What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Symptoms Of Adrenal Fatigue And How To Repair ItJuly 12th, 2012
By Debi Silber, MS, RD, WHC
If it seems you need more caffeine and sugar to get you through the day...
If you're noticing some weight gain, particularly around your mid section...
If you're getting sick more often and it takes longer to recover...
If you don't feel as sharp, clear and focused as you usually do...
If you're losing your sex drive....
If it seems you're growing more impatient...
If you're noticing changes in your hair, skin, nails and overall sense of well being...
It Could Be Adrenal FatigueAdrenal Fatigue is one of the most common, yet most undiagnosed, conditions impacting so many people today. It's important to recognize the warning signs so you can take proactive steps towards healing, repairing, and hopefully preventing a long list of potential chronic illnesses that often come as a result of lack of treatment.
Adrenal fatigue (also called adrenal exhaustion or adrenal insufficiency) is very common, yet often goes undiagnosed. It typically begins due to chronic, unmanaged stress which exhausts the adrenals. Cortisol, the stress hormone, rages through your system continuously, which also raises your blood sugar levels.
An increase in blood sugar leads to insulin resistance (the precursor to diabetes), higher cholesterol levels, and more. This can also impact your thyroid, as well as impacting your libido, menstruation, energy, memory, fertility, and metabolism.
Chronically high blood sugar levels also cause inflammation, which is the root cause of nearly every chronic illness, condition, and disease you can think of. All of these symptoms can lead to chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, for example, while speeding up the aging process as you lose your energy, enjoyment, and quality of life.
Related PEERtrainer Article: What Causes Chronic Inflammation?
When your adrenals and thyroid are out of balance, so are you, so it's important to become aware of the symptoms and then slowing or reversing the physical, mental, and emotional wear and tear that adrenal fatigue can cause.
Exhaustion is one of the signs, but it's possible that you could be exhausted for a number of reasons. It can be because of a lack of adequate and restorative sleep, a nutrient deficiency because you're unable to absorb nutrients from your current diet, a result of a side effect from a particular drug, an infection, or simply because of poor diet and lifestyle choices.
Any and all of these factors will contribute to low energy and fatigue. With these factors in mind, if you're experiencing further symptoms you may want to determine if you have adrenal fatigue, and if so, what to do about it.
Adrenal Fatigue And Blood GlucoseSince one of the most common indicators of adrenal fatigue is an increase in your blood glucose level, testing your level can be an important first step.
One way to test your blood glucose level is with a fasting glucose test, which measures your blood sugar level after an overnight fast. Checking your hemoglobin A1c can also be valuable. The downside of these tests however is that your blood glucose level fluctuates from day to day and testing on a particular day may not give an accurate indication of your typical levels.
Testing after meals can be useful if you are using a glucometer (glucose meter) because that can give you a better sense of how your body responds throughout the day and as a result of the foods you're eating.
If you find that your blood sugar level is high, you first want to look at your diet. Reducing carbs may do the trick to get your blood sugar into normal range. If your blood sugar level is still high, then further testing, such as thyroid tests, will also help to investigate what may be going on.
Other Tests Which Can Indicate Adrenal FatigueThe most common thyroid test is the TSH test, but the more comprehensive the testing panel, the better. Having a TSH panel done will detail much more of what the thyroid is doing than a TSH test alone. For the panel, you can include the TSH, checking T4 and T3 levels, and checking for thyroid antibodies and Thyroid Stimulating Immunoglobulins (TSI) to determine if autoimmune reactions or anything else may be affecting your thyroid.
Other thyroid tests can include a thyroid ultrasound, having your thyroid tested via needle aspiration, urinary testing, saliva testing, iodine patch tests, and checks you can perform yourself such as the "thyroid neck check" where you feel for a lump or enlargement in the thyroid area of the neck.
Related PEERtrainer Article: What Causes Hypothyroidism?
