Adrenal fatigue is a stress-related condition, where your adrenal glands, hypothalamus, and pituitary glands are functioning below their optimum level. It can also arise after or during acute or chronic infections. As the name suggests, its paramount symptom is fatigue that is not relieved by sleep.
Adrenal fatigue results in lower levels of some hormones and neurotransmitters. These changes can affect every single part of your body.
You may look and behave relatively healthy with adrenal fatigue. You may not even have any visible signs of physical illness, yet you live with a general sense of unwellness, tiredness or gray feelings.
Role of the Adrenal Gland
Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys like caps.The primary purpose of your adrenal gland is to produce and regulate the stress hormone cortisol. Your adrenal glands also produce fertility hormones, estrogen, and progesterone. They also produce your neurotransmitters adrenaline, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
These neurotransmitters and hormones, regulate your metabolism and communicate with other organs like your brain, kidneys and reproductive system. Chronic stress can suppress your adrenal glands to secrete insufficient amount of these necessary hormones.
Four Stages of Adrenal Fatigue
Stage 1: Beginning or the alarm phase. This step describes your body’s immediate response to a stressor. It can be simple as a job interview or hospital stay. During this juncture, you’ll benefit from an increased state of arousal and alertness. However, your sleep patterns may begin to suffer, and you may experience intermittent tiredness.
Stage 2: Continuing the alarm phase. During this stage your endocrine system is well equipped, to produce hormones that you need, but your levels of DHEA and fertility hormones may start to drop. At this stage, you’ll start to feel the overexertion of your adrenals. A familiar feeling is “weird but tired.” You may even develop an unhealthy dependence on coffee.
Stage 3: Resistance phase. You can still hold a job and continue a pretty healthy life. However, you’ll experience lower levels of many essential hormones, and this affects the quality of your life. You’ll feel normal tiredness, a lack of enthusiasm, frequent infections and lower intimacy levels. This phase might continue for several months or even years.
Stage 4: Burnout phase. After a period your body simply runs out of ways to manufacture stress hormones, so your cortisol levels begin to drop. During the exhaustion phase, you finally crash after an extended period of coping with stress. You could suffer from extreme tiredness, low intimacy, depression, and irritability. To recover from this phase, you need significant time, patience and often a complete change in lifestyle.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
There is many other complaints related to adrenal fatigue. Depending on which stage of adrenal fatigue you’ve reached, you may be experiencing a handful or many these symptoms.
- Hard to wakeup every morning, even after a long sleep
- High levels of fatigue each day
- Inability to handle stress
- Cravings for salty foods
- Higher energy concentrations in the evening
- Overuse of stimulants like sugar and caffeine
- Weakened immune system
- Asthma, allergies or respiratory complaints
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Lines in your fingertips
- Loss of muscle tone
- Low blood pressure
- Low blood sugar
- Low sex drive
- Lower back pain
- Numbness in your fingers / Poor circulation
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Extreme tiredness an hour after exercise
- Frequent urination
- Joint pain
Causes of Adrenal Fatigue
Emotional stress. You can very well say that stress is the primary cause of adrenal fatigue. It is a kind of low-grade stress that seems manageable in the short term but can have terrible effects on your health in the long term.
Diet. We eat more sugar than we ever have. So, your body starts to produce more cortisol and insulin, to cope up with all these empty calories,which stresses your pancreas and adrenals. Overeat sugar, and you’ll put on weight, if being heavier makes you feel tired, chances are your adrenals too.
Insufficient sleep. A long restful sleep helps your body to heal itself. Stick to atleast 7-8 hours of sleep daily. You’ll less likely suffer from adrenal fatigue.
Chemicals and pollutants. Toxins in food, contaminants in the air, chlorine in water, pesticides in veggies and antibiotics in meat can cause toxic overload. Many of these chemicals directly disrupt your adrenal function.
Chronic disease. Whether you suffer from arthritis, asthma, or diabetes, they all place demands on your adrenal gland that is above the norm. Other conditions that could weaken your adrenals are Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, parasites and any condition that can cause chronic pain.
Addison’s disease could also be another medical condition. In Addison’s disease, your adrenal glands produce too little cortisol and insufficient amounts of aldosterone as well. In most cases, your adrenal is damaged by the immune system. Other causes of Addison’s disease include tuberculosis, cancer such as lymphoma and AIDS.
Addison’s disease can cause fatigue, general weakness, dizziness and dark skin on your hands, knees, elbows and knuckles and lack of menstrual periods.
Trauma. Moments of severe physical trauma can lead to adrenal fatigue. Research suggests that moments of trauma affect things like hormonal balance and adrenal performance many years later.
Adrenal Thyroid Connection
Chronic stress can lead to adrenal fatigue. The flooding and plummeting of stress hormones have many negative impacts on the thyroid. It slows thyroid production and causes hypothyroid symptoms. It also increases thyroid hormone resistance.
Cytokines which are inflammatory immune cells are released due to stress response, which makes thyroid receptors less sensitive to thyroid hormones. It means even if you’re taking thyroid medication and your hormone levels are normal, you’ll still be miserable because of the symptoms of underactive thyroid.
Meanwhile, when your body is in stress mode, your immune system gets suppressed, to help your body overcome the stressor. Be known that stress also causes inflammation.
Your immune systems slow down to prevent a state of chronic inflammation. Suppressing your immune system causes more viral infections, of which some of them can even trigger autoimmune thyroid disease.
