice stress release, exercise, eat well, take the proper nutrients and adaptogenic herbs, and get adequate rest. Nothing replaces these health habits. So start with these.
For those with the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, please get properly evaluated and treated. Proper evaluation and targeted treatment will help you restore your energy, health, vitality and zest for life.