A saliva test done every 4 or 6 hours can test cortisol levels and DHEA, which can further reveal how your adrenals are functioning. Keep in mind that cortisol may be high when blood sugar levels are low because cortisol is secreted to help bring blood sugar levels up. This can also contribute to fatigue. If low blood sugar is determined, certain changes to your eating choices and schedule often are enough to balance levels.
What To Do About Adrenal FatigueSo you have the signs, you've done the tests. Now what can you do to heal and repair adrenal fatigue?
Here are a few areas to focus on:
1. DietA healthy diet can often make the difference between health and wellness or illness and disease. A first step in the healing process is to limit all high sugar, highly processed, nutrient void "sub-food" and replace those choices with whole, nutrient dense, real, and quality food. Limit the obvious sugars coming from sweets, treats, and sugary drinks as an immediate first step, then limit carbs coming from grains (breads, pastas, etc.) and even starchy vegetables if necessary.
Read labels to look for hidden sugars in disguise like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), any ingredient ending in "-ose", honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, and brown rice syrup.
Related PEERtrainer Article: A Complete Guide To Sweeteners
2. ExerciseIf you're exhausted, exercising may be low on the list of priorities. Exercise has so many benefits, however, that even a little bit is a great place to start. If you were already doing long cardio routines however, you may want to reconsider. Studies have found that long cardio routines actually increase cortisol levels, exhausting you and your adrenals.
Related PEERtrainer Article: Discover Your Fitness Personality
3. SleepDuring sleep, the body has an opportunity to heal and repair. If you're waking up a few times during the night or getting fewer hours than what your body needs, it's impacting how you feel as well as how much cortisol and other hormones you're secreting. This one factor can wreak havoc on you physically, mentally and emotionally. Strive for quality sleep by creating a relaxing sleep routine as well as creating an environment conducive to restful sleep.
Related PEERtrainer article: How To Fall Asleep Easily
4. StressThis one should be a "no-brainer." If stress is one of the root causes of your adrenal issues, it's important to find ways cut down on stress. This can be done through practices like deep breathing, meditation, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), yoga, journaling, or music for example. It's also helpful to increase activities you find enjoyable like laughing with friends, walking in nature, reading, taking a bath or planning something you find relaxing and fun.
As an added step, do what you can to take a few things off your "to-do" list by delegating more, taking on less, adjusting your perspective, or simply learning how to say no to extra chores, tasks, and responsibilities.
5. SupplementationTaking the right supplements and herbs can help heal, repair, improve energy, regulate blood sugar, and reduce sugar cravings. Check with your healthcare practitioner to determine what's appropriate for you while being mindful of the quality coming from the brands you choose.
Saving a few dollars on a supplement may backfire if the product you choose is inferior and useless, so choose wisely.
PEERtrainer Strongly Recommends Thorne Comprehensive Daily Nutrients Packs
6. TimeIt wasn't one stressful situation, one high-sugar food choice, one sleepless night, one long run, or one bad day that created adrenal fatigue--It was a series of events, choices, habits, behaviors and the way your body responds compounded over time that helped to create an issue that now needs your care and attention.
With that in mind, try to find the patience to slowly heal and repair through a very different set of choices, habits, and behaviors. With a new arsenal of strategies, it won't be long until you're back to your old or even better self.
A Little More Information On Your Adrenal GlandsYour adrenal glands are two triangular-shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys. Each gland has a medulla surrounded by a cortex, which together produce hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, steroids, and cortisol, along with chemicals such as adrenaline. They're slightly larger than a grape but don't let their small size fool you!
Hormones and chemicals from the adrenals are secreted in response to messages coming from your brain. The main role of the adrenal glands is to help your body successfully manage stressful situations.
For example, let's say a car is coming towards you. Your brains determines that this is a stressful situation so in response it sends a signal to your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, which increases your blood pressure, respiration, heart rate, and blood glucose levels, allowing more blood and oxygen to flow through your body to immediately get you out of harm's way.
