7 ways to overcome Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal Fatigue is an endocrine disorder that effects millions of people worldwide and without guidance it can be difficult to overcome. It is a condition that slowly creeps up on us as the additional stresses accumulate and take their toll. I’m not just talking about the stress most of us generally think of such as work or family pressures, these obviously play a key part too, but there are many other stressors that contribute to our overall stress picture that are often overlooked.
Poor eating habits, processed white flour and sugar products, smoking, excess alcohol and coffee, lack of nutritious food, wound healing, emotional upsets, allergies, underlying viral infections, environmental toxins, financial pressures, lack of relaxation, fear and anxiety, negative beliefs and doing the daily grind in a job we hate are all things that add to our stress load and put pressure on the adrenal glands.
Adrenal fatigue can hit at any time and can slowly creep up on us, other times it comes upon us after a major traumatic event such as a loss of a loved one, car accident, major relationship breakup, redundancy etc. Another common cause that is often missed is the presence of a chronic infection or virus.
Many people live with chronic infections and viruses every day and have no idea that these are a common cause of seemingly unrelated illness such as adrenal fatigue and thyroid conditions. I talk more about this is another blog Root causes of Thyroid Disease. Respiratory and sinus infections are common in people suffering from adrenal fatigue as are other more stealth type infections such as Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), Lyme disease, parasites and yeast.
4 Stages of Adrenal Fatigue
There are four main stages of adrenal fatigue, many of us are already in stage one or two and may not even know it and just put up with the general fatigue as an aging or overworked consequence. Did you feel this tired 5 years ago even though you did a lot more and went out a lot more?
Stage 1 –Fight of flight
The first stage of adrenal fatigue is where stressors begin to build up and your body is alarmed by bombardment of stress, your body starts to react strongly by producing anti-stress hormones such as cortisol. At this stage, any fatigue is mild and the body can cope pretty well with this in the shorter term.
No major changes are noticeable except some minor increased tiredness in the morning or mid-afternoon, normal function would occur. Often in this stage people are reaching for stimulants such as coffee for a “pick me up” or “kick start” to help get through the day. Blood sugars may start to deregulate in this stage also.
Stage 2 – Body Resistance
After prolonged or chronic stress, the adrenal glands begin to suffer from all the overstimulation and can’t keep up with the excessive cortisol production. As the tiredness increases, other symptoms begin to be noticeable such as insomnia, anxiety, excessive morning tiredness, irritability etc. Recurrent infections, PMS and hypothyroidism related symptoms can also appear such as weight gain, cold hands and feet, low mood, reduced libido etc.
Often during this stage is when people will visit their doctor for the first time usually to receive no convincing answer from blood tests results or are prescribed anti-depressants to improve their mood. People rely further on stimulants like coffee to help get through the day the best they can. Addressing the root cause of your adrenal gland and / or thyroid issue is key here to prevent further progressing of the dysfunction and reverse the cascade of events.
Stage 3 – Adrenal exhaustion
Stage three shows that the body’s main aim is to slow down and conserve energy. The adrenal glands cannot keep up for the demand for cortisol and chronic disease begins to manifest. Hormone precursors are robbed by the body through a process known as pregnenolone steal to further keep up with the supply for cortisol, wreaking havoc on your body.
A whole range of symptoms further develop with widely fluctuating blood sugar, anxiety, cravings, brain fog, reduced sex drive, energy crashes and now the inability to be able to successfully cope with the daily demands and stressors of life. Additional naps throughout the day or exhaustion at the end of the day is common in this stage. Isolating from friends and family and leisure activities because you don’t have the energy, motivation or the right mood to do this is also typical. A marked progression of symptoms from stage two that has slowly started to interfere and disrupt your life.
Stage 4 – Adrenal Failure
This is the extreme end of adrenal fatigue when the adrenal glands are wiped out and cannot cope with the cortisol demands of the body. This stage is similar to Addison’s disease, a dangerous auto immune condition that attacks the adrenal glands causing very low insufficient cortisol output, the body can fall into an adrenal crisis in this stage that is life threatening.
Symptoms of an adrenal crisis include pain in lower back, abdomen or legs, severe vomiting and diarrhoea, very low blood pressure, a loss of consciousness and electrolyte imbalance. If these symptoms have a sudden onset, particularly after a stressful or traumatic event, seek emergency help.
Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
• Difficulty getting up in the morning
• Salt cravings
• General lethargy
• Increased effort / struggle to complete the daily chores / work day
• Difficulty losing weight
• Lowered sex drive
• Inability to handle stress
• Continuing fatigue not relieved by sleep
• Chronic bronchitis or other chronic infection or virus
• Dizziness from standing up quickly
• Brain fog
• Less joy from daily interactions
• Mild depression
• Increased irritability and a low tolerance with others
A questionnaire to help assess is you may be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue can be found here. Another way to help confirm adrenal fatigue is to have a saliva hormone test. This is particularly helpful with an inconclusive symptom sheet assessment or intermittent symptoms of fatigue. A salivary cortisol test will measure cortisol levels at different times throughout the day including in times of fatigue to assess the impact the cortisol level is contributing to the symptoms, therefore either confirming or otherwise the presence of an adrenal component relating to the presenting symptoms.
Tips to overcome Adrenal Fatigue
So, I’m suffering from some of the symptoms listed above and suspect Adrenal Fatigue, what should I do?
Working with a qualified practitioner that has a solid understanding of this condition is always advisable as this is a long term chronic condition that will require guidance over a period of time.
Below are some tips and protocols we recommend to clients that you can start with straight away before seeing a practitioner that will help tremendously.