Testing for Adrenal Fatigue
There are many ways to test adrenal fatigue. We have standard hormone tests, which includes testing for cortisol and various thyroid hormones. These are the tests that your doctor will give you. Hormonal tests include
- Cortisol tests
- ACTH Challenge
- Thyroid tests
- Free T3
- Free T4
- Total Thyroxine
Integrative doctors or naturopaths look at the ratios of various hormones and neurotransmitters, to get a clear idea of how a patient is feeling. Some of the tests are
- Cortisol/DHEA ratio
- 17-HP/Cortisol ratio
- Neurotransmitter testing
Alternative subjective physical tests were mostly developed in early days of adrenal fatigue diagnosis. They include
- Iris contraction test
- Postural low blood pressure
Management of Adrenal Fatigue
Follow the adrenal diet. Diet is a huge factor for adrenal recovery. Some foods support adrenal function. They replenish your adrenal energy, so your system can bounce back to optimal health. But first, you must remove any hard to digest foods or chemicals and toxins in your environment.
Foods to Avoid:
- Caffeine. Caffeine interferes with your sleep cycle and makes hard for your adrenal glands to recover. If you must drink coffee or caffeinated beverage, then limit your intake and drink before noon.
- Sweeteners and sugars. Avoid high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners as well. It is wise to avoid cereals, sugary foods, sweets, and candy.Bread, condiments, and dressings contain added sugar. Try to avoid added sugar. Instead, use raw honey or stevia.
- Processed and microwaved foods. Microwavable foods have many preservatives and fillers that are hard to digest. They wear out your body’s energy and digestion cycle. Try to go in for natural foods and prepare your food whenever possible.
- Hydrogenated oils. Vegetable oil like canola, corn and sunflower oil, are highly inflammatory. They can lead to adrenal inflammation. It’s better if you use good fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, organic butter or ghee.
Foods to Include:
Try to include nutrient-dense foods that are easy to digest and have healing qualities.Some of the foods are
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Chicken and turkey
- Fatty fish (wild-caught salmon)
- Nuts (walnuts and almonds)
- Pumpkin, chia and flax seeds
- Kelp and seaweed
The above foods are nutrient dense, low in fat and have healthy fat and fiber.
Adrenal fatigue supplements. Taking right supplements also helps to overcome adrenal fatigue. Some of the adrenal boosting supplements are
- Holy basil
- Fish oil
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B5
- Vitamin D3
- Vitamin C
You can take supplements in their whole food form which could significantly improve your symptoms of adrenal insufficiency.
Stress reduction. To reduce your stress levels, you need to sleep well, laugh and meditate.
Sleep. Observe your body. Try to rest when you feel tired as much as possible.
Techniques for good night’s sleep:
- Herbal remedy. Several studies show inhaling the scents of plants or their essential oils reduces anxiety and stress. Lavender, chamomile, vanilla and lemon balm top the list of most common herbs used for this purpose.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Start with your head and slowly work toward your feet, think about each muscle and relax that muscle.
- Pleasant memories. Travel down the memory and think about it. Relive your beautiful memories.
- Imagine a blank wall. Pick a color that you find soothing and stare at it in your mind.Sometimes your mind may wander. Keep directing your mind’s eye to the blank wall.
- Make a list. If some particular things are causing you stress, write them down. Write some possible solutions. You’ll have a plan to deal with them.
Laugh. Laughter is one of the best stress management techniques. A good hearty session of unadulterated laughter has been proven to release physical tension, found within the body. As your muscles begin to relax, so does your entire body.
Laughter reduces your blood pressure, and feelings of stress and anxiety. This is a huge positive for adrenal exhaustion. Laughter improves your lymphatic circulation and boosts your immune system. It increases your endorphin production, and it shifts your perspective on what is causing you distress.
Meditation. Science says that meditation can train you to escape from a state of hyper-alertness. When you properly use it. It can bring you back to a sense of calm and tranquility while maintaining a high awareness of what is happening around you.
Meditation lowers cortisol levels, and thus decreases stress. It lowers heart rate and respiratory rate and reduces high blood pressure. It reduces muscular tension. These are the physical benefits.
The physiological benefits include reduced stress, heightened sense of well-being and happiness. It boosts positive attitude, optimistic outlook, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Meditation helps to focus better and increases concentration.
The lifestyle benefits include improved relationships, better productivity, increased tolerance, compassion and empathy for others. Meditation increases knowledge and acceptance of the self.
Even moderate exercise and walking can help to reduce your adrenal fatigue. Avoid negative people and self-talk. The words you say has a great impact on your body and your ability to heal. So be kind to yourself. Choose to be around positive people.Try to stay positive about yourself as well.
Is your definition of success driving you into adrenal overload? Change your perspective; it can make an enormous positive difference in your stress levels.
Try to build rest into your day. Be firm and learn to say NO when you have reached your breaking point.
Avoid over-exercising, if you’re fatigued after your workout, try to scale down. Do something relaxing every day, such as a warm bath, walk in the park, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, etc. Go to your bed at the same time every night and get eight hours of sleep.
Eat a protein-rich breakfast before 10 a.m. Consume fruits with a source of protein. Avoid alcohol, sugar, gluten, and dairy. Vitamin B complex is perfect for adrenal support because all B vitamins are critical for the chemical processes within the adrenal glands. Vitamin C, magnesium and omega three fatty acids provide added adrenal support.
If you’re curious about your adrenal health, we recommend that you visit the nearest hospital in your area.