This response is an example of what's found within the study of neuroendocrineimmunology, which deals with the interaction between psychology and the endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. What this means is that these three systems, along with your mental and emotional state, work closely together and communicate via a biochemical language.
In an acute situation, this interaction and exchange works perfectly and helps keep you alive. When stress is chronically elevated however, either because of mental or emotional stress, because of chronic gut irritation, malnutrition, or even pushing your body consistently too hard, the cumulative effect will impair the adrenals, creating high or low adrenal function states.
Why Are My Adrenal Glands So Prone To Fatigue?The adrenals are easily stressed because of the cumulative effect of the many types of stressors we experience daily as well as our unique responses to the stress we have. If the hypothalamus is constantly sending messages to the adrenals that the body is in a stressful situation (whether physically, mentally, or emotionally), the adrenals will continuously secrete adrenaline and cortisol in an effort to get your body prepared to "save you" from potential harm.
Over time, whether from the accumulation of poor lifestyle choices, diet, exercise, lack of sleep, unhappiness, inadequate techniques to reduce your current level of stress, and more, the adrenals will become overtaxed and various symptoms will begin to show themselves.
Some More Information On The Adrenal HormonesThe adrenals release hormones that affect the body's ability to handle stress, control weight, energy levels and many other physiological functions. Like other hormones in the body, elevated levels of adrenal hormones can cause negative health effects. However, when they are released in short duration for the purpose they are intended for, they are beneficial. Another example of this is the hormone insulin. When released properly, it brings down blood sugar after a meal. However, when insulin is chronically elevated, negative health consequences occur.
One of the main hormones controlled by the adrenals is cortisol. Cortisol is anti-inflammatory, helps control carbohydrate and fat breakdown and mildly depresses the immune system. When elevated over time, cortisol can delay the recovery time of illnesses and keep blood sugar elevated. Cortisol naturally is highest in the morning after waking up and falls throughout the day into night. People with chronically high cortisol do not have this fall through the day.
Aldosterone, another adrenal hormone, signals the kidneys to retain sodium to keep blood pressure up. This is favorable in times when blood volume drops, such as mild dehydration, but can be harmful if it is always present in the blood.
The inside of the adrenal glands, called the medulla, produces the hormones epinephrine and norepinepherine. These hormones are commonly referred to as the "fight or flight" hormones. When in a stressful situation like someone chasing you, the body's natural response is to either fight or run away. These two hormones are released to increase heart rate, open airways to increase oxygen in the body and increase blood flow to muscles. When stress is chronic and a person constantly feels a state of danger or stress, these hormones stay elevated. Over time, the adrenals cannot support the demand for these hormones.
How Does Diet Affect My Adrenal Glands?Diet can play a role to help or further hinder adrenal fatigue. Some suggestions for adrenal health include the following:
- Limit high sugar foods and caffeine. Sugar and caffeine can promote the release of the adrenal hormones and can add to stress. High sugar foods cause blood sugar levels to rapidly rise and fall. Cortisol promotes an increase in blood sugar as a survival mechanism for the fight or flight response. If blood sugar levels are high from a high sugar intake, this will cause more harm.
- Eat consistently through the day (but don't graze!). Skipping meals can stimulate the release of cortisol. Eating breakfast is especially important. It is recommended to eat as close to initial waking as possible.
- Eat a balance of healthy fats, protein and high fiber carbohydrates. Whenever eating, try to have a source of fat, protein and complex carbohydrate. Healthy fats include avocados, nuts/seeds, nut butters, and vegetable oils like olive oil or pumpkin seed oil. Good proteins include lean animal meat, beans, grains, and nuts. Complex carbohydrates are vegetables, whole grains, and some fruits. Some health professionals suggest limiting fruit intake because they are high in potassium and sugar, which may hamper balancing adrenal levels.
- Avoid excess alcohol intake. Drink in moderation, one serving for women and up to two drinks for men per day, or avoid alcohol completely.
- Consume salt in moderation. Salt can be beneficial in moderate amounts for adrenal fatigue, but overconsumption can be harmful.
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