Have you ever felt like you just didn’t want to get out of bed—even after getting a solid eight hours of sleep? Or maybe you can’t get through your day without a pot of coffee. Perhaps it often feels like your adrenaline level is low and you frequently describe yourself as “burned out.” If so, it sounds like a case of adrenal fatigue.
For many doctors, adrenal fatigue is often a misunderstood condition. Many conventional doctors don’t recognize adrenal fatigue syndrome. Just ask my friend Dave. A few years ago he felt run down and stressed. Every day was a constant struggle for him to get out of bed. He visited more than 10 doctors, but they all told him he was healthy.
The doctors tested Dave for adrenal insufficiency, also known as Addison’s disease—a condition where one’s body produces insufficient amounts of hormones produced by the adrenal glands, which can result in chronic fatigue and muscle weakness. Dave was given a blood test and measured for antibodies, cortisol, ACTH, potassium, and sodium levels. The problem is Addison’s disease is extremely rare, and it affects about four in 100,000 people. Dave’s doctors also tested him for Cushing’s syndrome—a condition characterized by high levels of cortisol. Diagnostic methods include tests that measure cortisol levels like a 24-hour urinary free cortisol test.
The issue is most medical doctors aren’t taught how to measure adrenal fatigue with a test. When Dave came to see me, I gave him a copy of a book from Dr. James Wilson called Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. According to Dr. Wilson, adrenal fatigue affects an estimated 80% of adult Americans at some point during their lifetime. Adrenal fatigue syndrome has been called many names, including adrenal apathy, sub-clinical hypoadrenia, and non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, and adrenal neurasthenia.
Causes and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
The adrenal glands are two thumb-shaped organs. They are part of the endocrine system, and they sit directly above your kidneys. Your adrenal glands or “fight or flight” glands are necessary for balancing hormones, including adrenaline, aldosterone, cortisol, and sex hormones, like testosterone and estrogen. Adrenal fatigue is caused when the adrenal glands cannot continue to sustain the daily mental, physical, or emotional stress.
There are many stressors that can set off adrenal fatigue, including death of a loved one, surgery, divorce or marital stress, pollution or environmental toxin exposure, lack of sleep, allergies, poor eating habits, lack of exercise or excessive exercise, fear, smoking, caffeine or coffee consumption, malabsorption or leaky gut syndrome, and negative beliefs. When left untreated, adrenal fatigue can lead to type 2 diabetes, hypoglycemia, asthma, other respiratory infections, alcoholism, frequent colds, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and autoimmune disorders.
How do you know if adrenal fatigue syndrome is an issue? It is likely that you experience certain symptoms on a regular basis. Some of these include:
- Morning fatigue or difficulty getting up in the morning
- Cravings for salty or sugary foods
- Decreased productivity
- Hormone imbalance
- Feel the most energetic and alert after 6 p.m. and after eating dinner
- Lack of energy and body aches
- Lack of libido
- Perfectionism and constantly driving yourself
- Joint pain, muscle tension, or bone loss
- Extreme tiredness, especially after exercise
- Lower back pain
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Dry skin
- Low blood sugar and low blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Mild depression, feeling overwhelmed, and lack of enjoyment and happiness
- Unfocussed or racing thoughts
- Inaccurate memory and lack of concentration
- Increased PMS
- It also seems to take forever to recover from illnesses or injury
How to Test for Adrenal Fatigue?
A saliva test is considered the most accurate laboratory test for adrenal fatigue, and it can help measure hormone imbalances such as dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and cortisol. Cortisol is measured in the morning around 8 a.m., noon, 4 p.m., and again around 11 p.m. and midnight. Other hormones like DHEA, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone can be measured at 8 a.m.
A pupil dilation exam is sometimes used to diagnose adrenal fatigue syndrome. It requires you to look into the mirror and shine a flashlight in one of your eye’s pupils. The pupil should contract immediately; however, if it stays the same after 30 seconds or if it dilates, then adrenal fatigue is likely the issue.
It is also possible to test for adrenal fatigue by pressing on adrenal glands above your kidneys, and feeling for pain. A blood pressure test can help indicate adrenal fatigue. You would have your blood pressure taken, stand up, and then take your blood pressure again. It is normal for your systolic blood pressure to have raised eight to 10 millimeters (mm); however, if there is a drop in blood pressure, it is an indication of adrenal fatigue.
Simple Ways to Heal Adrenal Fatigue
How do you recover from adrenal dysfunction? There is no magic pill or quick fix for adrenal fatigue. The good news is there are several natural ways to treat adrenal fatigue, including a combination of dietary changes, nutritional supplements, and other necessary lifestyle changes:
1. Follow the Adrenal Fatigue Diet
An adrenal fatigue diet can help support a speedy recovery. It is very important to eat your first meal before 10 a.m.(preferably between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.). It is a good idea to eat frequent small meals throughout the day. The best adrenal fatigue diet approach will include 30 to 40% whole grains, 30 to 40% vegetables (half should be raw), 10 to 20% animal foods, five to 10% fruits, and 10 to 15% nuts, seeds, and beans.