1. Lifestyle modification – understanding what is currently in your life is crucial here and ascertaining whether each aspect is either good or bad for you. Creating a list to work out what you should do more of and things you should look to avoid and try to discontinue is a great start.
Things to look at include toxic friendships/relationships, changing or removing stressful situations or the way you are accustomed to reacting to them, increasing quiet time, mediation, reorganising your schedule, asking a friend or partner for help in some way to assist you to achieve more balance. This could be as simple as having the kids watched for an hour or two while you go to a yoga class.
2. Breathing techniques – assess your general breathing pattern. Are you breathing form the abdomen? Many people have faulty breathing patterns and are sub-consciously contributing to their stress levels, and a range of other negative effects, through incorrect breathing.
To focus on belly breathing, lay down and place your hands on your naval area, breathe into your belly with the first two thirds of the breath raising your belly and the final third following to expand your chest. This is the natural way we should breathe all the time and the way babies breathe. We can retrain ourselves to breathe once again like this, by practicing in a quiet area for 10 minutes each day it will assist retraining your breathing pattern, also try to be conscious at other times throughout the day to belly breathe.
This quiet 10 minutes focussing on breathing each day will go a long way to reducing your stress levels.
3. Sleep – A key area of your overall health and one you need to address with adrenal fatigue. Many people suffering adrenal fatigue have insomnia or wake in the night and cannot get back to sleep. Practicing good sleep hygiene can go a long way to helping to normalise sleep patterns.
Getting to bed by 10 – 10:30pm each night is one of the most important aspects, it ensures you are resting at the right times to maximise repair and helps to get the required 8 or so hours rest per night. Resetting your body clock can take time, getting out of bed in the morning at a suitable hour and getting sunlight to yours eyes is a great way to help reset your body clock.
Avoiding artificial lights from tv and phones at least an hour before bed is another way to assist with the unwinding process. Studies show the blue light emitted from such devices as your smartphone mimic daylight to the receptors in your brain contributing to disrupted sleep patterns.
A cause of waking in the night can often be attributed to low blood sugar levels, a small protein snack before bed can help.
Other tips such as using lavender on your pillow at night and avoiding stimulants such as coffee after lunch also help.
More information on sleep hygiene can be found on the Naturopath Life website under lifestyle. For many cases, in addition to the above basics, we commonly prescribe herbs and various trace minerals to address specific imbalances and normalise sleep.
4. Fun and laughter – A great way to de-stress and one area than many of us can get distracted from. Taking the time out to have a joke with a friend, watch a funny movie, laugh at a joke, do a silly dance or something that will make you laugh is great for your adrenals.
Laughing reducing your stress response, increases endorphins and has long lasting effects.
5. Exercise – We all require exercise, when suffering from adrenal fatigue it can be hard to incorporate and sometimes the last thing we want to do. There are various forms of exercise you can incorporate to suit the level you are currently at. Once progress is being made you will likely be able to increase your exercise commitment.
Anything from walking, dancing, weights, yoga, Pilates, swimming and riding a bike are all great forms of exercise. You can go at your own pace, the key is to just get moving. Exercise helps remove toxins, improves circulation, releases endorphins and helps normalise blood sugars and other hormone levels including cortisol.
Exercise is one area that should not be avoided.
6. Diet – A crucial area of anyone’s life and of great importance with adrenal fatigue. Eating a quality diet and eating often enough is vital to stabilising fluctuating blood sugar levels that are commonly experienced in adrenal fatigue sufferers. When cortisol levels are low during adrenal fatigue, blood sugar levels are hard to maintain and further stress the adrenal glands.
Stimulants such as coffee, high sugar foods, processed grains, cow’s milk, hydrogenated oils, alcohol, low fat option products, white sugar and white bread, cool drink and fast food all spike blood sugar levels and cause blood sugar crashes negatively effecting cortisol.
Allergy foods also affect our adrenal function, keeping a food and symptom diary is crucial in identifying offending foods, the most common food allergies are gluten containing grains, dairy and soy. If you think you may be reacting to a food, eliminate it completely for a minimum of three weeks and then test the food by consuming it again taking note for any adverse reaction such as increased fatigue, pains, bloating, diarrhoea, mood changes etc.
As your adrenals heal, it is likely you will be less reactive to certain foods. We commonly use gut repair protocols with our adrenal fatigue clients.
Diet wise, you should be aiming for a quality whole food diet consisting of adequate protein, quality fats from sources such as olive oil and oily fish, raw nuts and seeds and a wide variety of vegetables and some fruit. Each meal and snack should be balanced to include protein, carbohydrate and fat. For instance, snacking on a piece of fruit would be better with a small handful of walnuts or almonds to provide protein and fat with the carbohydrate from the fruit.
Some chia seeds, yoghurt or an egg in your morning smoothie are added examples that can provide the required fat and protein in your breakfast smoothie. Having a snack in between main meals and before bed can help stabilise blood sugar levels throughout the day.
7. Nutrients – The adrenal glands like the rest of your body require a balanced and adequate supply of vitamins and minerals. When our body is out of balance we often require supplementation to rebalance in a quicker and more efficient manner. Many of our adrenal fatigue clients are given herbs and supplements to realign and support their body through the recovery phase.
Supplements such as vitamin C, B vitamins, Magnesium and a number of trace minerals are required to support the adrenal function. In addition, herbs such as licorice, withania, ginseng, gingko, rhodiola and rehmannia are all great herbs that are often prescribed.
Recovery from Adrenal Fatigue can be a long road if the key fundamental areas are not addressed. Working on each of the above areas will lay a solid foundation that you can work from in restoring your adrenal health and increasing your energy output.