The best adrenal diet foods include avocado, coconut, olives, chicken and turkey, wild salmon, cruciferous vegetables, nuts (like almonds and walnuts), and seeds, like flaxseed, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
Foods to avoid as part of the adrenal diet include sugar, artificial sweeteners, microwaved and processed foods, and hydrogenated oils like canola, soybean, and corn oil. Instead, it is a good idea to use good fats like ghee, coconut oil, or olive oil. It is also best to avoid caffeine, since it can interfere with a person’s sleep cycle.
2. Get the Right Vitamins and Minerals
There are several important vitamins and minerals that help replenish the adrenal glands. B complex vitamins are very important for the adrenal glands. In particular, vitamin B5 and B6 are contributors in adrenal function. Magnesium is also a specific mineral that helps decrease stress and improve adrenal function.
When used for at least three months, mixed tocopherols, such as vitamin E, can also improve the adrenal glands. Other important nutrients that are important for adrenal health include vitamin C, vitamin D3, calcium, selenium, and zinc.
3. Supplement with Adaptogens
Adaptogens are herbal remedies used heavily for people with adrenal fatigue. Adaptogens are herbs that help the body adapt to physical and mental stress. One of the most powerful adaptogens is considered ashwagandha, and it can be found in most formulas for adrenal fatigue.
In a 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, researchers suggested that two capsules of 300 mg of high-concentration full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract could safely and effectively improve the resistance toward stress in 64 people with a history of chronic stress during a period of 60 days.Other adaptogens beneficial for adrenal fatigue include ginger root, Siberian ginseng root, Panax ginseng, licorice, rehmannia, and ginkgo biloba.
4. Get Adequate Sleep and Reduce Stress
The adrenal glands cannot rest without proper sleep. It is best to go to bed before 10:30 p.m., and sleep until 9 a.m., especially on weekends. Although some schedules won’t allow for it, sleeping between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. is a good idea for those with adrenal fatigue. It is also a good idea to remove electronic devices from your bedroom. Devices such as computers and cell phones will emit electromagnetic field (EMF) frequencies that can interfere with your sleep patterns and adrenal function.
People staring at a TV or computer screen late at night may also have a difficult time falling asleep. As a result, melatonin will not rise to induce sleep. It is best to place an 8 p.m. limit on visual stimuli, like computers or TV screens. Exercise is also a beneficial way to reduce stress. Yoga, tai chi, qigong, deep breathing exercises, and meditation can all help lower stress levels and benefit the adrenals. Walking in a forest without EMF exposure can also help reduce stress and detoxify the body.
5. Discover Food Sensitivities or Allergies
Food allergies and sensitivities also play an important role in the development of adrenal fatigue. Most allergies produce inflammation and will release histamine. Cortisol is considered an anti-inflammatory. Most allergies will release histamine, and the more histamine that is released your adrenal glands have to work harder to produce cortisol. The more fatigued the adrenals become, the less cortisol they will produce, and the histamine will further inflame the tissues.
It is a good idea to eliminate allergic or sensitive foods to help reduce the effect on your adrenal glands. The most common allergens or sensitivities include wheat, gluten, dairy, corn, and soy. Effective food allergy or sensitivity tests include the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) blood test, meridian stress assessment, bio-meridian testing, bio-analysis and bio-energetic feedback testing, and a food elimination diet.
6. Seek Emotional Counseling
Some people with adrenal fatigue may require psychotherapy or counseling to help with traumatic experiences, fear, negativity, and emotional stress related with the adrenal glands. A body-centered psychotherapist may help heal emotional blocks related to adrenal fatigue. Counseling and life coaching will also help change your perception regarding negative or traumatic events that can exhaust the adrenals. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) exercises can alter perception and shift feelings that affect the adrenal glands. People will use NLP to help change the way they relate to a situation or person that may be causing them stress.
Finally, try to eat while sitting down and while calm. Taking a deep breath before you eat will help you relax. Chew your food up to 30 times to help with digestion. It is also a good idea to never skip breakfast.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Wilson, J., Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome (Petaluma: Smart Publications, 2001), 3-44, 175-207, 110-112, 225-226.
Chandrasekhar, K., et al., “A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults,” Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 2012; 34(3): 255-262.
“Treating Chronic Fatigue and Adrenal Fatigue Naturally,” Food Matters web site, June 22, 2011; http://foodmatters.tv/articles-1/treating-chronic-fatigue-and-adrenal-fatigue-naturally.
Lam, M., et al., “Adrenal Fatigue Diet,” Dr. Lam web site; http://www.drlam.com/protocol/diet/andrenal_fatique_diet.asp, last accessed August 18, 2015.
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“Cushing’s Syndrome (cont.),” MedicineNet.com; http://www.medicinenet.com/cushings_syndrome/page3.htm, last accessed August 18, 2014.
“Diseases and Conditions: Addison’s disease,” Mayo Clinic web site; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/addisons-disease/basics/tests-diagnosis/con-20021340, last accessed August 18, 2015.